South Dakota farmer denied visa, separated from family indefinitely

Bertin Flores Solorzano and his family. Courtesy photo

By Shannon Marvel
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The discretion of a doctor used to determine whether an immigrant should be granted a visa has left an Orient man stranded in his home country of Mexico.

Andrea Hargens-Flores said her husband, Bertin Flores Solorzano, went back to south of Tuzantla, Mexico, in November to complete the final step in acquiring his visa.

Now, the father of two is stuck in Mexico indefinitely, leaving his wife alone to care for their 140-head cattle operation and four children, with another child expected in June.

The decision to acquire a visa has been a long time coming for Solorzano, according to his wife.

“As soon as we got married, we wanted to get his status to be legal so we could travel to Mexico or any other country if we wanted to,” Flores said during a phone interview last week.

“He was illegal, so we couldn’t go anywhere other than traveling within the United States. But if we wanted to go to Canada or to Mexico to see his parents, we wouldn’t be able to get it back,” she said.

The first two steps of the visa process were completed smoothly, she said.

The couple hired Megan Newcombe, an immigration lawyer out of Sioux Falls, to guide them through the process. She said she does not believe Solorzano was denied a visa because of the immigration ban introduced by President Donald Trump.

Newcombe said a doctor determined that Solorzano is not eligible for a U.S. visa, citing a drinking problem.

“If you have a mental or physical disorder that could cause a danger to yourself and others, they take that into consideration. Alcohol addiction and drug addiction, those are considered to be a mental or physical disorder,” Newcombe said.

“That isn’t necessarily going to cause them to be inadmissible unless they have a few criminal convictions to go along with that,” she added.

Newcombe said Solorzano doesn’t fit the profile of having a drinking problem, but the doctor he saw during the visa process in Mexico thought otherwise.

Newcombe and Flores do not believe Solorzano has prior criminal problems or addiction issues that should prevent him from getting his visa.

“Now there’s a very lengthy legal process we have to go through to waive that,” Newcombe said.

She said she has been practicing immigration law for nine years and has never had a client deemed inadmissible due to addiction unless he or she had a related charge, such as drunken driving, on their record.

“The people that are making the (visa) decisions have a lot of discretion and have a lot of power. And it really affects peoples lives,” Newcombe said.

“I think we’ll see a lot more cases like this coming up, but it’s just kind of the way the immigration system works and has for a long time,” she said.

“There are a lot of areas where we, as attorneys, we can’t even get the information. I have not seen the medical report. I have no idea what the doctor actually wrote in it,” she said.

According to Flores, after answering a series of yes or no questions, Solorzano was denied a visa and asked to reapply in a year.

The outcome of the interview surprised the immigration lawyer, Flores said.

“She just couldn’t believe it. She couldn’t believe that it happened. Because everything went so smoothly here in America,” Flores said.

Solorzano first came to the U.S. illegally when he was 13.

“Where he was at it was extremely poor. Actually that’s where he is staying right now,” Flores said.

“When he was that young, usually they only go to school until they’re 12, then they work full days like an adult would. At that time, they were starving — there was no food there — and the only option was selling drugs for the local drug dealer,” she said.

Flores said that had her husband chosen to sell drugs he would have been killed had he ever tried leaving the job.

“So he took the chance and he walked for three days and swam for a day — no food or water the whole time,” Flores said.

That was in April 2000. Solorzano eventually found work at a dairy farm near Orient.

Flores was going through a divorce when she met Solorzano.

“I went to the Steeple and we just started talking. He wanted to go on a date with me so badly, and I said, ‘No way, I’m going through this divorce,'” she recalled.

But Solorzano was persistent, and eventually the two began dating.

“We got married on Valentine’s Day 2014, and we have a little boy, Xavier, 2, and Liliana, 8 months,” Flores said.

Flores’ other two children are not Solorzano’s.

Now the family’s plans are in limbo.

Relatives and neighbors have been helping out Flores around the farm, which she inherited from her father, Dale Hargens, who is semi-retired.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Flores said. “I really want to get him back because we’re going to start calving here in April, and I’ve got four children and another due in June.”

For now, Flores said, she’s has no choice other than to take things day by day.

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