Home for the Holidays: Marcela, Pascal, and Matias’ Story

marcela pascal and matias story

If you asked 34-year-old Marcela where her mother would be spending the holidays this year just twelve months ago, her answer would look much different than it does today. For two years, Marcela worked tirelessly to bring her mother Pascal home to New York; yet Pascal did not receive the immigrant visa that would allow her to leave her home country of Chile for the United States until after Christmas. Finally, on January 8, 2022, Pascal reunited with her husband and family in New York.

Marcela and Pascal’s immigration story begins long before 2019. Marcela’s father left for New York when Marcela was two, with Marcela and Pascal waiting in Chile with eager anticipation to one day see him again.  When Marcela was five, Pascal’s separation from Matias was too great to bear.  She decided to set off on the long journey to the States with her daughter. With joy, the family reunited for the first time in 1993. Pascal and Matias soon had a second daughter.  All the while Matias continued to covertly work long and hard hours with fear of his undocumented status being discovered. Marcela herself (also then undocumented) was a 2013 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (“DACA”) recipient until 2018 when she was able to adjust her status.

One day, when Marcela was still young, Matias sustained an injury causing the most painful headache of his life. The family learned Matias had an aneurysm. As a result, Pascal took on more work and what Marcela describes as a “greater role in the family.” Despite the adversities they faced as a family, their initial attorney suggested they apply to adjust their immigration status. 

As her initial attorney suggested, Pascal applied for a waiver that required an in-person interview in Chile. More than three decades after leaving Chile, Pascal returned in November 2019 for her consular interview, approval letter in hand. Unfortunately, she was denied re-entry to the States and learned she would not be returning to her family in New York for the holidays or for the foreseeable future. 

Marcela knew the news would be devastating for her father Matias. After days of deliberation, she broke the news to her father on Thanksgiving that Pascal could not come home.  Matias became depressed; thereafter; his personality changed. He would awaken panicked,  asking for his wife– “¿Dónde esta Pascalita?” (“Where is dear Pascal?”).

Marcela did not trust her lawyers at the time. She understood the urgency of the matter and so she set out alone to teach herself the ins-and-outs of her mother’s immigration case. Marcela then interviewed different lawyers to determine who could provide her mother Pascal effective representation and secure the reunification of her family. She even taught herself about the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which equipped her with knowledge of how to ask for documents from government agencies. She was determined to find out why Pascal was denied entry into the U.S. and what they could do to build a case for her. The FOIA request allowed Marcela to know if the State Department was alleging that her mother had encounters with border patrol. Additionally, Marcela needed to confirm with the State Department if there were deportation proceedings that were pending against Pascal. 

She submitted a request for the documents just before 2020 and did not receive them until September 2021– a period of nearly nine months. This was precious time lost while her mother was separated from their family. 

Unsatisfied with the efforts of all the lawyers she met, Marcela turned to social media to publish a story. Within hours, a childhood friend presented her with what would become a light at the end of the tunnel: A recommendation to speak to a lawyer at NY Justice for Our Neighbors. With help from lawyer TJ Mills, Marcela finally received much sought-after answers. Marcela also received the Freedom of Information Act package and provided these results to TJ. When asked why she trusted TJ above other lawyers, Marcela said “I was driving miles away to meet with other lawyers and they lacked attention to detail. I was frustrated with them for doing simple things like misspelling my mom’s name. I knew I could do a lot of the work myself and better than them. When I spoke to TJ, something just clicked. He has experience with hard, traumatic cases. He gets it. I have always been able to speak to him directly instead of through a paralegal. There was a level of personal interaction that was phenomenal. It was always TJ communicating with me; the same person who was handling my case was calling me.”

marcela pascal and matias story

Marcela and TJ began working together to develop the best plan that would allow Pascal back home.With over 800 pages of documentation that Marcela had personally collected, and TJ’s experience, commitment, and best efforts, they awaited results from USCIS (which were prolonged as a result of COVID delays and overwhelmed by lines of applicants).. Trusting in TJ, Marcela again turned to him for help. TJ suggested that she may have an opportunity to contact her elected officials about her mother’s case. 

In September of 2021, TJ gave Marcela good news– Pascal’s waiver had been approved. This huge milestone for her case meant that Pascal could once again interview in the U.S. Consulate in Santiago,Chile. Marcela began traveling back and forth to Chile for her mother, even during her pregnancy. Marcela provided much needed aid in preparing her mother Pascal for her second interview. 

They expected Pascal would be back in the U.S. by December 20th, 2021. However, the consulate informed Pascal and Marcela that they needed an additional waiver not originally sought. Marcela and T.J. realized this was an error made by the Consulate and as a result, he worked quickly to escalate it within the State Department. The delay pushed back Pascal’s return date, but her immigrant visa was fortunately approved by December 28th. In December of 2021, Pascal appeared in front of the consular official who would decide her future. Marcela gratefully says “This time, with TJ’s help and advocacy, she passed her interview and obtained her immigrant visa… Without NY JFON, we would still be in the black box that is our immigration system without the ability to properly navigate the rough waters.” After what seemed like endless waiting and bureaucracy, Pascal reunited with her family in January of 2022. Pascal could be by her husband’s side again and tend to his recovery from depression and the aneurysm. Marcela calls Pascal  her father’s “healthcare champion.” 

In March of 2022, Marcela gave birth to her child Lionel with the comforting presence of her mom at home in New York. “It felt like a life pause to have her gone for over 2 years. Now, it feels like a relief. I could focus on delivering my child,” Marcela’s voice rang with contentment. Pascal and Matias are overjoyed to have their first grandchild. When asked how they would celebrate the holidays, Marcela states that she got the whole family matching Christmas pajama sets to wear together. For a family who has endured separation, the times are especially sweet: “It feels surreal to have her home for the holidays” exclaims Marcela.

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