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Veteran's family torn apart by immigration system will reunite

May 11, 2018
In The News

A war tore the Nguyen family apart, and a broken immigration system kept them separated. Now, almost half a century later, the family is one step closer to reuniting on U.S. soil.

KATU News caught up with Ai Nguyen in late April.

He flipped through an old picture album and this time, the tone was lighter, his smile was bigger--a smile fit for a man who's waited 47 years for good news.

"I can't explain how I'm feeling because this has never happened in my life," said Nguyen.

When KATU News spoke to Ai Nguyen in November, he was in the process of petitioning for his two younger sisters, An and Ngoc, to legally emigrate from Vietnam to the U.S.

He hasn't seen them in person since they were teenagers.

When Ai was old enough, he enlisted in the U.S Marine corps during the Vietnam War. 30 years later, both his parents and an unwed sister immigrated to the United States as refugees. An and Ngoc were married, so by law, they had to stay behind.

Ai's mother, Loan Thi Tran, petitioned for her daughters in 2000, but died three years into the process. Then their father took over, which added another decade to the wait. However, when he died, the sisters got pushed, again, to the back of the line. Under the current law, that's what happens when a sponsor dies.

According to Ai's attorney, Kim Le of Waxler & Le Immigration Law, LLC, the way things stand now, there's no way of knowing where you are in line.

Ai started petitioning for his sisters in 2014, but at this point, they've already lost 17 years to the process.

"I felt like, 'who's listening to me anyway?' and I'm an attorney! So, who's listening to all these immigrants out there in Ai's situation?" Said Le.

Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici listened. Her office tried helping the family but no one could break through the federal red tape.

"I was really surprised that it's taken so long for this family to get through this process and when we found out about this case, it just exemplifies how broken our immigration system is," said Congresswoman Bonamici.

The system failed the Nguyen family.

Before Ai's father died, made Ai promise to bring his family together.

One call from Bonamicci in February changed his life.

"I have to make sure that not just me hear but somebody else heard that, so it reassures me that it's happening," said Nguyen.

He had Bonamici call Le to make sure this wasn't some cruel joke. Bonamici left a voicemail fro Le, telling her Ai's motion to reopen his sisters' cases was granted.

"I listened to it I think 3 times before I kind of realized what was happening," said Le.

Bonamici's office contacted immigration again, this time sharing KATU Newsreport about Ai's situation.

After all these years of disappointing phone calls, Ai didn't believe this was going to be any different.

Plans are now in motion. Le received the I-797 documents that will allow the sisters to get through the next steps of obtaining their immigrant visas.

Millions of families are waiting decades to be even considered, a challenge, most Americans don't understand.

"I don't think they have any idea how long it takes," said Bonamici. "They think it's simple and you just get in line and you get over quickly. Not so. It's just not so. We need to make it easier for families to stay together."

Some get through, others die while waiting for their chance at a visa.

"I don't think the process for other families is going to change until the law changes," said Le.

Until then, other families will face the barriers that Ai's dealing with: following the rules and hoping that somebody will actually listen.

"There's nothing in life that my parents wanted me to do that I haven't done except for this one and it finally come to a close," said Nguyen.

Right now, the sisters' cases are getting sent to the National Visa Center. The sisters will need to get an interview with the U.S. consulate in Vietnam and then if everything goes well, they could arrive in Portland in six months.

Meanwhile, Ai is planning a big party and a family visit to their parents' gravesite to fulfill his promise to his father.