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Immigration reform's tough call: illegal immigrants married to US citizens

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Now, more than eight years into what Margot calls an “exile,” the couple and their two young daughters live in Veracruz, Mexico, where they’ve missed a litany of Thanksgivings, birthdays, weddings back in America, as well as the death of Margot’s grandparents.

Marriages between US citizens and those without legal status put thousands of Americans and, in some cases, their US citizen children, into a situation like the Bruemmers' every year.

As Congress digs into the details of immigration reform, such cases show both the legal complexity and emotional impact of deciding how a government bureaucracy should handle affairs of the heart.

“The American public does not understand this situation,” says Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D) of Illinois, a leading immigration reform advocate in the House who met with Margot and two dozen other impacted individuals on Thursday. “When the government gets between two people who are in love with one another and who consecrate that love through marriage, and they get in the way, there is something fundamentally wrong.”

The policy of barring undocumented immigrants from adjusting their status while in the country was built into a 1996 law that aimed to deter illegal immigration.

Many lawmakers say preventing illegal immigrants from adjusting their status from within the United States helps make up for a lack of immigration enforcement. If the federal government can’t or won’t remove undocumented individuals, the logic goes, they will have to remove themselves in order to obtain permanent status.  

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