When it comes to immigration, many Americans say that immigrants should just follow the legal process and come in the front door. Several recent cases of productive-yet-illegal immigrants, many with American family members, being deported have been met with the response that they should have become legalized while they were here to avoid deportation. Increasingly, however, there are cases in which people try to follow the legal process, but are stymied by the system. The case of four-year-old Angela Becerra is one such case that illustrates just how broken the American immigration system is.
Angela is the adopted daughter of two American citizen parents. Colorado’s Fox 31 reports that Marco and Amy Becerra adopted Angela when they were residents of Peru in 2014. Marco has dual American and Peruvian citizenship while four-year-old Angela is a citizen of Peru.
Angela was born on May 23, 2014 and was abandoned at birth. “She was 11 days old when she was brought to the orphanage,” her adoptive mother said. Angela’s biological mother “was treated like a dog. She was chained to the table and sex-trafficked. That’s the reality. No running water. No electricity. Very little food.”
Amy said that the Becerras were asked by a woman at the orphanage to foster baby Angela. “She literally placed this little 5-pound baby in our hands and said do you think you guys can take care of her?”
The Becerras agreed and ultimately adopted Angela legally. In 2017, the couple decided to return to the US, in part so that Angela could grow up as an American and benefit from education in American schools. The family now lives in Aurora, Colorado where Amy accepted a job with the State of Colorado and Marco works for the federal government.
Amy started her job in 2017 with the understanding that Marco and Angela would soon join her in Colorado, but Angela’s immigration application kept hitting roadblocks. The US does not normally grant tourist visas for anyone with a current immigration application so it was 13 months before the little girl was allowed to join her mother in Colorado for the first time in March 2018 when she was finally allowed to enter the US on a tourist visa that expires on August 31. No deportation proceedings are currently underway, but after Angela’s visa expires she will be at risk for deportation.
The Becerras continued to follow the legal process, but now, less than a month before Angela’s tourist visa expires, the little girl’s immigration application has been denied. The problem seems to be that Angela’s adoption was formalized in Peru, not the United States.
“I don’t know what it takes to reopen a case. Once it’s closed, it’s closed,” Amy said.
The law does provide for an appeal, but it is unlikely that the process can be completed before the end of August. At the end of the month, when Angela’s tourist visa expires, she will be subject to deportation even though she has no family or home to return to in Peru.
“We’re both citizens. My husband and I have a full legal binding adoption completed and we have a birth certificate that lists no other parent,” Amy Becerra said. “It’s inconceivable that a child of two citizen parents would have to live out their life as an undocumented alien in this country.”
“I’ve followed the path they’ve given me, and it’s such a dysfunctional, uncoordinated system,” Amy said.
The Becerras have contacted immigration attorneys, but at this point are uncertain why Angela’s application was denied. A letter explaining the decision should be received from the government in the next few weeks, but by then Angela may be an illegal immigrant despite the family’s best efforts to follow the law.
The family has also contacted their congressman, Republican Mike Coffman, for help. Coffman’s office is working with the US Citizenship and Immigration Services office in Denver to cut through red tape and try to find a speedy resolution to Angela’s case.
The case is an illustration how even immigrants who attempt to follow the law can find it difficult or impossible to become legal citizens. The Byzantine immigration bureaucracy is fraught with pitfalls and delays that can cause even the most well-intentioned immigrants to be denied legal status and end up being deported.