Ana and Ophni's Story Continued...
In 2016, Ana filed a spouse petition through, Dorcas International, to ensure Ophni’s permeant residency. U. S. Citizenship and Immigration Services approved it.
Two years later, their filing of an unlawful presence waiver was also approved. The waiver was required in order to show that family separation would cause extreme hardship. In 2019, Ophni needed to travel to the U.S. consulate, in Guatemala, for an interview.
They expected he would quickly return with a marriage-based immigrant visa. But the consulate denied his application.
With Ophni’s sudden departure, Ana became a single mother to three children ranging from infancy to seven-years-old. The children depended on their father for their dinner and bedtime routines.
They also counted on Ophni for financial support. And without him, it caused a gaping hole.
“When he left, it was really hard for me to do all that for all three kids,” Ana says.
Daily chores like getting the children ready for school, feeding and dressing them became a struggle. Their daughter has severe eczema, a history of acute bronchitis, and allergies to dust mites. This requires Ana to regularly deep clean their apartment, in which Ophni would help. Their older son suffers from seizures, and developmental delays, and their youngest was showing symptoms of similar difficulties.
Ana began to suffer from depression, anxiety and pregnancy-induced diabetes, as well as episodes of low blood pressure. She neglected her own well-being in order to care for her children and lost 30 pounds due to the uncertainty of her husband’s return.
Ophni was stranded in a country he no longer knew, leaving his family and American identity behind wondering:
“Am I ever going to get reunited with them?”
“We were so used to doing things together and that hit him really hard emotionally,” says Ana.
They communicated by phone regularly. But video chats were no substitute for their father’s presence. Their middle child began experiencing childhood depression, PTSD, and anxiety disorder. This is a direct result of the separation from their father.
Ophni had to prove that upon returning to the U.S., he wouldn’t become a financial burden to the government. Under new immigration policies, that is more difficult to do. His visa was denied on grounds of public charge.
This meant that the Department of State did not believe that he could financially support himself, even though his sponsor met the minimum income requirements. These rules were put in place to prevent immigrants from long-term use of public benefits.
Ophni’s income, as a plumber, was not counted since he did not have employment authorization. Ana and Ophni’s earnings together exceeded the income guidelines, but Ana’s alone did not. So they sought a sponsor. Yet new regulations give less weight to the joint sponsor’s income.
This makes it challenging for low-income, low-skilled, or disabled applicants to beat public charge. Previously, most spousal immigrant visa applications did not result in family separation.
Even when Ophni got a second sponsor and submitted the required documents, the U.S. consulate in Guatemala refused to acknowledge the new sponsor’s income qualifications. Ophni’s visa denial automatically revoked his previously approved unlawful presence waiver, and he had to file a new waiver of inadmissibility to prove that if he were separated from his family, his U.S. citizen spouse would suffer extreme hardship.
Senator Reed’s office, along with Dorcas International, was able to expedite the second waiver. It took five stressful months for Ophni’s visa approval and eventual return home.
But Ana and Ophni never lost hope.
“We are giving hope to other families to also raise awareness sometimes things are unexpected and we have to get prepared for it. Everything was on point. We got approved for everything for immigration. I do want to give hope to other families that through persistence it can happen [approval],” says Ana.
Ana and the children counted the days until his return.
“It was 143 days that he was there,” she says.
Ophni is now a legal permanent resident. And no longer fearful of separation.
She translates from Spanish explaining that Ophni says he’s “not scared to go to work. He’s legal. He can do things that he wasn’t able. When he drives, and sees a police, he’s not stressed he will get pulled over.”
She says his permanent residency means so much to all of them.
“Just knowing he has that [legal status] was peace of mind because when he didn’t have that it was a constant stress.”
They are healing as a family and spending more quality time together. Life has returned to normal. With bed and dinnertime routines running much smoother. Yet there are times they still must reassure the children that Dad will return home. They want to offer them more comfort and stability. They plan to one day buy a house so the children can run outside freely.
By sharing their story, they hope other families in similar situations will find strength.
“You have to persevere in order to get what you want. Always persevere, never give up. Hope is the last thing you lose,” says Ophni.
-- By Alli-Michelle Conti
Photography by Rhythm Vinoben