Stories of separation call for immigration reform

By Michelle Costanza

May 9, 2013 Updated May 9, 2013 at 11:49 PM EDT

Binghamton, NY (WBNG Binghamton) A new bill in the U.S. Senate may aid in reuniting families across the country, some of whom have been separated for years.

For a nation built on immigration, current laws do not make it easy for the trend to continue, said members of Citizen Action.

An estimated 11 million people live in the United Sates with the daily struggle of finding a job, obtaining a visa, funding an education and sometimes searching for their families

Local immigrants gathered at the American Civic Association Thursday evening to share their stories of separation in their sometimes decades-long fight to citizenship.

"I have family members who have applied for visas, it's been over ten years and they still haven't gotten an answer. The backlogs for visas are very, very extensive," said Citizen Action Immigration Organizer Diana Reyes.

The topic of immigration usually brings to mind places like Arizona, Texas and New Mexico. But the issue is as real in New York as it is in the southwest.

Kathy, an immigrant from Columbia, was brought to the U.S. in 2000 by her mother -- a naturalized citizen. Kathy spoke of the hardships she has endured over the past 13 years.

"My family was receiving threats from the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia). My grandfather was killed and my whole family lived in terror. Without explanation my mother told me I was leaving Columbia to meet her. I didn't find out why until many years later," said Kathy, who asked that her identity be kept secret.

After $70,000 in legal fees, being married and divorced, being detained, and paying for- but never receiving- a work visa four times, Kathy's documents to become a legal citizen have still yet to be approved, thirteen years later.

"I just want my family together. I don't know where my brothers are, I don't know where my sister is. I know they're in Columbia, but nobody can know where they are because my family is still under threat from the FARC," said Kathy.

Although everyone had a different story at the ACA, they all agreed their hard work has seemed to only result in empty promises and the heartbreak of loosing their family.

"I have a lot of cousins, friends, back in my community that, they couldn't continue education because they don't have the right papers, they don't have this, they don't have that, and it's unfair. I just got lucky that I was born here," said Binghamton University sophomore Erik Vargas.

Regardless of history, Reyes said, almost everyone can identify a not-so-distant family member who first settled in this country, whether from overseas or just over the border.

The wish to keep families together is strong in the hearts of those separated, as well as those united from their loved ones, especially so close to Mother's Day.

The Senate will soon begin discussion on the bipartisan bill that could reform immigration with a stern but obtainable path to citizenship.