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After 30 Years Apart, An Immigration Lawyer Reunites His Mother With Her Parents


Luis Cortes Romero shared a video on his Twitter feed this past week. In a way, he's been working on it for much of his life.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Speaking Spanish).

SIMON: The weeping you hear is Mr. Romero's mother and her two sisters as they see their parents for the first time in 30 years. This emotional reunion came after Mr. Romero's fifth attempt to get his grandparents visitor visas to the United States. Luis Cortes Romero joins us from Seattle, where he's an immigration attorney with the Immigration Advocacy & Litigation Center. Thanks so much for being with us.

LUIS CORTES ROMERO: Hi, good morning. Thank you for having me.

SIMON: Wow. I mean, what was it like in that room?

ROMERO: You know, it was - it's almost like you can feel, like, 30 years of tears and sighs and emotions of - all within - captured in that video where I was a little worried that, you know, my mom might even have a heart attack of the shock that she would see her parents. But one of the things that the video doesn't show is immediately after once, you know, the hugging kind of stopped a little bit, the conversation really quickly turned into food. And what was to me very romantic about it was that my mom, her sisters and my grandmother all quickly began cooking together, and no one gave out instructions. They fell into this routine that you would have imagined they would have had - they would have done every week. And so it was so endearing to see that love that they had and that bond that they had through cooking together and recipes was still there after such a long time.

SIMON: How did your family come to be separated for 30 years?

ROMERO: Yeah. Well, my mom and I - I was also born in Mexico and I was brought to the U.S. when I was 1-year-old. And my mom came to the states, I think, with a similar idea that most people come with, which was to come temporarily, be able to work hard, earn a little bit of money and then return to be able to build something with that, with the savings. And, you know, she started cleaning houses. She still cleans houses now for a living. And so it's a tough job that doesn't always pay a lot. And so one year turned into two years, two years turned into three years. And really the shifting point was when my siblings and I - I have siblings who were born here - we started going to school, and she started seeing the educational opportunities here for us. And she quickly realized that these weren't available in Mexico. And so she decided to now be here permanently in order for us to get a better education.

SIMON: How was it your grandparents couldn't get here, though?

ROMERO: So to get visitors visas or really any type of visas, it's a very lengthy process and also particularly with visitors visas, the U.S. consulate has wide discretion to be able to deny the visas. And it has been our experience and it has been my experience working with clients that there are oftentimes where if the consulate denies a visa, they sometimes don't even give you a reason. They just say no. And so we have to kind of go back to the drawing board and figure out what's the best way to do it. So it took a really long time.

SIMON: Well, so what happened when you find out that it was finally approved?

ROMERO: Once we found out, I had an initial sigh of relief, but I knew that it wasn't over because visitors visas is just the first step. Once they have to travel to the United States, they could still be turned away at the airport if the Customs and Border Patrol officers or agents still don't think that they will return back at the end of their period of stay. And so I was still quite a bit nervous once they were traveling that they would get to the San Francisco airport and then be turned away. But they made it.

SIMON: But - so you kept the news of the visa from your parents, it sounds like.

ROMERO: Oh, yes.

SIMON: Had - forgive me - had you consciously met your grandparents before?

ROMERO: No. My grandfather, he's deaf and mute and he's illiterate, so communicating with him was very difficult from afar. We can't talk to him on the phone. We can't write him letters. He can't write us letters. And so we just had photographs and stories of my grandparents that I was kind of able to put together. So for me, seeing them at the airport was my big moment, being able to connect with them and gapping that generation gap that's been missing my whole life. And on the car ride over, I was trying to, you know, ask as many questions as I could because the more I got to know my grandparents, the more I got to know my mom.

SIMON: This is amazing, Mr. Romero. And, you know, I have to note, you're an immigration attorney. What would you like for people to take from the story of your family and their reunion?

ROMERO: Yeah. For individuals who might be going through a similar immigration process or just getting started, one of my messages to them is to, please, don't lose out hope. We got four no's before we got a yes. And we didn't know if it was going to be 10 no's. And so, you know, we know it's a tough process, but it's well worth it.

SIMON: Luis Cortes Romero, an immigration attorney in Seattle, thanks so much.

ROMERO: Thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.