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Slow Pace Of Immigration Reform Costs Arlington Family A Father

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Cindy De Leon with her children David, 7, and Evelyn, 5, in their Adventist church in Arlington, Va.
Armando Trull
Cindy De Leon with her children David, 7, and Evelyn, 5, in their Adventist church in Arlington, Va.

The push for comprehensive immigration reform is gaining steam with support from President Barack Obama and a bipartisan group of lawmakers. For one Arlington family, however, that debate has come too late.

Deported over a black mark

Leoxander de Leon was a church elder of an Adventist congregation in Arlington, Va. Despite the good works he did, including counseling young people like Doris Miranda, Leon was recently deported to his native Guatemala.

"The church has lost a member, a leader, a brother and a father. His family has lost a father," Miranda says. "I think if he had given up, his family wouldnt have come to Christ. His brother was an alcoholic and he wouldnt have come to Christ, and his sisters are being baptized in Guatemala."

According to a statement by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, De Leon was considered a fugitive and a priority for deportation because he ignored an order to voluntarily leave the country in 2006.

De Leon had applied for asylum in 2002, claiming his life had been threatened by gangs. That application was denied, and De Leon remained. That single black mark, says attorney Enid Gonzalez, should have been outweighed by De Leon's status as a church elder with no criminal record and two U.S.-born minor children — criteria that Gonzalez argues would have allowed De Leon to legalize his status once immigration reform passes.

"And I couldn't believe that in this case, they would hold that one factor against all of these positive factors and destroy a family," Gonzalez says.

Immigration policy can't change fast enough for some

On Monday, President Obama held a naturalization ceremony at the White House and called on Congress to begin a debate on comprehensive immigration reform in April. Those words sound hollow to De Leon's wife Cindy.

She says President Obama promised that mothers and children would be protected, but that was a lie. Cindy says they forget about her and her children, and asked what kind of future they could have without their father.

David, who is 7, and Evelyn, 5, are too young to understand the significance of that question, let alone answer it, but from the mouth of 9-year-old Nolan Hernandez, a church playmate, an adult's understanding of what happens when you have what many are calling a dysfunctional immigration policy.

"People are crying. They're losing their families and everybody is so hurt," he says.

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