GLENWOOD SPRINGS — Yesenia Arreola and her husband, Jorge, had a nice life in the Roaring Fork Valley. She is a longtime employee of Colorado Mountain College as a Youth Outreach Coordinator in Glenwood Springs, and he had just started a job as a caretaker in Aspen.
The Carbondale residents recently moved to Aspen. They have been married since 2006 and have a 3-year-old son, Ian.
The Arreolas believed they were doing the right thing when Jorge went back to Mexico earlier this month as part of the process to get an immigrant visa to become a lawful permanent resident of the United States.
The couple had obtained a waiver under the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) that allowed him to get the waiver while still in the United States and then go to Mexico to apply for his permanent residency visa in the United States.
The waiver is part the Obama administration’s Provisional Unlawful Presence Waiver that went into effect on March 4, 2013. The law still requires the immigrant to go outside the United States to apply for the visa, but greatly reduces the amount of time an immigrant must spend outside the United States and separated from their families. The previous separation time ran anywhere from 3-10 years, depending on circumstances.
Jorge had been approved every step of the way, but his visa was denied at the last minute, and he is now stuck in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, while his wife and son remain in the Roaring Fork Valley.
“My husband spent 13 years of his life in the U.S., and in 10 minutes our whole life got turned upside down,” said Yesenia Arreola. “We did everything the system told us to, and we are still ending up separated. As a U.S. citizen, I cannot comprehend how my own government is doing this to me and our son. My life is impacted in so many ways. My health is suffering, my job is suffering, and I may need to withdraw from my graduate program at DU. It’s unbearable.”
Tania Valenzuela, who works for Colorado Progressive Coalition, is also a member of a group called “Not One More” in Denver, made up of community members who support and gather to offer support to families who are separated from their loved ones in cases like the Arreolas.
“With this waiver, the separation shouldn’t be longer than two weeks. We don’t know what has happened,” Valenzuela said. “We need to show the Citizen and Immigration Services that Jorge is an important part of the community and needs to come back now.”
Yesenia was a staunch Obama supporter and campaigned for his re-election in 2012. She even received a personal thank-you from Obama.
“I thought that when Obama created the waiver, it meant he really cared about families staying together,” Yesenia said. “I need Obama’s support just like he needed mine when he was campaigning. I just want my U.S. citizen son to have his father.”
CMC students who have been helped by Yesenia, along with other supporters, are planning to meet at 5 p.m. outside of the CMC-Glenwood Center at 1402 Blake Ave. on Monday, Feb. 24, to hold a press conference and launch a petition to urge the USCIS to expedite Jorge’s visa approval.
“Yesenia is a long-term employee at the college and provided some very good services to the students,” said CMC Trustee Mary Ellen Denomy. “The students are upset and are trying to show their support for her.”
However, when contacted Friday afternoon, some CMC officials said they were unaware of anything being held at the Blake Avenue campus and thought something was happening at the Garfield County Courthouse, in order to alleviate issues of parking and students getting to and from classes.
“No, we’re going to be at Blake Avenue,” Valenzuela confirmed Friday evening. “We got approval from the board members, and we will be very respectful.”
The main goal is to get Jorge back home to his wife and son, Valenzuela said. Yesenia has been responsible for helping countless first-generation college students in the Roaring Fork Valley make the transition to higher education, but if Jorge’s visa is not approved, Yesenia says she will have to decide whether to leave Colorado to be with him.
“She loves her husband dearly,” Valenzuela said. “Her son asks about his daddy every day. They are a very religious family and want to be together. He needs to come home.”