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Originally published May 27, 2014 at 9:34 PM | Page modified May 28, 2014 at 8:08 AM

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Despite Obama, immigration is still splitting up families

The one thing missing from a government immigration case in Shoreline is family values.


Seattle Times staff columnist

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There’s no disputing how Jaime Rubio-Sulficio got here. He’ll tell you himself: He sneaked in from Mexico.

“The first time, nine years ago, I came in through Arizona,” he says. “I understand I did bad. I did it to try to improve my life.”

But what’s happened since then is turning the Shoreline man and his family into a test case of sorts for American deportation policy.

Last month, President Obama announced a review of the deportation system because, he said, “We shouldn’t be in the business of tearing families apart who otherwise are law-abiding.”

Tear a family apart is exactly what the government is about to do.

Rubio-Sulficio, 32, has been ordered out of the country by June 30. This though he’s married to an American citizen, has an American son, runs a successful stucco plastering business and has no criminal record — save for that one time he was nabbed at the border.

That happened in 2010, after he had gone back to Mexico to take care of his ailing mother. When he tried to cross back to the states, he was rounded up by Border Patrol and spent about a month in detention. He was charged with “illegal entry,” a misdemeanor.

He was eventually released on a bond back to the Seattle area. But because he entered the country illegally more than once, he now faces what is known in immigration law as the “permanent bar” — a potentially lifelong ban from the U.S. regardless of any family ties here.

“It’s a common misconception that someone who is married to a U.S. citizen and has a U.S. citizen kid won’t be deported,” says Rubio-Sulficio’s Seattle-based attorney, Lori Walls. “They do it all the time. It’s one of the cruelest parts of immigration law, and they’re about to do it again.”

It’s also true that rules are rules. As the Immigration and Customs Enforcement official wrote in ordering Rubio-Sulficio out of the country: “While I am sympathetic to the impact (your) removal from the United States may pose, the circumstances you present are not significantly different from the circumstances of many others unlawfully present in the United States.”

In other words: U.S. policy tears families apart all the time.

Now many of you will argue that if Rubio-Sulficio hadn’t broken the law in the first place then there would be no problem. If you lived in the slums outside Mexico City, as he did, I imagine you’d see this more as a bolt for a better life than a crime. But it’s true — he did break the law.

But how does the punishment at all match the crime?

Rubio-Sulficio’s wife, Keiko Maruyama, has epilepsy and suffers from seizures, but is intent on following him back to Mexico.

“He’s my husband; what else can I do?” she told me through tears.

But Rubio-Sulficio says he won’t let her live in Mexico because there are scant jobs, limited medical care and poor opportunities for his 15-month-old son.

“I’m not going to put my wife and son at risk there,” he said.

So the government will either split this family, forcing a 1-year-old American to be raised by a single mom. Or it will effectively deport two of our own citizens down to Mexico. All to rid our shores of an immigrant success story.

If you were in charge, what would you do with Jaime Rubio-Sulficio?

Well that’s the biggest problem: Nobody is in charge. Obama talks compassion but keeps up the family-splitting deportations. Congress is paralyzed, as Republicans want even more deportations and regard the Democratic ideas as soft.

I’d make him pay a fine and put him on a path to citizenship. Yes, amnesty. I’d also beef up the border while expanding the legal ways to get into the country, so there hopefully would be fewer dilemmas like this in the future.

But any immigration policy should start with what one of dozens of Seattleites pointedly wrote the government in support of Rubio-Sulficio:

“We have enough broken families in the U.S. already. We don’t need to break any new ones.”

Danny Westneat’s column appears Wednesday and Sunday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or dwestneat@seattletimes.com



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About Danny Westneat

Danny Westneat takes an opinionated look at the Puget Sound region's news, people and politics. Send tips or comments to dwestneat@seattletimes.com. His column runs Wednesday and Sunday.
dwestneat@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2086

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