They heard sirens frequently in Chihuahua.
“My husband asked me once, ‘When you hear an ambulance in Dalton what do you think happened?’” recalled Southeast Whitfield High School graduate Gicela Angelica Carranza. “I said, ‘A car accident.’”
“Then he said, ‘When you hear an ambulance here what do you think of?’” she recalled. “And I said, ‘Somebody’s gotten shot.’”
Carranza and her husband Ramon Gonzalez went to Mexico on April 26 so that Carranza could get a visa as the wife of an American citizen. They have been there since, and they say they don’t know when, or if, they will be able to return.
“We didn’t expect to be here long, maybe two months. But we are coming up on that, and I feel like I don’t see the end of this. Everyone tells me to be patient. I know God does everything for a purpose, but I feel like my life is up in the air,” said Carranza this week by telephone.
‘I didn’t want people to know’
Carranza, 24, moved to Dalton from Mexico City when she was 5. She says that, before returning in April, she’d been back to Mexico just once.
“When I was 13 my grandfather was suffering from cancer, we returned to Mexico for a month. I’ve lived in Georgia since,” she said.
Carranza’s parents brought her to the United States illegally, something she says she hid from all but her closest friends.
“High school was a little difficult. Everyone was getting their driver’s license and their learner’s permit, and they were always talking about that and asking each other when they were going to get their learner’s or their driver’s license,” she recalled. “I decided to not even learn how to drive until I was 18. That would be my excuse. That I didn’t know how to drive, and I was scared to drive. I didn’t want people to know (she was in the country illegally) because I felt like I would be an outcast.”
Still, Carranza thrived at Southeast.
“I played soccer. I ran cross country. I was in clubs. I tried to blend in quite a bit,” she said.
After graduating, she earned an associate’s in accounting degree from Coosa Valley Technical College in Calhoun, now part of Georgia Northwestern Technical College, and worked as a personal assistant to a contractor in Chattanooga.
Two years ago, she met Gonzalez, a Dalton High School graduate who was born in Texas.
“We have a couple of friends in common, and we friended each other on Facebook. We got to know each other on Facebook, and we decided to go out on our first date on Valentine’s Day 2010, and we just clicked. We got married May 16, 2011,” she said.
Carranza said it was difficult telling Gonzalez that she was in the country illegally.
“In 2010 we went to Myrtle Beach. He drove, and I told him,” she said. “It was something delicate with me. I had no control over it. I was so little when I was brought over. But I always felt a certain shame. I was afraid people would look at me differently.”
Gonzalez said he was surprised when she told him.
“If you talk to her and spend any time with her, she’s as American as anyone can be,” he said.
Shortly before their marriage, the two began talking about obtaining legal status for Carranza, and they started the process in June of last year, talking to lawyers in Dalton.
“It’s a very long and expensive process. We didn’t think it would be so hard. I’ve lived in Dalton my entire life. I have no criminal record. I went through school as far as I could,” Carranza said.
The couple flew to Mexico in April.
“We had to exit through Juarez because that’s where the consulate is. We were there a week, and we barely left the hotel because we were so scared. Then we went to Chihuahua. He has an aunt there, and we wanted to stay there because we didn’t think we would be here so long,” Carranza said.
After realizing that they might be in Mexico longer than they thought, they went to stay with Gonzalez’ grandmother in Zacatecas.
“We are now just here waiting to hear something (from the consulate),” Carranza said. “We try not to go out a lot, and when we do we try to go with somebody from here. In Dalton, you don’t have to be afraid to leave your home. Here you don’t know who to trust other than your family. We’ve been warned not to talk to each other in English at all because people will think you come from money and you’ll be a target.”
The legal tangle
Atlanta immigration attorney Charles Kuck isn’t handling Carranza’s case, but he says his firm has helped some 300 people in similar situations over the last five years.
“Back in 1996, Congress passed a law called the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act,” he said. “That law did three things. It says that if you came into this country illegally you can’t get a green card here. You have to go back home. It also says that if you came to the U.S. illegally and stayed for one year after you turned 18, when you leave you have a 10-year bar (to being legally readmitted) that’s forgivable. And third, it said that if you leave, after being here one year illegally after you turn 18, and re-enter illegally, you are permanently barred. That can only be waived after you have lived in your home country 10 years.”
Kuck says that if Carranza has not left the United States since she was 13 until now she should not be permanently banned from re-entering the United States. However, she does face a 10-year ban.
“But that’s waivable,” he said. “Right now, it takes about four months to get an appointment to submit a waiver. Once they submit that waiver, immigration approves about 50 percent of those waivers in three to five days.”
What about the remaining 50 percent?
“Immigration may say they want more information or they just may say they want more time to review the information they already have. Those applications typically take another 18 months before immigration calls them back for another interview. After that, they approve about 60 percent of those waivers,” Kuck said. “Overall, the approval rate is upwards of 80 percent. But it can take some time, particularly if someone is in that second half.”
Kuck says the key to a successful waiver is demonstrating the citizen would suffer “extreme hardship” if his or her spouse isn’t allowed to return to the United States.
“Her suffering doesn’t matter. They’ll have to show her husband will suffer,” he said.
‘The life you love’
Carranza said it’s difficult getting adjusted to life in Mexico.
“It hasn’t rained here in about a year. They have a lot of water restrictions. There’s no air conditioning, and it’s so hot. In Dalton, you don’t even think about having water or air conditioning, and here those are luxuries,” she said. “I started to suffer from anxiety attacks. I had one days before we left. I had two or three in Chihuahua. I haven’t had one here thankfully. It’s hard to think about the possibility that you might have to live apart from the life you love.”
Gonzalez says the uncertainty is tough on both of them but it has hit his wife harder.
“I’m kind of used to Mexico because I’d come spend summers with my grandmother when I was younger. The crime wasn’t as bad back then. But she’s not used to this at all,” he said.
They heard sirens frequently in Chihuahua.
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