By JV Villar, ABS-CBN North America Bureau
Jan. 16, 2014
GONZALEZ, Texas – Like any immigrant family, this couple from Davao City, Philippines hoped for a better life in America.
In 2008, Emilyn Nanez was petitioned by her US employer Gonzales Healthcare System as a highly-skilled lab technician and phlebotomist.
Her husband Jojo, a college professor in the Philippines, was able to follow her to America as a dependent.
But in march of last year their future began to look bleak in the country they’ve grown to love.
Emilyn had a stroke, which resulted in partial paralysis.
“The left part of my body, my arms, my leg, became weak, she said. “I’m left-handed. So it’s been really difficult to function.”
Since Emilyn had to stop working and Jojo could not get a job because of visa restrictions, the couple and their two US-born children have to rely on short-term disability benefits and food aid from the government just to survive.
They have a pending green card application through Emilyn’s employer, but it could take years before it gets approved.
They’re worried they could get deported because their visas are expiring in July.
“It’s not clear to us if she can return to work, so she could keep her work visa,” Jojo said. “We’re hoping her green card application gets processed fast.”
Balitang America tried to get a statement from Gonzales Healthcare System on the status of Emilyn’s employment but the company refuses to comment at this time.
Work visas are temporary and nonimmigrants are required to return to their country of origin once their visa has expired. Remaining in the US past a visa expiration date is unlawful and subjects the non-immigrant to removal or deportation.
Immigration attorney Mel Garraton, who does not counsel the couple, says despite Emilyn’s medical condition, her green card application could not be expedited.
“If you have a pending petition for a green card and the priority date for it has not arrived, it cannot be expedited just because you get sick or you’re in a desperate situation,” Garraton said.
Migrant heritage commission, a nonprofit group from Washington, DC, has offered to provide pro bono services to Emilyn and Jojo.
The group’s executive director Arnedo Valera says the couple could be spared from deportation after they overstay their visas, because of prosecutorial discretion that allows immigration courts to provide relief to those with illnesses, with u-s citizen children and those without a criminal record.