JACKSONVILLE (ActionNewsJax.com) -- Cesar Lopez is like any proud father. His baby girl, Mia, is the center of his world. But Cesar is more than a thousand miles away from his St. Augustine home, separated from his wife and child.
The St. Augustine man is banned from returning home because his mother snuck him across the border from Mexico when he was 5 years old.
Cesar grew up living the American dream only to have it taken away once he applied for citizenship. Working without an attorney, Cesar returned to Mexico to await a decision from immigration. Once he got there, Cesar was told he couldn't return to the states for 10 years.
His wife, Kathleen, has a lawyer now who explains that the only way to get Cesar home is to file a hardship waiver.
Kathleen said, "That's what we are applying for. That is showing we are here we need him home. She (Mia) needs him home."
Elizabeth Ricci, the Lopez family attorney told Action News, "The U.S. citizen's family member or permanent resident has to prove they will suffer an extreme hardship if they are forced to be separated from their spouse or move abroad. That's a very high legal standard and it's very difficult to prove."
Mia's pediatrician filed documentation claiming it's not safe for the infant to travel to Mexico. The Lopez's attorney says this family will have to wait about a year to have their case heard.
But help may come sooner. Action News took the Lopez's story to newly re-elected U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson who said, "When a child is brought here through no fault of their own by their parents illegally, the child grows up thinking they're American and at the end of high school they want to go into the military or go to college they aught to be able to stay here even though their parents are undocumented.
Nelson says the plight of people like this St. Augustine missionary and his family could be fixed in Washington by the proposed DREAM Act. The bill would allow permanent residency for children brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents who graduate American high schools or join the military.
Nelson said, "I'm the sponsor of the DREAM Act. If we could get the opposition in Congress to pass the DREAM Act, it would be law and this would never happen to Cesar."
That is the long-term solution. In the short term, Nelson's staff is looking into speeding up the hardship waiver process. Kathleen says she is glad to have the attention of Nelson's staff.