Parents of Sick Teenager Get Green Cards

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Sometimes extreme situations can lead to immigration benefits that might not have otherwise been available. Last Friday, October 21, saw just such a situation, as reported in the Columbus Dispatch. A Cleveland immigration judge granted legal permanent residence, often known as a “green card,” to parents of a chronically ill teenager on humanitarian grounds. The teenager, born with a severely disabling set of birth defects, will turn eighteen soon and needs a guardian. Rather than risk deportation and the loss of their daughter, who is a United States citizen, the parents turned themselves in and petitioned the court to allow them to stay to care for her.

Jimmy Siglos and Rowena Gonzales came to the United States in 1992 on visitor’s visas from the Philippines. They settled in the Columbus, Ohio area and never left, even after their visas expired in 1993. Their daughter, Jacky, was born in Ohio in 1994, making her a natural-born U.S. citizen. They feared that she would die if they returned to their country of origin. They have an 8-year-old daughter as well.

Jacky suffers from CHARGE syndrome, a rare series of birth defects caused by a genetic disorder. It affects the heart, eyes, ears, nose, and other organs and can lead to permanent disability. It frequently results in children born deaf and blind, and it can cause life-threatening complications in children.

Jacky will turn eighteen in February 2012. She will require a court-appointed guardian to manage her affairs. Once disabled persons who are unable to care for themselves become adults, their parents legally lose their right to manage their financial and medical affairs. The disabled person has all the legal rights of any adult, but the system of guardianship allows for a competent adult to take over certain issues for the person. This requires court approval and ongoing monitoring by the court to ensure that the guardian acts in the person’s best interest. Jacky’s parents were not eligible for appointment as her guardians because of their undocumented immigration status. Rather than risk Jacky becoming a ward of the state, they turned themselves in to immigration authorities in January 2011.

Because Siglos and Gonzales overstayed their visitor’s visas, they would not normally be eligible for permanent residence at this time. Their status would probably make them ineligible, and the government could return them to the Philippines. Immigration from the Philippines is particularly cumbersome, with very long waiting lists for many immigrant categories. Either daughter, since both are U.S. citizens, could hypothetically petition for them to immigrate legally once she turns 21, but both parents would be barred from returning for some period of time for overstaying their visas. The immigration judge’s order granting permanent residence on humanitarian grounds for Jacky’s benefit saved them a considerable amount of grief in the immigration system.

Ohio immigration visa lawyer Gus Shihab helps people with issues in the immigration system, including the often complex and emotional process of keeping families together. For a free and confidential consultation, contact him through his website or at (800) 625-3404.

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