Real Immigrant Stories
The people below are not alone. Our broken immigration system affect tens of millions of lives every year. Too often, their stories go untold, please read what they have to say. Do you have an immigration story that you would like to tell? Click here to share your story.
Dulaney Hunter Stehl - Richmond, VA
October 2, 2011
For Immigration Law Reform:
I, Dulaney Hunter Stehl, am a citizen of the United States of America. I am registering my story for U.S. immigration law change. There must be some exception in the law, for my circumstance, other than what is now available.
I met Isaac Palomares Guillen in Washington, D.C. in 2000. I love to dance, and I was dancing when I met Isaac. Neither of us could speak the other’s language fluently, but I could feel a strong connection with him. We dated using our dictionaries so we could better communicate what we were feeling. It is like we already knew each other. This type of feeling propelled me to continue seeing Isaac even though my Spanish was rusty and it was extra effort to say what we wanted to say. It forced me to go slowly, to trust more, and to express myself simply. Through this a whole new world opened for me. I felt safe with Isaac. He showed me kindness, respect, loyalty, support and consistency. I followed this connection with Isaac, and in so doing, I found the love I had been looking for all my life.
I worked then, as well as now, in computers to design and implement systems. In my work, I develop requirements and the concept for the system design. Sometimes I work on- site, most but most times I am concentrating at the computer—telecommuting. Isaac was a teacher in Mexico.
Before meeting Isaac, I was having trouble sleeping and was searching for the root of my problem. I had trouble concentrating and it was a strain to work. My back and chest ached and I experienced migraine headaches.
I met Isaac’s brother and family who live here in the U.S. I spent time with them for many family birthdays and holidays. Isaac met my family and friends and we spent holidays and vacations together with them.
Isaac and I shared our beliefs about life, love, and God. We have a very strong relationship that is spiritually founded and has already proven its strength when times have not been the best. Isaac is my life partner and is a huge support for me.
Since he was living in Maryland and I was living in Richmond, we decided that I move to Maryland to live together and be a part of his family there. I could continue to work in computers from Maryland.
Isaac had been separated from his wife for three years before he came to the U.S. in 2000. He was trying to obtain a divorce with the help of Mexican lawyers while he was here. This was not working very well.
Isaac applied for a work VISA while he lived in Maryland. It was denied.
In 2003 we decided to move back to Richmond. We bought an older run-down house which with his sweat equity, we planned to totally renovate. We began the project, living together, in 2003.
I was still having trouble sleeping and began having more chest, neck, back, and tingling pains in my extremities. I went to the emergency room more than once, thinking I was having a heart attack. I continued to seek doctors’ help to determine what was happening to me. I followed the medical advice but did not get any relief. I sought the help of alternative medicine and psychotherapy. I practiced the techniques I was taught. I got only limited relief because my symptoms continued with migraine headaches, tingling in the arms and legs, face and jaw, and neck pain that left me with muscles too stiff to continue sitting at the computer or to concentrate.
The mystery continued as I went from doctor to doctor and alternative practitioners, trying each avenue recommended. I thought I might have lupus, MS, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, or a brain tumor. It was beginning to be a problem for me to work full-time. During this time I wasn’t sleeping; maybe 2-3 nights a week and then for maybe for only 5-6 hours. I was going to many doctors trying to resolve this. I kept trying to maintain work, but I could only do that for a limited time. I was concerned how to pay for all the therapies that were not covered by my health insurance or co-insurance. I was able to find temporary contract work at times but I could not do it continually. So, I would take a break in between jobs and Isaac would continue working, paying bills, and maintaining the household. My pain became more severe and many more symptoms developed. I continued to consult doctors to resolve my health issues. At one point I was out of work for 18 months.
Isaac and I wanted to be together, be married, and live in the U.S. It seemed that I could only live here due to my health issues. I consulted immigration legal advice. I was told that he basically had to be back in Mexico for 10 years before he could obtain a VISA. It would be shorter if we were married. We would have gotten married if Isaac were already divorced. So, in 2006, Isaac went back to Mexico to start the immigration clock, knowing full well he could not return. We wanted to follow the legal guidelines we were given; that is, to do it the right way. He was unhappy being in the U.S. because things were not resolved legally. He wanted his divorce and to be here legally. We did not want to be apart from each other, but we wanted to make everything right and start a life together free and clear.
Meanwhile, I was still not feeling well. I was able to get enough pain medicine to accompany Isaac back to Mexico. I wanted to be with him as much as possible and to meet the rest of his family. I did so and then returned to the U.S.
