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Originally published Tuesday, June 3, 2014 at 8:02 PM

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Family stays intact, but immigration system still broken

The federal government does the right thing for an immigrant and his American family — but only because it was in the news.


Seattle Times staff columnist

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"All I can do now is work as hard as I can to show I deserve this," he said. "Congress, we can't tell all the stories.... MORE
Westneat is definitely right on this one; the immigration system IS clearly broken. If it wasn't, this guy would have... MORE
Danny Weatneat -- Supporting illegal immigration one sob story at a time. MORE

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When Jaime Rubio-Sulficio first heard the news he could stay in America after all, even he felt it seemed a little random.

“To be honest, I am happy but also confused, ” he says. “They change their minds so quick! Well that means they can also change their minds right back.”

Rubio-Sulficio is a Shoreline man who sneaked into the country from Mexico nine years ago. Since then, he’s married an American woman, had an American son and started a successful stucco business. Yet he was ordered deported anyway.

Twice he appealed, citing the folly of breaking up his American family. Twice he was denied.

“I had given up,” he says. “I was getting ready to go.”

Two days after his story ran in The Seattle Times last week, the national headquarters of Immigration and Customs Enforcement overturned the deportation order, granting Rubio-Sulficio a one-year stay.

According to Rubio-Sulficio’s attorney, Lori Walls, the office of Congressman Jim McDermott forwarded the column and signatures from a growing online petition to national immigration officials.

“I guess they don’t like bad press,” Walls said. “The system should be that if you have a good case, as this was, then you win on the facts. It does all feel a little arbitrary.”

It sure does. I chose to write about this guy because he’s a success story and disarmingly honest about what he did wrong. His story also show how inflexible immigration policies often punish Americans — in this case making his American wife and son choose between country and family.

So I’m thrilled they won a round in their fight to stay together.

But it’s yet another sign of how broken the immigration system really is if cases are being decided by who gets in the newspaper.

This is the second time in two months that a story in The Seattle Times has reversed a deportation order for a local immigrant — great news for those two families, but also proof of the crying need for reform.

Since writing that column, I’ve heard daily stories of more American families torn apart by immigration. One man was deported away from his Seattle wife and two daughters, all U.S. citizens, after just six days in detention. His wife has since lost their house.

In another, a Kirkland woman, a U.S. citizen, was separated from her husband and two daughters when he was deported to Mexico. Their story made a splash in the Spanish-language newspaper La Opinión, which said the Kirkland woman is part of “a newly emerging class of victims of the broken immigration system: Anglos impacted by the deportation of their partners.”

The head of a group that tries to get legal representation for deportees said that if he took me through the federal lockup in Tacoma to meet all 1,350 immigrants currently housed there, I’d come away thinking most of their stories were just as compelling as Rubio-Sulficio’s.

“If it was like ‘American Idol,’ and each one got to tell their story on television and then have the whole country vote ‘should they stay or go?’ I honestly believe most of them would get to stay,” says Jorge Barón, director of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project. “People say ‘deport them all,’ but that’s in the abstract. It changes when you meet them.”

Except that 90 percent of detainees never get a lawyer. Let alone a spot in a newspaper column.

I get that these are hard issues, and people disagree on what a fair system would look like. I favor more visas to allow more legal immigration, as well as a path to citizenship, especially for those who are part of U.S. families. But right now Congress isn’t working to find any solution.

They could take a clue from the guy who was almost deported. When I got Rubio-Sulficio on the phone, he was out of breath from stucco-plastering a house in Renton.

“All I can do now is work as hard as I can to show I deserve this,” he said.

Congress, we can’t tell all the stories. Stop fiddling while these very American families burn.

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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