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Friday, Aug. 26, 2016

Couple separated after immigration snafu

Monday, September 8, 2003

Tommy Kimball now only has pictures of the family he once had. His wife, Karen, and her son, Jarrod, were returned to Australia for immigration violations.
NEW MADRID - Tears well up in Tommy Kimball's eyes as he recalls telling his son good-bye and hoping to give his wife one last hug.

On Sept. 2, Kimball's wife, Karen, a native of Australia, was deported from the United States after being held for 62 days in federal custody. All Kimball could do that day was stand in the parking lot at the airport in St. Louis and hope for a parting glimpse. He never got one.

The plane's departure ended a two-month nightmare for the couple and some two years of trying to make sense of a bureaucracy which eventually separated the family.

"I've been denied my constitutional rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I've been denied my right of freedom of speech. I've been denied my right to chose who I want to be with it," said Kimball as he sat at his laptop computer, now the only way he can communicate with his wife.

According to Kimball, the couple met on the Internet.

A smile crosses Kimball's face as he remembers their courtship. He said there were no secrets. "She knew I was 37-years-old, living with my mother. I was old, divorced, fat and broke. That's what I told her. There was never any question in her mind what she was getting," said Kimball. Despite his less than flattering description, love grew and following one visit to New Madrid, Karen, and her son, Jarrod, returned in July 2001. The couple married on Nov. 16, 2001.

While they were making a new life together, they began filling out forms to change Mrs. Kimball's immigration status from the visa waiver which allowed her to enter the country for 90 days. Although the 90 days had passed, Kimball said he was told by INS to seek a change in visa status once they were married.

He estimated there were seven or eight book-length forms to fill out along with other papers, some notarized some not. Photographs were made, checks written then it was packaged and mailed.

All this, Kimball said, was done by the beginning of January. Then they waited.

Months passed and the checks still were not cashed and no new visas arrived so the couple made inquiries of immigration officials.

"I was told that due to 9-11 everything was backlogged and it would take more time to get the paperwork done but not to worry," he said. A later call reassured the couple that the delay was due to changes in the operations as the Immigration Service become a division of Homeland Security.

On July 2, immigration officials showed up at the couple's home in New Madrid informing Karen Kimball she was in violation of her visa. They took her in custody, assuring her husband it was only to complete the paperwork. When Kimball went to pick her it was a much different story.

"They informed me she was arrested. She would be held without bond. She had no right to a court appearance and no rights whatsoever under the U.S. Constitution," he said. "They told me they were going to deport her immediately."

Although Mrs. Kimball was jailed, immigration officials allowed her now 12-year-old son to stay with Kimball.

Kimball began a crusade to win his wife's release and keep his new family together. He contacted public officials beginning with his local representative, both Missouri senators and even called Attorney General John Ashcroft's office and the White House in hopes of reaching President Bush.

Family members took up the cause. Kimball's mother wrote letters and friends offered their support.

Although he has worked in law enforcement for several years, Kimball said there were no special privileges allowed for the couple at the detention center. Over the next two months, they conversed by telephone or separated by a glass.

As the days turned into weeks, Kimball worried about his wife's treatment in the facility. He said her health began to deteriorate as she worried about her son, her new life in the United States and her future.

Four different times Kimball traveled to St. Louis when he was told the deportation was to take place. Officials allowed him to pack one bag for his wife and one for their son. Kimball continued to tell officials they had made every effort to follow the laws.

Apparently his effort to win his wife's freedom was noticed. Kimball said an individual identifying himself as an immigration official called one day.

"He told me I had better sit back and shut my mouth and let the U.S. deport my wife and son. He said I had made enough enemies in this country that she would never come back and if I didn't shut my mouth they would file warrants against me and more charges against her," Kimball said.

Ironically, Kimball noted, a quirk in the law requires any alien who is found guilty of a crime has the right to appear before a judge and appeal the case. In his wife's case, she had no criminal record; there was no appeal.

Now highly critical of the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services, Kimball said with each inquiry they made as they sought to obtain proper visas, they got different answers. "They will not give you assistance in filling out forms, they will not answer your questions about visas and they will not help you when a situation such as this arises," he said. "And there is no way to fight them."

As for his future, Kimball notes his wife now has a 10-year prohibition of seeking admission to the United States. He is considering going to Canada or Mexico, where she could travel to, or perhaps, moving to Australia.

"I'm going to try to be with my wife," he said adamantly. "I want us to be a family again."