U.S. immigration law drives husband, wife apart

I don't want to go on being just a root in the shadows,
vacillating, extended, shivering with dream,
down in the damp bowels of earth,
absorbing it, thinking it, eating it every day.

-Pablo Neruda from 'Walking Around'

Border issues in the news...

EL NACIMIENTO, Mexico - The bathroom situation in the village was worse than Mike Brown imagined. No running water to flush the toilet. Heating water on the stove to bathe. And the flimsy curtain over the doorway provided little privacy.

At first Brown didn't think he would last the full two weeks living in this rustic ranching village made up of 100 or so small adobe, brick and stick houses in the western Mexican state of Sinaloa. The trip alone from Mesa was hard enough. Twenty hours in his pickup, the last 15 miles a bone-rattling drive up a winding, rutted road into the mountains where men with automatic weapons have been known to rob travelers.

But he was determined to make the best of it. He had no choice.

t was the Christmas holidays. Brown was visiting his wife, Virginia Carrillo, and son, Bryan. Their separation began in September the day the family applied for legal status for Carrillo, Brown's illegal-immigrant wife.

They hoped Carrillo would qualify for a green card based on her marriage and child to Brown. Instead, Carrillo was barred from returning to the U.S. for 10 years.

Now, the family is forced to live separately on opposite sides of the U.S.-Mexican border.

Brown, 44, lives in Mesa. Carrillo, 29, lives in Mexico, staying with her parents in the village where she grew up. She is raising Bryan, a U.S. citizen who turned 3 in December.

As the Browns' case shows, the days when illegal immigrants could marry U.S. citizens and easily get green cards are long over. In 1996, Congress passed a law that made it much tougher for illegal immigrants who marry U.S. citizens to acquire legal status, part of an effort to crack down on illegal immigration and sham marriages.

To apply, illegal immigrants must now leave the country first. But once they do, they risk being barred from re-entering the U.S. for up to 10 years unless they can prove that the separation would create an extreme hardship for the U.S. citizen spouse.

More than a decade after the law went into effect, Americans remain largely unaware of the tougher rules, which even when followed can have disastrous results, as the Browns discovered.

"Just getting through these four months has been difficult," Brown said, sitting at the kitchen table in El Nacimiento, a plate of machaca and eggs getting cold in front of him. "I can't begin to think that it could be 10 years until we reunite."

Read the full article by Daniel González in the The Arizona Republic