Immigration Law

DACA Recipient Stranded in Mexico Sues to Reunite with Husband in the U.S.

NILC, Apr. 10, 2018 - "A married couple separated by a failure of the U.S. immigration system today filed a federal lawsuit asking the court to allow them to reunite and continue their lives together at home in Los Angeles, Calif.

Marco Villada, a recipient of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), and Israel Serrato, a U.S. citizen, are suing the U.S. State Department and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) after consular officials unlawfully denied Villada’s application for a spouse visa and prohibited him from returning to the U.S., potentially indefinitely. Despite having lived nearly his entire life in the U.S. and following all the rules to adjust his immigration status, Villada is currently stranded in Mexico, away from the only place he knows as home.

“I’m an American stuck in the wrong country,” Villada said. “I don’t belong here. I belong in Los Angeles. My husband, my family, my job, my life — everything is there.”

“This isn’t just hard on us, it’s impacting our family, Marco’s coworkers, and so many other people in our lives,” Serrato said. “But despite all of this, we remain hopeful that our government will do the right thing and we will be together at home again soon.”

Villada, 34, arrived in the U.S. when he was six years old and had been approved for DACA until 2019. He and Serrato were married in 2014, six months after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). The couple has been working for years to adjust Villada’s status to lawful permanent residency.

In January, after USCIS approved a provisional waiver that should have allowed Villada to reenter the U.S., the couple traveled to Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, for a consular interview. There, a consular official denied their visa application on grounds that legally cannot apply. USCIS also failed to properly notify Villada that the information he provided in his visa application could render the provisional waiver he received invalid.

The lawsuit contends that Villada is eligible for a spouse visa and lawfully entitled to return to the U.S. Villada and Serrato are represented by the National Immigration Law Center, the Law Offices of Stacy Tolchin, and Mayer Brown LLP.

“Marco and Israel are living any couple’s worst nightmare,” said Stacy Tolchin, attorney with the Law Offices of Stacy Tolchin. “Their story is an example of how our immigration system fails to uphold our most fundamental family values and makes a mockery of the rule of law.”

“Unfortunately, Marco and Israel are experiencing the devastating impact of Washington’s failure to find a solution for Dreamers,” said Andrew Pincus, a partner at Mayor Brown LLP. “Marco would not be stuck in Mexico today if President Trump and Congress had reached agreement on a solution for Dreamers.”

Villada has worked as a legal assistant at a law firm in Los Angeles for four years and is beloved and missed by his coworkers. Serrato, who is back in Los Angeles, had to move out of the couple’s home due to financial difficulties without Villada’s financial contribution.

Villada’s younger brother is enlisted in the U.S. Army and slated to deploy for a second tour in the Middle East in May. The news has been especially difficult for Villada’s mother, who is now having to deal with potentially being separated from two of her sons at once.

“Immigrant youth like Marco are an inextricable part of our communities,” said Nora Preciado, senior staff attorney at the National Immigration Law Center. “Marco is a loving spouse, a model employee, a brother to an active duty military member, and a vibrant member of the LGBTQ community. Our anti-immigrant policies don’t just hurt immigrants — they hurt all of us.”

“Marco’s case is an example of how the Trump administration’s politics continue to tear families apart,” said Crissel Rodriguez, Southern California regional coordinator at the California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance. “We have a president who chooses to attack and tweet about undocumented youth and fails to provide solutions that can keep families and communities safe.”

“Immigrant rights are an LGBTQ issue; more than 75,500 Dreamers identify as LGBTQ and over 36,000 of them have benefitted from DACA,” said Sarah Warbelow, legal director of the Human Rights Campaign. “Situations like Marco’s are untenable and unjust — we must do better as a country.”

The complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California today is available at www.nilc.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Villada-Garibay-v-State-Dept-complaint-2018-04-10.pdf.

Audio for today’s press call is available at www.nilc.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/LAWSUIT-041018.mp3"