Amy Herrera’s life has been riddled with some dark days.
When her husband, an undocumented immigrant who had been living in Santa Fe for about 20 years, tried to correct past wrongs and go through the legal process to become a U.S. citizen, the nightmare began — a harrowing trail that sent Damian Herrera, 39, back to his native Mexico and apart from his wife.
His application for a visa was turned down under former President Donald Trump’s “public charge” rule — referring to an evaluation or assessment to determine whether an applicant is likely to rely on government support, according to the Immigrant Legal Resource Center.
The Herreras contended they wouldn’t need government benefits and that the assessment had been based on an unusual low-income year for Amy. Regardless, Damian — a popular local chef and caterer who also taught fitness classes — became entangled in a complex immigration system, thousands of miles away from his wife.
But that was more than two years ago. A different time. A different president. A different policy.
With the public charge rule no longer in effect, the Herreras and their new attorney hope Damian’s case receives renewed attention and a different outcome and the couple will someday be reunited.
“This man was my partner in everything, my best friend, the love of my life,” Amy, who is a U.S. citizen, said Tuesday.
Santa Fe immigration attorney Allegra Love, who became involved after Damian’s visa application was denied at the U.S. Consulate, has filed what she calls an “aggressive request” for Damian to be paroled back into the country to be with his wife and get his green card.
“I am submitting this request for urgent review for parole on humanitarian grounds due to the fact that Damian has been separated from his wife for years now due to the Trump administration’s inhumane immigration policies and absolutely deserves to be reunited with her,” Love wrote in the Sept. 23 request to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
“After 2 years of separation ... receiving an I-94 would allow him to reunite with his family and make him immediately eligible to adjust status,” she wrote.
Form I-94 is an arrival and departure record issued to undocumented immigrants who are, among other things, adjusting their immigration status while in the U.S., according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
As part of Damian’s request, Love included dozens of letters of support from friends and family members attesting to his character, work ethic and contributions to the community.
“In addition to his wife, Damian has a truly enormous community of friends, co-workers, and supporters in Santa Fe,” she wrote.
With the exception of pleading guilty to drunken driving in 2017, Damian has been described as an upstanding citizen.
“He has no other criminal record and we have provided sixty six letters from members of the Santa Fe community attesting to his positive character and the blessing that he is to his neighbors and friends,” Love wrote in her request while explaining why he isn’t a danger to the community.
After his visa application was denied in August 2019, Damian remained in Mexico over the next year. During that time, he filed a number of appeals to the decision and spent thousands of dollars on the process. Each time, the appeals were denied.
In what Love called an act of desperation, Damian decided to reenter the country illegally, as he had done at the age of 21.
“When he could not take it anymore, he decided to cross the border, which I personally cannot fault him for. His family is here. His wife is here. His wife needs him,” Love said. She wrote in her request that Amy’s physical and mental health has declined drastically throughout the ordeal.
“I know that some people have really hard feelings about this. I do not,” she said. “I find love to be a very, very, very, very powerful and persuasive motivation for migration, and I challenge everyone to think really hard about what it was like to be in that situation.”
Shortly after crossing the border by foot in California, Damian and a group of other undocumented immigrants were picked up by U.S. Border Patrol agents on Interstate 8 near El Centro after their driver was pulled over. He was a material witness against the cartel members who had attempted to smuggle him, Love said.
“The day after he testified, [immigration agents] picked him up and dumped him in Mexico in the middle of the night,” Love said, adding Damian’s pleas to talk to an attorney fell on deaf ears.
“The first I heard of him was him calling me from Northern Mexico being like, ‘What the [expletive] do I do? I’m terrified,’ ” Love said. “He was hiding.”
Amy described the ordeal as “completely life changing” and “heartbreaking.” She said she wished Damian would have waited to apply for his visa.
“This whole thing happened because we were trying to make things right,” she said. “He could have lived here the rest of his life, and no one would have ever said anything. He had a tax ID number. He paid taxes.”
Despite the legal challenges and separation from her husband, Amy, who owns a colonics business, said she won’t give up until Damian is back in her arms.
“There’s no one else out there for me like him,” she said. “I can’t explain ... how much we need each other. We are such a complement to each other. Everything I am, he is not, and everything he is, I am not.”
Amy said she’s reached out to “every public figure she could” to ask them to help Damian return to the country.
“I’ve been wronged. I’m a citizen, and I deserve to have the man I love with me,” she said, fighting back tears.
Amy and Love are requesting people in the community who know Damian, and even those who don’t, to call or email the ombudsman of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which administers the country’s naturalization and immigration system, and ask for approval of Damian’s request for humanitarian parole.
“If people know him or know me or know us, if they want to make a difference, if they want to do something, if they could just please, please, please help us by reaching out,” Amy said.
In a telephone interview from the Mexican state of Yucatán, where he is now living, Damian said he longs for the day to be reunited with his wife.
“I know we can get through it,” he said. “I will see Santa Fe again.”