Trapped in Paradise: A local couple unable to marry due to bureaucracy

One of the vows of marriage is to have and to hold. “Not to have and to put into some pantry in a different country,” Bennett says.


t is in their fate that Chuck Bennett and Teresita Aldana be married.
And they almost were.
“I love Teresita more than anything,” says Bennett, a resident of Independence. “All I want is to call her my wife and have her at my side for the rest of my life.”
But America’s immigration system won’t allow it.
For the past several weeks the couple has been in Juarez, Mexico – stranded. Wondering whether they can change the opinion of a consulate officer who saw pictures and a marriage license and deemed them already married.
“We played by the rules, and now we’re paying for it,” Bennett says.
The couple was set to be married – having even completed a nine-month marriage preparation course – but was told it was illegal for Aldana, a Mexican national, to marry while in the United States on a tourist visa.
“We were informed that she needed a K-1, or fiancé visa, so she applied for one last year,” Bennett says.
Many months later, the fight has only begun for the couple as matters such as these frequently occupy years, even decades.
They have on their side a member of Congress and one of the nation’s foremost immigration attorneys. But they’re up against an opponent with absolute power who could have already delivered the knockout


ennett anticipated going to the 24 Hour Fitness in Independence as never before.
“Looking at this woman was a great way to start a day,” he says of Aldana.
One rather chilly day in February 2007 he introduced himself.
“I found that she was not only good looking but sweet enough to warm anybody up – even if I could barely understand what she was saying,” he says.
The two began to see each other every morning and, before long, went on a few dates. Aldana told him she was from Guadalajara, Mexico, where, coincidentally, Bennett had been three years earlier on a mission trip with
his church. He showed her a video he took of the area near the New Creation Church (founded, oddly enough, by Aaron Kolb of Blue Springs).
“The church is three blocks from my uncle’s house,” says Aldana, a soft Spanish accent rendering her barely audible over Bennett’s computer phone.
A few weeks later, Aldana invited Bennett to her parents’ house in Independence for dinner. He obliged.
When Bennett arrived at their home on Barreto Lane, he immediately noticed the scent of freshly prepared salsa. He told her parents that he recognized the smell.
“I said it reminded me of growing up,” Bennett says.
Bennett’s grandmother married a Mexican and he spent many days of his childhood in her in-laws’ neighborhood – also on Barreto Lane in central Independence.
Aldana’s mother guided Bennett to a desktop computer where she opened a photo album.
In it were pictures of Aldana and her family interacting with Bennett’s grandmother’s in-laws.
“She told me she’d been close friends with my grandmother’s sister-in-law for more than 30 years,” Bennett says. “At that time I knew Teresita was meant to be my wife.”


ee Ward, director of pastoral care at St. Mark’s Parish in Independence, knew Bennett and Aldana before they enrolled in his marriage preparation course through the church.
“I was acquainted with Teresita’s parents, who have been strong members at St. Mark’s since moving here four years ago,” he says.
Ward’s relationship with Bennett stemmed from Bennett’s father, who died while Ward was funeral director at the Speaks Suburban Chapel. Ward also headed the memorial service of a child Bennett lost shortly after birth.
“Chuck’s dad was a good friend of mine,” Ward says. “I didn’t really connect with Chuck until he visited me when his dad was dying; we’ve been friends ever since.”
According to Ward, Bennett and Aldana were among the best-matched participants in the course. Upon its completion, the couple planned for marriage, holding an engagement party and applying for a marriage license. But they found it was illegal for Aldana to wed on a tourist visa and suspended their intentions for what they presumed would be a few months.
“They’re definitely not married,” Ward says. “They’re such good people that I hate to see them get the run-around. I just want to get them out of there, up here and married.”
Ward wrote a letter for the couple to give to the consulate officer to corroborate their story.
It wasn’t enough.


