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Celeste Galbraith | Courtesy From left to right: Cindy Sigua, Carolina Pangilinan, Corazon Espinosa, Celeste Galbraith, Fides Bondoc, and Teena Jensen.
How long is legal route to Utah? It could be 58 years for mom

Errors, strict rules and denied waivers keep a woman from joining family in Utah.

First Published Sep 21 2013 01:01 am • Last Updated Feb 14 2014 11:34 pm

Corazon Espinosa, 66, has struggled more than half her life — a frustrating 35 years — trying to immigrate legally to join her Filipino family in Utah. Every Sunday, she knew she was missing another family gathering with food, jokes and laughter. She missed marriages, births and deaths.

It especially hurts her knowing that she could be a legal resident now if her mother — her immigration sponsor — had lived just five months longer, until government officials had approved her application after a 16-year wait.

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It was only one of many frustrations.

Her earliest application was voided because she got married. Immigration officials could have granted waivers to help her, but refused. If she had immigrated illegally, other rules would have made her a legal resident by now. Then there was the application that the government lost, causing a decade-long delay.

Immigration officials now tell her the best way to join the 76 members of her extended family in Utah permanently and legally would be to start the process over again — which would take an estimated 23 years more. She would be 89.

"I cannot comprehend why others who took the back door in getting to the USA have more chances than I, who have done all legal measures," Corazon says from Australia, where she now lives. "I am not happy at the immigration process now in place. I wish it could be more humane and compassionate."

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, who has been trying to help Corazon, says her experience shows the system is broken.

"If we don’t fix legal immigration, how will we ever solve illegal immigration? We have a higher moral obligation to try to help those who try to enter legally than those who don’t."

Corazon’s Utah attorney, Ernest Messerly, says her treatment at the hands of the U.S. government has been "unconscionable, even inhumane."

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Try » Corazon began trying to immigrate to the United States in 1978. She was sponsored by her mother, Zenaida Sigua. Sigua tried to sponsor her husband and all seven of her children living abroad after she had immigrated following the marriage of one daughter to a U.S. citizen while attending BYU-Hawaii.

Corazon — living up to her name, which means "heart" in Spanish — had immigrated to Australia in 1976 for a secretarial job. She says she hoped to help her family out of poverty and assist "my younger siblings get a better education. I have lived away from them ever since."

Although she would become an Australian citizen, U.S. immigration considers her Filipino because of her birth. That put her in much longer country-specific waiting lines for an immigration visa.

In 1979 at age 32, Corazon was married after her Filipino boyfriend went to Australia to join her. That voided her first petition because, as Messerly says, rules allow legal permanent residents, like Corazon’s mother, to sponsor only unmarried children. U.S. citizens, however, can also sponsor their married children.

Try » Zenaida Sigua became a U.S. citizen in 1984 and filed a new application for her now-married daughter.

"But the file was lost," says Jennifer Andelin, an aide to Chaffetz. "They found it years later, after we were insistent" and a more serious search was conducted.

However, Andelin says the current file is incomplete. After it was found, immigration officials said Corazon’s mother had never sent in requested documents — so the application must have been denied. However, Andelin notes that the file contains no denial letter. And she says the mother was meticulous with her immigration applications and record-keeping.

"So it’s hard to believe she didn’t do it in this case. But it is considered denied," Andelin says, even after requests for reconsideration by Chaffetz.

Without knowing the file was lost, Corazon waited patiently thinking she was in line for immigration. In 1993, she received a letter from the U.S. consulate in Sydney, Australia, saying that the long-awaited time to move on her application had arrived. It asked her to complete and send a form.

She did, but soon received a letter saying she was denied — because she was married.

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