Arturo Balbino works as a builder in Texas. On a recent day, he walked into the U.S. consulate in the northern Mexican border town of Ciudad Juarez for his visa interview. He was not fearful of the process. He felt good.
Balbino, a 33-year-old Mexican national, entered the United States illegally 14 years ago. He believed he had a strong chance of receiving a spousal visa. His wife and children are all U.S. citizens. His wife's father promised to support him financially, if necessary. His employer wrote a letter promising him a job.
The interview process was the final step to legalization. He hoped it would lead to a better life for him and his family.
Instead, the consular officer denied him a visa, saying he might possibly need money from American taxpayers to survive. That decision left Balbino in Mexico indefinitely.
Reporters with the Reuters news agency examined the documents related to Balbino's case.
More and more immigrants, especially Mexicans, are being denied visas. The denials are based on decisions by the U.S. State Department that they might become "public charges." A "public charge" is someone who is dependent on the government for support.
Official information, research, and interviews with lawyers for some immigrants say consular officers are denying visas even when migrants fulfill legal requirements proving they have enough money to support themselves.
The refusals can trap people for months – or even longer --outside the United States. This means they are separated from their American spouses and children. And, it means they must restart the long and difficult process of requesting a visa.
One reason for the rise in denials is little-known changes made to the State Department's foreign affairs manual last year. The changes gave diplomats greater power to deny visas using the "public charge" reason.
Some critics say the new manual permits diplomats to tighten immigration policy without considering public opinion.
"The State Department is trying to bypass public comment and implement changes to public-charge (policy) all on its own," said Charles Wheeler, a lawyer with the Catholic Legal Immigration Network.
The State Department would not comment, saying it is fighting legal action against the new manual in courts.
Fewer visas for Mexicans
Immigration lawyers said the public-charge denial happens a lot at the U.S. consulate in Ciudad Juarez. That is where all Mexican immigrant visa requests are processed.
Mexicans received 11 percent fewer immigrant visas in 2018 compared to 2017.
In the past, the State Department usually accepted a letter signed by an American citizen offering to act as a sponsor for the immigrant as proof of financial support. In Balbino's case, his wife's father provided that letter. But Balbino's request was still denied.
Trapped in Mexico
Balbino's wife, Darlene, is considering moving with all of her children to Balbino's hometown, in the Mexican state of Guanajuato. She does not work and is struggling to pay her family's living costs.
"We can't make it on our own anymore," she said.
Because the family is so poor, two of the couple's five children, have already been sent to live with Balbino. The children have found the move difficult.
"They've spent their whole life in the United States," Balbino said. "They don't speak much Spanish."
Today, Balbino is considering the possibility that his family will be apart for years.
"At times I want to think that everything will be okay and I'll be able to be with my family again," he said. "It is very difficult to think that I won't be able to return to watch my children grow up."
I'm Susan Shand.
The Reuters News Agency reported this story. Susan Shand adapted it for VOA Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.
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