DACA Recipient Marco Villada Back Home in the U.S. after Six Months Stranded in Mexico

June 28, 2018

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Juan Gastelum, 213-375-3149
Hayley Burgess, 202-384-1279

DACA Recipient Marco Villada Back Home in the U.S. after Six Months Stranded in Mexico

LOS ANGELES — A married couple forcibly separated by a Trump administration misapplication of immigration law has been reunited after months of legal advocacy and community pressure. Marco Villada Garibay is back home with his husband, Israel Serrato, in California, following an emotional reunion at Los Angeles International Airport on Wednesday.

“I’m immensely grateful to all the people who have taken the time to learn about the situation my husband, Israel, and I were in and who supported us through this difficult time,” Villada said. “I’m very happy to be back home and to put this painful period behind us. We were in limbo for half a year. Now, we can finally start planning for our future.”

Villada, who was previously a recipient of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, had been stranded in Mexico since January, when U.S. consular officials in Ciudad Juarez unlawfully denied his application for a spousal immigrant visa and barred him from returning to the U.S. In April, Villada and Serrato — represented by the National Immigration Law Center, the Law Offices of Stacy Tolchin, and Mayer Brown LLP — challenged that decision in federal court.

After an outpouring of support from tens of thousands of Americans, including several members of Congress, the Human Rights Campaign, and the California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance (CIYJA), consular officials called Villada back for a follow-up interview. The U.S. State Department later reversed its denial and issued Villada’s visa. The Washington Post broke the news of his return home.

“We’re glad that the federal government has reversed its unjust decision and that Marco will finally be able to return home to the U.S. where he belongs,” said Nora Preciado, senior staff attorney at the National Immigration Law Center. “This is a testament to the efforts of so many people who spoke out against the government’s unfair treatment of Marco and in support of bringing him back. But we also know this never should have happened and that it has caused irreversible harm.”

Villada, 35, arrived in the U.S. when he was six years old and has lived most of his life in Los Angeles. He and Serrato, a U.S. citizen, were married in 2014, six months after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). The couple has been working for years to adjust Villada’s status to lawful permanent residency.

“Sadly, we know that there are countless people with similar stories that won’t end up with the same good news,” said Stacy Tolchin, one of Villada’s attorneys. “So many people are living in excruciating uncertainty because of this administration’s attacks on immigrant communities, on families, and on due process and the rule of law. As we celebrate Marco’s return, we are also thinking of all the families who haven’t been so lucky.”

“Marco’s case is not at all unique — wrongful immigration decisions are far too common,” said Andrew Pincus, a partner at Mayer Brown LLP. “Our Constitution and laws require fair decision-making processes, with strong judicial oversight. And we need permanent protection for Dreamers.”

After Villada was barred from reentering the U.S., the couple was forced to leave their home and sell off many of their belongings in order to keep up with their financial obligations. Serrato moved in with a friend and Villada was taken in by family members in Mexico.

In the six months since Villada was unjustly barred from coming home, he missed out on celebrating Mother’s Day and Father’s Day with his parents. His brother, who is an active duty military service member, was deployed for a second tour in the Middle East. Villada wasn’t able to attend his only sister’s quinceañera, which the family had been planning and looking forward to for years. And Villada and Serrato spent their fourth wedding anniversary apart.

“This experience has been hugely disruptive for me and Israel, and for the people we love the most,” Villada says. “We have a lot of rebuilding to do, and we can’t take back time, but we’re hopeful and excited for what comes next.”

“I hope everyone experiencing uncertainty and fear right now, including DACA recipients, can hang on to hope,” Serrato says. “Even in the hardest times, there are people out there working to make the U.S. a better place for all of us. Reach out to people and organizations in your area doing this work. Get involved in and support these efforts, even if you’re not personally impacted.”