JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Mia Lopez is the pride and joy of St. Augustine couple Cesar and Kathleen Lopez.
Cesar, a Christian missionary, had to watch his baby’s birth via Skype and has still never had an opportunity to hold her. Cesar is banned from setting foot in the United States for ten years.
Action News has learned that Cesar is far from alone.
Elizabeth Ricci, an immigration attorney, told Action News, “I probably see five or six people a week like this.”
She says because Cesar lived in the U.S. for more than a year illegally, the ten year ban is automatic. Ricci also says it’s “problematic.”
“They did what they had to do,” said Ricci, “Unfortunately, this ban is actually a disincentive for people to do the right thing because they don’t want to take the chance of being subject to that ten year re-entry bar.”
The Lopezes admit to a major mistake while tackling the immigration process. Instead of trying to handle the situation alone, they now believe they should have hired a lawyer first. Cesar Lopez said, “That's the biggest regret I have.”
His wife, Kathleen told Action News, “There’s not a day where I don't sit there and think, ‘Why do you let him go? Why did you print out the paperwork?’”
Had they waited for legal help, Cesar could have qualified for a two-year work permit under a defered action order signed by President Obama in June. But Cesar wanted permanent residency so he could live in St. Augustine with his wife, legally. Now he says he won’t risk breaking the law to come back.
"I'd rather see my wife and see my child via Skype for the moment than to have to make a call from a jail cell,” said Lopez.
The only chance of getting Cesar back to St. Augustine legally is for Kathleen to file a hardship waiver. But the Lopezes are running out of time.
"Their standard time to adjudicate a case is 12 months,” said Ricci, “But nothing is impossible. I wouldn’t say there’s no chance, but it’s highly unlikely that he’s going to hear anything in less than a year.”
Cesar Lopez said from Mexico, “Right now, the hardest thing I'm struggling with is not being able to be there with Kathleen and with Mia.”
Alone in St. Augustine with her new baby girl, Kathleen maintains hope and asks her critics to remember this, “It's not just a person. You're not just sending a foreigner back to a country,” Kathleen told Action News, “It's families you're tearing apart.”
Kathleen and Cesar are now saving money to apply for the hardship waiver, but the process is slow.
Action News is following up with lawmakers who promise to help the Lopezes. Stay tuned to Action News for continuing coverage in the days to follow.