The reality is that immigrants arrive in the United States in a variety of ways, and there is equal variety in the ways in which they find themselves without legal residency. In some cases, the situation could have been avoided, but in many case, circumstances out of their control led to illegal residency and elusive remedies.
Here are the stories of Ledesma and other immigrants who have been caught in the quagmire of U.S. immigration policy:
When 'home' becomes foreign
Johann Lindmeier first came to the United States in late 1993 on a visa that allows for short-term stays for business and tourism. The German national brought his wife, Anita, and their three German-born children to the United States under the visa-waiver program, which allows people from certain countries to visit the United States without a visa for tourism.
Johann Lindmeier, a trained pastry chef and baker, was consulting with companies and also looking for long-term employment. In 1994, he went to Canada to explore prospects, but he returned to the United States with his family while he worked on securing the necessary paperwork to take a job with Baker's Delight, an international chain of bakeries based in Australia.
The family went to Hawaii for a short stay while they awaited word from Australia that all of their paperwork was cleared. Anita Lindmeier was six months pregnant and started having contractions. Doctors managed to stabilize her and prevent an early delivery, but she was told that she could not fly until the baby was born.
While the Lindmeiers waited in Hawaii, all of their papers -- passports, visas, Johann Lindmeier's Social Security card, their checkbook -- were stolen. Then their first daughter, Maria, was born. They had no papers and a new child who needed to get cleared with Australian authorities. The delay sunk the job offer, and the family was stuck in Hawaii without documents.
Between 1994 and 2001, the Lindmeiers lived in Hawaii. Johann Lindmeier picked up odd jobs and the kids went to school. The family struggled to find housing in the tough market and wound up camping on beaches for months at a time.
The Lindmeiers say they spent $10,000 on attorneys to extend the family's stay and legalize their status. They claim they contacted immigration authorities and politicians and tried to work through both their expired visas and lack of documentation, but they received little help.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials say they initiated removal proceedings against Johann Lindmeier in June 2001. The rest of the German-born members of the family could be administratively removed without court proceedings because they entered on the visa-waiver program. The Lindmeiers claim immigration authorities came to arrest Anita Lindmeier in 2001, and it was not until her husband went to court that they started proceedings with him.
Johann Lindmeier appealed his removal order, but, as they moved around and often found themselves without an address, he missed two court hearings in two years and was ordered removed in absentia. By 2004, the Lindmeiers had obtained new German documentation. At this point, they had eight children, five of whom were born in the United States. They bought nonrefundable tickets for the whole family back to Germany.
Just before their flight, one of their sons came down with a viral infection,
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