I didn’t know what would happen to me in Isaac’s absence. I just knew this was the right thing to do—what we had to do. My health was not getting any better and I was still not sleeping after trying many sleep aids and therapies. The hard clamping down of my jaw, face, and head, my legs twitching, and internal shaking kept me awake until it was almost time to get up to go to work. These symptoms increased at times. I had spells of this with increased intensity of the same head pain and shaking. This would occur when I would think of Isaac and me being separated, or my exhausting search for a healing solution. My expenses were piling up because I had to pay someone to do what Isaac would normally do at home. I was beginning to get really depressed, while trying to cope with my situation.
I was afraid. My circumstances and condition made me nervous and the nervousness made my condition worse. It was a vicious circle. I sought support from my family and friends, trying my best to hang on.
Isaac and I would talk every night. I would tell him about everything and how I was feeling. Even though I tried not to complain, I couldn’t help but share the truth with him about my unsettled health. I was anxiety ridden, discouraged, and in despair. A simple discussion triggered my symptoms to flare.
In Isaac’s desperation to get back to me, he did something he never would have considered doing. Isaac attempted to get back here to help me. He borrowed another person’s passport in order to cross the border. We know that this was a huge mistake. It set us back even further.
I continued to travel back and forth to Mexico, as difficult and expensive as it was. We had to be together as much as we could. Finally, after much time, Isaac was divorced. We decided to get married in Cholula in 2008. I then returned to the U.S.
I was torn apart from being separated and not knowing where to turn, to say nothing of who my next doctor or treatment might be. Where was the money to come from to pay for all the therapies and out of pocket expenses of going back and forth to Mexico? My nerves would get worse when I would think of our helpless situation. I used calming techniques, but they always took a long time to work.
I tried to maintain my work and continued what we started, but I could not and cannot replace Isaac’s part in our home. I live with a lot of our home in various states of disrepair and renovation. I have had to let a lot of it go. I can’t pay for it and I can’t do it myself. I can only try to take care of myself. I live in a constant state of limbo in every way—in my marriage, my house, and my work.
To start the immigration process I consulted another immigration lawyer. I learned that I could apply for Isaac to come to the U.S as my husband via a waiver. This waiver would be applicable to us due to my illness. I now do not think I have gotten the best legal help here in Richmond. It was a long arduous process that could have been avoided had I gotten the correct advice. We finally got a first interview with the U.S. Embassy in Ciudad Juarez for August 31, 2011. We were denied a waiver due to the fact that Isaac tried to re-enter the U.S. I now understand this part of the law. I could have deciphered the law myself on the internet, but I couldn’t and still can’t stay at the computer researching into the night. This is why I sought help from immigration lawyers in the first place.
It now looks like it will take 5 more years, until 2016, before Isaac and I can apply again. That is the 10 year marker.
Over the last years I have not been able to continue with activities as I used to. I definitely haven’t been able to do day-to-day activities, like housekeeping, carrying groceries, and certainly not dance. As it turns out I was finally diagnosed with fibromyalgia / chronic widespread pain. I have been taking some treatment. Sometimes I have good days, but I experience insomnia and I am in a lot of pain. I get very nervous and have panic attacks. I discovered also that I am allergic to many every day environmental substances and common foods. My muscles in my back, shoulders, neck, throat, head, and face still clamp down and harden. My hands and feet still tingle or burn. It is still hard to concentrate. I am still searching for avenues of healing. I do not know if this diagnosis is the last because the symptoms of this illness mimic so many other illnesses.
My symptoms are aggravated by sudden movements, emotional strain, stress, and sitting for longer than a half- hour. As explained earlier my job is stressful and I have to sit all day at my computer and concentrate to design systems.
I have made some trips to Mexico but it remains arduous and costly. I need to take a less stressful job and work less hours. This means significantly less income to support my health and our home. I have a supportive family and friends but I am essentially alone. If Isaac were home with me, I would have the additional support and income to manage my health issues, maintain our marriage, and maintain our home.
One can now see the vicious circle we have been living in. We were simply trying to do the right thing. We were trying to have Isaac, my husband, here with me legally. The law provides for a hardship waiver that is applicable to illness. I have an illness hardship. He tried to get back to me because of this illness which turns out to be the worst thing we could have done. Because Isaac tried to re-enter the U.S., the waiver does not apply anymore. It is because of my illness and desperation, he tried to come back to help me. I am still not well, but I can’t apply for the hardship waiver, not for 5 years.
I am seeking immigration law change to handle our sincere extenuating circumstances. There must be some exception for situations such as ours. What is at stake here is not just my well being, or my livelihood, but my marriage.
Dulaney Hunter Stehl