September 3, 2003 - Denver Post: Visa Problems frustrate wedding for El Salvador RPCV Aline Hansen-Higa

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By Admin1 (admin) on Wednesday, September 03, 2003 - 9:02 am: Edit Post

Visa Problems frustrate wedding for El Salvador RPCV Aline Hansen-Higa

Read and comment on this story from the Denver Post on Aline Hansen-Higa and Numas Santos Guzman who fell in love while she was stationed in El Salvador with the Peace Corps. After more than a year of waiting, two rounds of visa applications, hundreds of dollars wasted on fees and endless letters of support, Guzman's family will not be allowed to come to the ceremony September 20. Read the story at:

Visa process frustrates kin, U.S. outreach*

* This link was active on the date it was posted. PCOL is not responsible for broken links which may have changed.

Visa process frustrates kin, U.S. outreach

By Diane Carman, Denver Post Columnist
It's a romance nurtured in the bosom of a government program conceived to bring Americans closer to needy people all over the world.

Aline Hansen-Higa and Numas Santos Guzman fell in love while she was stationed in El Salvador with the Peace Corps. They decided they didn't want to be apart.

So, shortly after she returned home to Denver two years ago, the couple got married in a brief civil ceremony. She enrolled in medical school here and Guzman took a job at a lumber company.

But they always planned to have a real wedding in a church with their families and friends present to celebrate with them.

Now the same government that enabled them to find each other has decided it's too dangerous to allow the families to be together - even just for a wedding.


After more than a year of waiting, two rounds of visa applications, hundreds of dollars wasted on fees and endless letters of support, Guzman's family will not be allowed to come to the ceremony Sept. 20.

It's an immigration crackdown run amok.

"If they were rich, I'm sure they'd get tourist visas," said a disgusted Loretta Hansen-Higa, the mother of the bride.

"They're poor campesinos (country people). That's what this is all about."

The Immigration and Naturalization Service won't comment on individual cases, but Loretta's version of events is a tale of frustration and bureaucratic arrogance.

But that's getting ahead of the story.

The friendship between the extended families began more than a year ago when Loretta visited her son-in-law's family at their home in rural El Salvador.

Salvador Santos Lopez, the father of the groom, is a guard who works for the mayor of the small town. He also raises some cattle and works as a farmer. He's a member of the local farm collective.

"He's not an educated man, not real literate," Loretta said. "He speaks no English."

His daughter is the primary health care provider for the community. She is married and has a 5-year-old daughter.

They all are involved in their community. They own their own home. They have no intention of leaving.

"These are just poor peasants who work very hard," Loretta said.

She was a guest in their home for three weeks, and although they have no electricity or running water, they treated her royally. So Loretta looked forward to returning the favor when they came to Colorado.

The wedding was scheduled for a year ago. The invitations were sent.

Guzman's parents, his sister and his grandmother wanted to come, and each paid $100 to apply for a three-week tourist visa to attend the ceremony.

The visas were denied.

Everyone was disappointed, but they figured the post-9/11 terrorist anxiety would pass. The wedding was postponed for a year.

Months later, the family dutifully turned over another $100 apiece with another set of visa applications and included letters explaining the arrangements with the Hansen-Higa family.

"We were paying for their plane tickets," Loretta said. "We planned to have them stay in my home." Loretta promised in writing to make sure the family returned to El Salvador after the wedding.

This time, they didn't want any misunderstandings.

The U.S. Embassy officials in El Salvador didn't look at her letter or the other documents in support of their application, Loretta said, "but they did take their money."

The Guzmans were rejected once again.

"The kids are very disappointed about this," she said. "Aline is crying a lot. We all feel pretty helpless.

"The irony is that they are trying to visit legally," while hundreds of El Salvadorans sneak across the border each year, she said.

The family has asked Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., for help with the visas, but "with only 17 days left till the wedding, I'm not optimistic," Loretta said.

Josh Freed, spokesman for DeGette, said he could not comment about any specific case, but he confirmed that the number of requests for help with tourist visas has mushroomed since 9/11.

"We've seen quite an uptick in the number of applications delayed or denied," he said.

DeGette said she finds the situation almost as frustrating as it is for the families. "We need a policy that can distinguish between potential terrorists who do intend harm and people who wish to visit their family members in the U.S.," she said.

It's a good place to start. But we also need a policy toward the world that goes beyond knee-jerk hostility and suspicion to reach out and rebuild shattered alliances.

"One person can make a difference, and every person must try," John F. Kennedy said when he announced the creation of the Peace Corps.

The Hansen-Higas and the Guzmans are trying mightily.

Now if only the government would get out of the way.

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