Plight of the illegal: Honesty leads to denial of re-entry

JONESBORO -- It was the focus of discussion in the Presidential race last year.   And, now immigration reform--namely changes in U.S. policy when it comes to illegal aliens--has hit "home" with a Region 8 family.  In fact, you might say this very issue has torn their lives apart.

It's a move that Anita Munguia never saw coming for her, or her children, 4-year-old Olivia or 13-year-old Dakota.

"We lost our home because we couldn't make payments," said Anita, whose husband Felipe Munguia was denied re-entry into the United States.  "We couldn't make payments on the home we bought here in Jonesboro and had to move."

All because husband and father, Felipe, is not allowed back into the United States for ten years. That's the penalty handed down when Felipe sought an appointment for permanent residency in February.

"We would have been better off to have never filed," said Anita.  "We would still be together as a family...a family unit had we never filed."

Felipe came to the states in 1998 on a visa.  It ran out, but he stayed--working construction and eventually became manager of a rice milling and distribution center.  He married Anita, paid taxes out of his paychecks and became a father.

"How do you say 'Daddy' in Spanish?" asks Anita to Olivia.

"Poppy," she replies.

"He was very involved in the children's lives at school, going to parent-teacher conferences," explained Anita.  "He didn't take anybody else's job.  He didn't cause someone else to not be able to work."

Not wanting to make it look as if Felipe married Anita for Green Card status, the couple waited to apply for residency.  They started the paperwork in 2004.  That process would take them all the way to Little Rock, then the consulate in Cuidad Juarez, Mexico --now home to deadly attacks between drug cartels and Mexican soldiers.

"We had a lot of hope," said Anita.  "We really truly felt like we would come back together. And then when we went for the appointment, it was devastating."

Felipe was penalized for two illegal entries into the United States.  The first for allowing his visa to expire.  The other for going back to Mexico when his father died.

"Had we not even written that on the application, they would have never known," explained Anita.  "They never checked on him.  He's never been deported.  He's never been fingerprinted. He had never had any run-ins' with the law.  As far as immigration is concerned, he was never here until we filed to try to change his residency."

So Anita is taking her husband's story to the President of the United States.

"He can pardon felons," said Anita.  "I don't see why he can't pardon Felipe for entering the country illegally."

Meanwhile life without Felipe goes on

"It's like everyday, it's a new hurt and going through his things when we had to move was really hard," said Anita.  "Trying to pack up the things he left thinking that he would be back."

For now the Munguias' live in a rental home on a street that feels far from the name on the street sign, Paradise.

This afternoon we received an e-mail from Representative Marion Berry's office.  In it, he says "The Immigration and Nationality Act does not allow for a waiver when someone illegally enters the country twice."