I was born in Dodge City and am a proud fifth-generation Kansan. My family settled on our homestead south of Cimarron in the 1880s. My parents and siblings still reside near the Kansas farmhouse that was built more than a century ago. My family is about as American as you can get, a farm family residing in the heart of our nation.
The fact is my family is American — now Mexican American by marriage — but currently living in exile in Canada because of the unjust U.S. immigration system. We know first-hand that immigration laws are outdated because they prevent us from living in Kansas near my parents and siblings.
Things need to change. As the Biden Administration works to expand lawful presence and work permits to asylum seekers from specific Central and South American nations in turmoil, I urge them to extend the same rights and considerations to U.S. citizens like me and my children.
Due to outdated immigration laws, my wife, a Mexican/Canadian national, is permanently barred from residing in the U.S. This has forced me to relocate my family to Canada to avoid separation from my wife and children. Just one brief mistake that she made when she was 19 has trapped us in a legal nightmare that currently has no relief.
At this point, you might be assuming my wife is a criminal who doesn’t deserve to be in the U.S. The actual case may surprise you. Twenty-three years ago, she committed the offense of misrepresentation by mistakenly claiming to be a U.S. citizen at the Texas border.
Asked a second time in her native Spanish language, she immediately corrected her statement and declared herself as a Mexican national. She was charged with the misdemeanor crime of misrepresentation, issued a $10 fine, and sent back to Mexico. Incredibly, this crime results in a lifetime immigration ban with no possibility of a waiver.
I am not disputing that my wife committed this infraction. However, I firmly believe the severe punishment of a lifetime ban is inconsistent with a momentary mistake in judgment. I have made that argument for the last 15 years to immigration officials and members of Congress to no avail.
I hear comments from the public saying that undocumented immigrants should “do it the right way and follow the process and the law.” I am in complete agreement, so much so that I have patiently lived outside of my country since 2008. However, there is no legal solution for my immigration predicament.
I am not alone. In my home state of Kansas, there are approximately 67,000 U.S. citizens living in mixed-status households, meaning one spouse is a nationality other than U.S. Across the nation, the number is about 10.5 million citizens.
More than 1.4 million U.S. citizens have experienced family separations because a family member, including the spouse of the citizen, has been refused a visa or has been deported from the U.S. Another 2.8 million face the possibility of family separation. Because of this, I support American Families United, which is pushing for citizens, like me, to have our rights, as spouses, taken into consideration in visa denial cases.
I am asking my government to reform the immigration system so that U.S. citizens like me can live back home with the people we love. I am asking Kansas senators Jerry Moran and Roger Marshall, and Rep. Tracy Mann to support the American Families United Act, or the bipartisan Dignity Act introduced by Reps. Elvira Salazar of Florida and Veronica Escobar of Texas. It would let U.S. citizens request a waiver of inadmissibility for a non-citizen spouse, with an immigration judge making the final decision. These sensible solutions are key to addressing America’s labor shortages and lowering inflation according to a study published by the American Business Immigration Coalition and Texas A&M University.
A reformed immigration system would allow my “mixed-status” family to return home to Kansas, continue my career as a chemical engineer and enjoy life on the farm with my parents, siblings, nephews, and my childhood friends.
Matthew Bryan is registered to vote in Gray County, KS.
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