ldana returned to Guadalajara in September of last year and applied for a fiancé visa in October. In February, it was approved by the National Visa Center, where it was scrutinized by an FBI official, and an open appointment was set up for April 16 with an officer working in the U.S. Consulate office in Juarez.
“We were told that Teresita was to have a medical examination and present any documentation they asked for, and she would be approved,” Bennett says.
Aldana passed the medical exam and was ushered to an interview room, where she was seated. A consulate officer appeared, asking for proof that they were a couple intent on marriage. She supplied him with an unused marriage license and photographs from the engagement party. The officer shook his head, saying that he believed she was already married. He instructed Aldana to return the following day for further review, which she did. Again he declined her visa application, requesting a certified letter from the office in which she got the marriage license stating that it had not been used.
Four days later, Aldana visited the officer again, only this time she was armed with a notarized letter from the Jackson County Records Department stating that the marriage license was unused. The letter also directed the officer to the Jackson County Web site, where the original document could be downloaded in PDF form.
To no avail.
“He says it was his decision to approve or deny any visas and he believed despite the evidence that we were married,” Bennett says.
He sent Aldana away without a written explanation save a check on the box marked DENIED.
The next day the couple attempted to appeal the decision to the chief consulate officer. They stood in line for six hours before reaching a small slit of a window with a pair of eyeballs behind it.
They asked to speak with the chief consulate officer. The voice from behind the glass told them he was not available, but they could try again the next day.
The following day they returned, waited in line for six more hours and came to the same window where the voice said they were in luck, the senior consulate officer would be able to review their case.
They presented the same evidence as before but the senior officer elected not to consider it. He told them he would not overturn the initial decision, that he must honor the previous officer’s reasons for denial. Then he got up, wished them a good day and exited.


bout two weeks ago, Bennett contacted Congressman Emanuel Cleaver’s office to see if they could get the U.S. Consulate to take another look at their case.
According to Genaro Ruiz, who is a staff member for Cleaver’s office, a request for reconsideration of the couple’s case was faxed to the U.S consulate. Ruiz says he got confirmation that the consulate received the request the middle of last week. But he says such requests are made by his office every day with oftentimes minimal results.
“We may attempt to get the consulate to reverse something, but there’s no guarantee they’re going to jump for us,” Ruiz says.
Ruiz says supervisors instruct Foreign Service officers to err on the side of caution toward issuing visas to immigrants who make known their intentions to ultimately remain permanently in the country, as Aldana had done.
“There are hundreds if not thousands of cases similar to this one right now,” Ruiz says. “Sometimes there is no rhyme or reason why people are denied.”
Ruiz says Aldana was correct in seeking a K-1 visa in lieu of marrying on a tourist visa.
“The U.S. is not necessarily delighted when someone comes to this country on a visitor visa and stays,” says Ruiz, citing the five or 10-year deportation bar typically imposed for such a crime.
“It’s my hope that we hear back from the consulate in a timely manner,” Ruiz says.
But, realistically, it could be weeks, months, years or “longer – if at all,” Ruiz says.


regory Bryl deals with many clients who have encountered snags en route to immigrating to this country.
“It’s an unfortunate thing I see too often,” Bryl says. “But this is flat-out outrageous.”
Bryl’s chief fault with the case is the consulate officer’s refusal to give the couple any type of written explanation for the denial.
“They seemed to be determined to deny her the visa before she sat down,” Bryl says. “I think they just latched on to something to deny the case.”
According to Bryl, due process was not carried out.
“You can’t just deny someone and check a box,” Bryl says. “You must explain yourself in writing; a verbal statement means nothing.”
Like Cleaver’s office, Bryl is also requesting a review of the case by the senior consulate officer with an explanation in writing if the officer again elects to deny Aldana’s visa application, which Bryl is certain will happen. He says in all likelihood the senior officer will again simply argue that the decision is non-reviewable.
“A lot of latitude and discretion is afforded to these officials,” Bryl says. “It’s as if they can be wrong and no recourse is taken against them so long as it’s in the interest of national security.”
If denial is the verdict, Bryl says the case will fall back to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, where Aldana’s visa application has already been approved, then it will be appealed to the Board of Immigration Appeals, where it may take years before it’s heard.
During this time, Aldana would be forbidden to enter the country.
“Very often in cases such as this justice delayed is justice denied,” Bryl says.


or now, Bennett remains in Juarez, at his fianceé’s side.
A poor border town, Juarez is nicknamed City of the Dead due to its high murder rate.
“I hate the thought of leaving her alone,” he says.
But Bennett knows he cannot leave work forever (he’s already at a loss of about $5,000) nor can he abandon his three children (two of whom are 3 and 4).
“I don’t know how I’m going to explain why Teresita isn’t with me,” he says.
One of the vows of marriage is to have and to hold.
“Not to have and to put into some pantry in a different country,” Bennett says.

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