Rifle man’s fragile son stuck in Mexico

Kelli Rollin
Alberto Chavez-Tena and Daniel.
Provided photo |

He works 65 hours a week, but Alberto Chavez-Tena of Rifle spends most of his time worrying about his wife and two young sons in Mexico.

He has been separated from them for seven months and is especially concerned about his younger son, a U.S. citizen who requires intensive medical care due to short-limbed dwarfism and can’t get the attention he needs in Mexico. Daniel is at risk of sudden death, according to his Grand Junction doctor, and must be with his mother, who is trained to provide his day-to-day care.

Chavez-Tena’s wife, Irene Caraveo Flores, and their two sons Diego, 4, and Daniel, 18 months, are stuck in Mexico due to a lawyer’s mistake in the immigration process.

“Being far away from them is very, very difficult,” Chavez-Tena told the Post Independent through a translator. “It’s very difficult to go home and not be there with my son.”

“There’s a lot of emotion,” Alberto Chavez-Tena said about being away from his family, including his at-risk son. “Ever since he was born, doctors told us he was going to be special.”

The family now has a new lawyer, Fred Hartman of Ted Hess & Associates of Glenwood Springs, who is optimistic that the family can soon be reunited in Rifle. U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado has staffers working on the case, and advocates for the family have started an online petition to gain support.

However, the drawn-out process puts Daniel’s life in danger even as it shows the complexities of trying to gain legal U.S. residency and the irony of what can happen when a family tries to follow the rules.

Alberto, the son of a U.S. citizen, has permanent U.S. residency. His sons, born here, are American citizens. His wife, though, was in the United States without legal status. Chavez-Tena and Caraveo Flores, who married in 2008, started the process “a few years ago,” Alberto said, for Irene to gain legal residency.

That took on new urgency when Daniel was born. Chavez-Tena, who is uninsured, works long hours at a paving company and can’t fully care for his sons without his wife around.

“He can’t really have a baby here,” Hartman said of Chavez-Tena.

Medical workers trained Caraveo Flores to tend to Daniel around the clock. As part of that, Daniel must be held a certain way to be breast-fed because of his scoliosis.


As part of the complex process to gain residency, Caraveo Flores had to leave the country. According to law, a spouse of a legal resident must leave the country to apply for residency. The person could end up staying in the secondary country for 10 years to gain U.S. residency, but a waiver can eliminate those years of waiting.

Caraveo Flores left the country as advised by the family’s previous lawyer, expecting to come back soon.

After traveling to Juarez, Mexico, with her kids for an interview at the U.S. consulate, the family found out the previous attorney failed to complete a necessary waiver form, Hartman said.

“Anybody who does immigration would know that a waiver is required,” said Hartman, who specializes in immigration cases. “The only way she can get here is to get the waiver approved, or wait 10 years.”

Hartman has since filed the waiver form with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and is trying to expedite it. The USCIS hasn’t responded to the request to expedite the waiver.

“I expect the waiver to be approved within the next few months,” Hartman said.

USCIS officials did not return numerous phone calls from the Post Independent for comment.

Even a few months could be detrimental to little Daniel’s health.

According to a note from Daniel’s Colorado doctor, Barbara Zind, his needs include seeing a geneticist, physical therapist, neurosurgeon and pulmonologist for check-ups every few months.

Due to the dwarfism, Daniel has obstructive sleep apnea and scoliosis. He’s ordered to be put on oxygen every night to help his weak and small respiratory system. When sleeping, Daniel’s lungs aren’t strong enough for him to breathe on his own.

The note also stated that children with his condition are at risk for brain compression at the skull base, which can cause death.


Daniel’s mother is well educated in how to care for her son and his life-threatening issues, while Chavez-Tena works to provide for his family.

“This level of care and subspecialty is not available in Mexico,” Zind said in the letter.

When in the United States, Daniel is able to get the treatment he needs at no cost thanks to Medicaid and his status as a U.S. citizen.

Chavez-Tena said his son was able to get an oxygen machine in Mexico, though it may not be the right kind. His other needs, such as doctor check-ups, aren’t being met in Mexico. Oxygen and physical therapy provided by his mother are the only treatments Daniel is getting. Caraveo Flores is staying in her hometown, a village with no more than 300 homes, her husband said.

“Unfortunately, the child isn’t getting the correct medical care he needs,” Chavez-Tena said through a translator.

Hartman said this is a good case to try to get expedited, because it demonstrates the extreme hardship to the legal U.S. resident that is required.

Hartman said the previous attorney’s mistake could have been a result of miscommunication. He said the couple was under the impression that it was going to be a fast process in Mexico.

“They thought they were going to come right back,” Hartman said. “It’s pretty common for people to get misguided advice,” about immigration law, he said.

The immigration system requires many people to leave the country to gain re-entry, which makes it harder for people who want to play by the rules, Hartman and others said. These families, like Alberto’s, can be torn apart in the process.

“Most people don’t want to go through it,” Hartman said. “They would rather be illegal than put themselves through this.”

Eva Serenil, a staffer for Sen. Bennet, confirmed that she is working on the case to help get the waiver expedited, but said she couldn’t comment on details.

An online petition took off, catching the attention of groups including Little People of America.

Beth Bennett, a parent coordinator for Little People of America, said if Daniel can’t get proper care, death or paralysis could become a reality.

“This would be a case in helping people understand the medical needs of this child,” Bennett said.

Daniel, who has already had one surgery at his young age, may have to have multiple surgeries in his lifetime. According to the Little People of America website, people with Daniel’s condition can live a normal, long and healthy life.


Chavez-Tena’s voice seemed to sparkle when he told of meeting Caraveo Flores at a dance. The two grew up in neighboring towns before Caraveo Flores came to the United States in 2006 to join Chavez-Tena.

The distance between them now limits communication, as it’s a 16-hour drive for Chavez-Tena to get to his family. He saw them two months ago, but it was only for a day because he had to get back to Rifle to work.

“The only way we communicate is through phone,” Chavez-Tena said. “There is no Internet.”

Chavez-Tena spent his first Father’s Day without his kids, who he’s been with ever since their births.

Chavez-Tena said Diego asks when his dad is going to come back to get them from Mexico.

The Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition is working on Chavez-Tena’s case to help expedite the waiver process.

Yesenia Arreola, one of the advocates working on the case through a group called Association of Youth United in Action, said the immigration system is broken and unfair.

Arreola, Colorado Mountain College’s youth outreach coordinator, was in Chavez-Tena’s shoes just a year ago when her husband was stuck in Mexico seeking U.S. residency. She said families shouldn’t be broken apart when trying to go through the process the right way.

“For me, this is harder to see a little boy who needs urgent medical care in the middle of an unjust immigration system,” said Arreola, whose husband is now in Colorado. “This is not fair. This is not how it should be.”

Chavez-Tena will keep working hard, coping with loneliness and anxiety while awaiting his family’s reunion.

“There’s a lot of emotion,” he said about being away from his family, including his at-risk son. “Ever since he was born, doctors told us he was going to be special.”

Of being reunited with his family, he said, “I know it will be soon.”

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