After weeks of legal limbo and threats of possible deportation, a Colorado family is delighted and relieved that their adopted four-year-old daughter can stay in the U.S.
Angela Becerra was legally adopted in 2017 while her parents, Amy and Marco Becerra, were living in Peru.
The Becerras, both American citizens, initially moved to Peru to start a business and began volunteering at an orphanage in Lima where they met their future daughter, Angela.
Angela was brought to the orphanage when she was just 11 days old; her mother was unable to care for her. The director of the orphanage approached Amy and Marco and asked if they would be interested in caring for Angela, who was likely premature and had developmental issues stemming from a difficult birth.
Amy and Marco were surprised by the suggestion, but thrilled about the opportunity. They thought having a child wasn’t possible for them because they had problems conceiving in the past.
“We thought this was divine intervention from God,” Amy said.
They received legal custody of Angela on October 23, 2014 and got approval from the country’s courts to begin the foster adoption process. Through the Peruvian foster adoption process, prospective parents must take full legal custody of the child for 2 years and undergo a series of interviews to ensure that they are fit to be parents.
The Becerras initiated the full adoption process on October 23, 2016, exactly 2 years to the date that they received legal custody of Angela. It was also around this time that they decided to move back to the United States.
“Angela completely changed our whole perspective and we wanted her to have all of the opportunities that come with being an American citizen,” Amy told NBC News.
Amy was offered a job in Colorado and began the process of dealing with an international move and figuring out how to bring Angela to the U.S. Since her adoption was done domestically in Peru, the family had to go through the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, also known as USCIS.
There were delays due to changes in the Peruvian government and family court system, so Amy moved to Colorado to work and continued the process remotely while Marco and Angela stayed in Peru.
It took 13 months until the Becerras were able to secure a tourist visa for Angela, which allowed her to enter the U.S. legally. The Becerras then applied to obtain legal residency for their daughter.
But on August 8th, the family was officially notified that their legal residency request for Angela had been denied. She could be deported by the end of the month, which was when her tourist visa was set to expire.
“I was floored when I saw that our case was denied,” Amy said. “They did not refute the legality of the adoption. What were they reading that I wasn’t reading? What is missing here? I’m still baffled.”
As the Becerras grappled with the news that the residency request was denied, a family friend decided to contact local news media to bring attention to the situation. After a local news station aired their story, Amy was contacted by the office of Colorado Republican congressman Mike Coffman, who met with the family and pledged to help them with the case.
In a statement to NBC News, USCIS spokesman Michael Bars said that "given the complexities of this case and additional review of foreign legal documents at issue, we decided to reopen the petition this past Tuesday and subsequently approved it Wednesday afternoon.”
In explaining the process, USCIS stated it "carefully applies U.S. laws enacted to serve as important safeguards and protections for the best interests of children and their safety."
At the press conference, Rep. Coffman said the situation is a symptom of a "broken" immigration system.
“To deport a four-year-old, really? They had the opportunity to make the best decision for the welfare of the child," said Coffman.
Amy said that “no one would believe that this would happen to two citizens;” she explained they had reached out to USCIS for over a year.
"It wasn’t until they had pressure from the local media and intervention from Congressman Coffman’s office that there was any progress. We’re very grateful for both,” she said.
Though the citizenship process normally takes between nine and fourteen months, the family hopes it will be expedited.
When asked about future plans, the Becerras said that they are completely focused on Angela. Their daughter loves to boss their dog around, said Amy, and likes to sing to whomever will listen. She started her first day of prekindergarten last week.