A Hamilton family is hoping a special immigration law will allow them to stay together in the United States.
Juan Carlos Moncada was arrested in 2015 by the Moraine Police Department for operating a vehicle while impaired. That arrest triggered deportation proceedings for Moncada, who entered the country illegally in November 2001 when he was 17 years old.
But Moncada and his wife, Lisa Sweeney, who is a natural-born citizen, are trying to fight the deportation because immigration law allows for undocumented immigrants legal residency through the “parole in place” program so long as they have a spouse, parent or child serving in the U.S. Armed Services. Sweeney’s son, and Moncada’s step-son, Mateo Flores is a specialist in the U.S. Army.
“I worry every day,” said Sweeney. “I don’t know what I would do if he goes back. I don’t know how I would provide for our kids. It’s just stressful; it’s stressful on the kids. They worry about losing their dad.”
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However, it was only after Moncada’s legal troubles when the couple found out he could have applied for “parole in place” — a status Moncada should have applied for before his arrest in Moraine, said attorney Paul Shonk. But he and his wife were unaware of that part of the immigration law that was created during the Obama administration.
“It was designed to give special consideration to people applying for green cards who are close family members of active duty U.S. military personnel,” Shonk said. “It’s basically designed to improve military personnel, for obvious reasons.”
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According to media reports, more than 80 percent of parole in place applications were approved in Fiscal Year 2016 but has dropped to just under 72 percent approval in Fiscal Year 2017.
Until Oct. 10, Moncada’s appeal is still in limbo, Shonk said.
“Technically it was denied, but it wasn’t denied on the merits,” he said. “Mr. Moncada is clearly eligible under the criteria, but because he is in a deportation proceeding, (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services) essentially said we’re not going to give him the benefit of this program as long as he is in this deportation proceeding. He’s stuck between two agencies here.”
Sweeney and Moncada were unaware of this program, and Shonk said many people are equally unaware of the “parole in place” program exists.
“We don’t want to look at worst-case scenarios right now. Obviously, the family doesn’t want to do that, but if the deportation proceedings are not terminated the parole in place will not be granted,” Shonk said. “We don’t think that should be the case, but that in practice that is what is happening.”
And if worst-case happens — which includes a 10-year ban from the country if deported — the family could be in trouble financially.
“She’s going to have t0 pay for everything,” Moncada said. “The bills are expensive. I can’t take my family over there. My family has to stay over here because it’s safer.”
Sweeney said they “barely survive” now with both of them working.
Sweeney and Moncada met in 2003 and were married in 2007. The couple has four children, which includes Sweeney’s two children from a previous marriage.
Moncada said he’s learned from that mistake in 2015 and just wants to take care of his family. And while he knows he “messed up,” he also knows if he is deported he must leave his family behind.
“I can’t take my family over there because it’s too dangerous,” he said.
Moncada said he left Honduras in 2001 because the gangs in the country were recruiting him. He said his uncle helped him escape the violence of Honduras.
“My life would be better here,” he said.
Sweeney and Moncada hired Fairfield-based Rodriguez and Porter to represent them in immigration court.
Flores has also tried to help his step-father stay in the country.
“Since I was 6 there’s been one constant father-figure in my life: my step-father Carlos,” said the 21-year-old.
Flores said his biological father “was rarely in my life,” and Moncada treated he and his younger brother “as if we were his own.”
When he was close to graduating high school, Moncada helped his step-son train to join the Army. He had to lose some weight and needed to get into better shape before leaving for basic training.
“He helped me succeed in a career path I didn’t think I would physically be able to keep up with,” Flores said. “It feels wrong to call him my stepfather. He was a part of my life since I was 6 and taught me how to be a man and how to treat others. He is in every aspect of the word my real father.”