To his family, Roberto Villegas was the heart of the household.
“He’s the best father I could have ever asked for,” said his daughter Michelle, who will be entering high school after the summer.
In 2019, Roberto was deported.
“I get a call and he's like, 'I need you to sit down. I need you to just breathe.' He said, "Don't get scared, I just got pulled over by ICE,'” said his wife Raquel.
Raquel says Roberto was once in the U.S. legally, but more than 20 years ago, when he was coming back in the states from Mexico, he said he was a US citizen, when he was not. The penalty for lying about citizenship status is a permanent ban from living in the country. There's no appeals process, no way to fight it. His wife, kids and brothers in the U.S. were stunned.
“It's life-changing and not in a good way, a really important person just gets taken away from you and it's really hard to get accustomed to it,” said Roberto's son Jared, who is 20 years old.
Jared has taken a job to help the family pay their bills.
As the Villegas family learned, immigration laws can be very black and white. According to FWD.us, an immigration advocacy group, 1.7 million Americans have an undocumented spouse.
“The only way to get through this is to change the law,” said Kali Pliegro, the president of an effort to do exactly that. She wants there to be a pathway to citizenship for undocumented spouses with families in the U.S. It's part of the American Families United Bill.
The bill has dozens of Democratic co-sponsors and three Republicans in the house. That imbalance right now is something they’re working to fix. With concerns over border security and letting the wrong people back into the country, the bill’s advocates know this is an obstacle to get more Republicans on board.
“ There's nothing like a, a blanket approval involved. It's a case-by-case basis of judgment, whether that case merits residency,” said Kali.
“That’s why I like this bill, because without a doubt, you can look into my brother and you can see, 'Oh, this guy never had a fail to yield ticket, he paid all his taxes,'” said Roberto’s brother Joel.
This bill would be the only way Roberto could live in the U.S. again.
“When I talk to my senators or representatives, especially here in Texas, their first response is we want to secure the borders. Yes, I want you to secure the borders, but we also need to think about those families who are separated, who are US citizen families,” said Raquel.
As conversations continue about the best way to secure our borders, families stuck in the middle of policy ask for empathy and hope that a middle ground can be achieved.
“I really want people to understand that he isn't a criminal. He's my dad. He is a son. He is a husband. He is a father. And he deserves to be over here,” said Michelle.