We've all seen the controversy surrounding immigration issues during and since the November election. As many as 20 million people are in this country illegally.
A man who called KELOLAND home for the past decade was among them. He came here as a child, but when he got married, he tried to do the right thing. The illegal Mexican immigrant went back to his home country to obtain a visa, only not to be allowed to return to his wife and children
At first glance, Andrea Hargens-Flores and her children seem like they're spending a normal, happy day at home in Orient, South Dakota. But a piece of this puzzle is missing and because of it, no days in this home are normal or happy right now.
"I think I probably cried every day for a good month and a half, and I still cry a lot. But, I don't know. I don't know what to say. I just need him home. I'm sorry," Andrea said.
Andrea's husband is stuck in Mexico. Bertin had illegally entered this country as a kid and eventually landed in South Dakota, milking cows on a dairy farm. After he married Andrea in 2014, he wanted to become a legal citizen. So three years and $15,000 later, the couple had gone through all of the requirements, except one.
"Yeah, we were on the last step. Go get his visa," Andrea said.
Bertin made the long journey from South Dakota to Tuzantla, Mexico, for the required interview.
"Everything went so smoothly. I was just thinking, 'We got it made,'" Andrea said.
Bertin saw his parents for the first time in 17 years and then went to the U.S. Consulate General for his visa interview. Megan Newcombe is the couple's immigration attorney.
"Our expectation was he would go through the visa interview and because of the waiver being granted, he would be approved for his visa," Newcombe said.
But that's not what happened.
"They said, 'Well sorry, denied! You can come back in a year!' I was devastated. I was like, 'What? This can't be right?'" Andrea said.
As part of the visa process, Bertin had to undergo a medical exam in Mexico.
"And if they determine that somebody has a health risk that makes them a danger to society or themselves, the doctor can deem them inadmissible and they aren't allowed to come back. And that's what happened with Bertin," Newcombe said.
While Bertin has no criminal record, the doctor said he was an alcoholic and therefore dangerous.
"It's totally false. I was just floored that they were thinking he was an alcoholic. There's no, there's no proof to that. It's corrupt; everything is corrupt down there," Andrea said.
Angela Kennecke: Is this a real thing? Or is this just an excuse to keep him there? Or do you have any way of knowing?
Newcombe: We don't really have a good way of knowing. We have not been able to see those medical records, so we don't even know exactly why that determination was made.
"And I didn't understand what he tried to tell me. And he said I cannot have my visa and I asked him and he said, 'You can try again.' But he tell me, 'You don't try to cross the border again because you're going to get 10 years in jail,'" Bertin said.
Bertin traveled 30 miles from his parents’ home in Mexico to get an Internet connection to speak to us on a video call.
"Pretty hard to not see your kids," Bertin said.
He had a long day of traveling from South Dakota to Mexico and admitted to the official that he had a couple of beers with dinner the night before his visa interview.
"I don’t know what I did wrong and I explained to the guy I never had a problem with alcohol," Bertin said.
Andrea's father Dale Hargens has stepped up to help take care of the family's 140 head of cattle in Bertin's absence. He believes his son-in-law was denied a visa because of politics.
"It seems like it was just bad timing. His interview was the day after the election and I just think that all of the people that work down there at the Consulate -- nobody expected President Trump to be elected and I think that day they all looked out for their jobs. They just denied everybody because they didn't want to draw attention; they want to keep their job," Hargens said.
Hargens received the following response from former President Barack Obama when he reached out for help for his son-in-law.
While Bertin came to the U.S. illegally at the tender age of 13, he's been part of this north-central South Dakota community for eleven years and now they're rallying behind him and his family to bring Bertin home.
"It's a wonderful young family in our community and Bertin is such a hard-working guy," neighbor Donna Schaefers said.
The Hargens' life-long neighbor Donna Schaefers has organized a letter writing campaign on the family's behalf to South Dakota's congressional delegation and immigration officials.
"You see him helping out all the other people. It's time for us to step up and help them," Schaefers said.
Oldest daughter Laura remembers the day she got the news her stepdad wouldn't be coming home.
"Bertin started texting mom saying stuff that was very sweet and sad. Mom, Justin and me started to cry because it was so sad. It was, 'You'll be in my heart. I will never forget you. If I die, protect my babies for me,'" 11-year-old Laura Evans said.
And Laura's witnessed what it's done to her younger siblings.
"Every night you would hear Xavier just say, 'Daddy, daddy. I want daddy.' And that made me really sad," Laura said.
"He'd do anything for his kids and it's killing him not being here. Lily's starting to crawl now. She's crawling and X is doing those funny little two-year-old things, you know and Justin is wrestling and it's really affecting Justin too," Andrea said.
Bertin is Justin's wrestling coach. But that's not all he's missing. Andrea is in a high-risk pregnancy with the couple's fifth child; a girl due in June.
"I'm just trying to live day-to-day; I just hope he would come home before June. It would be nice," Andrea said.
The family celebrated Bertin's birthday over Facebook.
"Happy Birthday, Bertin. The big 3-0 today," Andrea said in a Facebook video.
"Love you!" Laura said.
"Now we're going to enjoy your cake! Love you!" Andrea said.
But they're worried he may not be around to celebrate many more, even via the Internet. The area where he's staying in Mexico has become increasingly violent with shootings right by his parents' home.
"This has happened, so much stuff over here in Mexico. I don't know if I'm ever going to see my babies again. I don't know," Bertin said.
"My biggest fear is him coming home in a box and me raising our five children alone," Andrea said.
KELOLAND News asked all three members of South Dakota's congressional delegation if they could help bring Bertin home. Congresswoman Kristi Noem's office says they are monitoring the process and working with federal agencies to make sure Bertin's case gets a fair and timely response.
"Well, we've been working on this casework and it's always my priority to do the right thing and not comment on casework that we're actively involved in, so I can't really speak to that right now," Representative Kristi Noem said.
Senators Thune and Rounds also say they cannot comment on specific casework.
Andrea has written to President Donald Trump to ask for help as well.
Eye on KELOLAND
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