Immigration Laws Lead to Fatal Family Separation

The NY Times recently ran a heartbreaking story about Elizabeth Drummond and Segundo Encalada, a couple who were married with children when Encalada was forced by immigration officials to take a "voluntary departure" back to Ecuador. A lawyer advised the Drummond-Encalada family that the process of obtaining a visa from a United States Consulate in Encalada's native Ecuador would take two months to a year.

Only couples married after April 2001 have to endure this separation due to changes in immigration laws. Before 1996, Encalada would have been offered the chance to stay with his family while proving that the marriage was not a sham or an attempt to circumvent immigration laws. By the time he was sent back to Ecuador, the Encalada family had expanded to include three baby girls and Drummond's son from a previous relationship (who referred to Encalada as "Daddy Segundo"). 

But two months became three years and on Dec. 15, 2009, Encalada—disconsolate at the thought of spending another holiday away from the family he had lost and trapped in a country he had not called home since his teens—committed suicide.

“The State Department should be ashamed of itself in this case,” Representative Steve Israel of Long Island, NY told the NY Times. “Immigration policy in the United States is dysfunctional no matter which side of the issue, or the border, you stand on.”

After being rejected by the United States Consulate in Guayaquil with a form letter saying that the couple had “a marriage of convenience,” Mrs. Encalada thought she was finally making headway when she started the entire process again and went for an interview in Ecuador in July of 2009. After waiting months for a response, she was finally told that their was no record of her visit. She eventually wrote an urgent email in Oct. 2009 saying, “How can there be no proof at all that we were there for our interview on July 20th 2009 with an interview time of 2:00? Please let me know what our next step is in this process, I need my husband home and my children need their father back!”

Mrs. Encalada did not receive a response until the week after Encalada's suicide, but by then it was too late. “Now he’s gone, it doesn’t matter anymore.”

Since the immigration laws have changed, thousands of families have been ripped apart. Some lawmakers say the process is a necessary evil, designed to deter illegal immigration and discourage marriage fraud, but others feel that it rips families apart and causes undo damage.

Tell us: What do you think about separating families?