Sunday, June 26, 2011

Visa denials keep son from dad in U.S. (Times Union)

Visa denials keep son from dad in U.S.
Queensbury man is frustrated in hopes to arrange short visit: "He's not some gangster"
By PAUL GRONDAHL Staff writer
Published 12:01 a.m., Sunday, June 26, 2011

QUEENSBURY -- Hopkin Williams thought it would be a simple matter to have his 22-year-old son, Carlos, who lives in the Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador, visit him this summer for a few weeks.

They were planning trips to the Adirondacks and New York City.

But the U.S. Consulate in Ecuador has twice denied the Queensbury man's son a visitor visa, known as a B-2 visa, designed for brief visits to the United States for purposes of "pleasure or tourism."

"America is supposed to be this great, welcoming country," said Williams, 49, a food-safety inspector with the state Department of Agriculture and Markets, who is an Army veteran. "Now, I feel like my country has let me down."

Williams has struggled with the heartache of the denials and has poured more than $5,000 into his son's quest on long-distance phone calls, airline tickets and hotel stays. He traveled 3,000 miles in April to Guayaquil, Ecuador, to speak on his son's behalf during a second visitor visa application. Instead, Williams was made to wait for two hours outside the office under a scorching equatorial sun.

Their anticipated celebration turned into yet another crushing disappointment.

"We're trapped in this terrible situation. He just wants to visit his father. He's not some gangster with tattoos and scars," said Williams, who has vowed to continue fighting on behalf of his son. He has sought assistance from the offices of U.S. Rep Chris Gibson, R-Kinderhook, and U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. A Gibson staffer sent a letter in support, and Gillibrand's aides have begun working behind the scenes on the visa appeal. Meanwhile, Williams has gathered dozens of signatures on a self-styled petition he's been circulating.

Despite his multipronged attack and efforts to apply political pressure, the U.S. Consulate can be a tough nut to crack.

"It can be frustrating, but the consulate has absolute authority when it comes to approving B visas, and their discretion really can't be challenged," said Seth Leech, a partner with Whiteman Osterman & Hanna in Albany who specializes in immigration cases. "It might not seem fair or right, but there's very little recourse after two denials."

The consulate indicated the visa denials were based on one aspect of the complicated review process, namely "binding ties that will insure their return abroad at the end of the visit."

Williams and his son put together an extensive stack of documentation that proves his deep roots in Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island in the central Galapagos: a job at a tourist hotel, a new wife, a mortgage on their first house and his mother, who runs a restaurant there that caters to tourists. The consulate officials gave the documentation only a cursory glance, according to Williams' son.

Williams had a brief relationship with the restaurateur in 1988, when he was employed by Piedmont Airlines and traveled frequently, including to the Galapagos Islands. The two never married, but their son, Carlos Galvan, was born on Dec. 9, 1988. Williams has been a presence in his son's life and has flown to see him in Galapagos many times. But the one-way nature of their relationship has taken a toll.

Williams, who is single, has two brothers living in Florida, where his ailing mother also lives. But he's estranged from his siblings.

"I feel like Carlos is my only family, and he's starved for a father's influence, and I miss my son," Williams said. "We've grown closer and closer, and I just want him to be able to visit me here."

Following efforts by congressional staffers on the son's behalf, Williams was told the denials were likely spurred by a recent crackdown on visitors from poor countries coming to the U.S. on B visas, never returning and disappearing in this country as illegals -- assisted by shadowy stateside middlemen working for profit.

Ecuador is an impoverished South American country where the average family gets by on less than $10,000 a year and one-third of the population lives below the poverty line.

"It's absurd to think I'm trying to make money by smuggling him into the U.S.," Williams said. "His wife, his job, his mom, his house and everything in his life is back in Galapagos."

Although the two have not completed DNA testing to prove paternity, Williams said there is no question based on their facial resemblance, striking similarities between what each of them likes in food and clothing, and discussions with his son's mother, with whom Williams remains on good terms.

Leech said Williams' best strategy in clearing the visa roadblock might be to get the DNA testing and try to move forward on attaining U.S. citizenship for Carlos Galvan based on his father's status as a U.S. citizen.

"Being turned down twice is not a complete dead-end," Leech said. "Pushing hard behind the scenes might elevate the case and turn things around. But I think the best opportunity might be pursuing U.S. citizenship for his son."

For now, Williams tries to remain hopeful and gathers strength by re-reading his son's Father's Day letter.

"I don't say it very often, but I love you, Dad. Your son, Carlos."

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