NINE YEARS AFTER MARRYING A JAPANESE NATIONAL, A USF ALUMNUS FINDS HIMSELF PITTED IN A BATTLE TO KEEP HIS FAMILY TOGETHER
While living and working as an American expatriate in Asia,
USF alumnus Keith Campbell met the woman that would become his wife. He soon settled into her Tokyo home as they made plans to marry.
Nine years later, his wife Akiko and their two children are back in Japan, but not by choice.
In February 1998, when Akiko applied for a K1 fiancÃ©e visa, she was told the process would take three to four months to complete, Keith said, so the couple scheduled a wedding in June.
USF alumnus Keith Campell (left) and son Matthew in Keith’s Bradenton office on Sunday. Keith’s wife has been stuck in Japan since January. ORACLE PHOTO/JOSE LOPEZ JR.
The date for the wedding approached quickly, but the visa was still missing.
The couple decided to go on with the ceremony anyway. Held in Hawaii, a midpoint for relatives flying from both Japan and the mainland United States, Keith said it would affect the lives of too many people to postpone the ceremony.
After a short honeymoon, Akiko went back to Japan and Keith headed for the United States to prepare a home for his new family and – in what has proven to be a costly mistake – Akiko arrived two months later.
With fiancÃ©e visa in hand, she entered the United States already married to Keith – an error in judgment the U.S. government has labeled fraud but the Campbells argue was an honest mistake.
After eight years, three lawyers, countless hours and thousands of dollars spent trying to remedy the original visa error, the couple received what, according to Keith, seemed to be an answer to their prayers: A letter from the Department of Justice bearing the opening line, “The visa petition you filed has been approved.” The document then states that the case has been forwarded to the US Consulate in Tokyo. Akiko would have to go back to Japan to receive the visa she and her husband have worked so hard to obtain.According to Keith, the form letter and conversations with U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) officials led the family to believe receipt of a visa changing Akiko’s immigration status to permanent was a “forgone conclusion.”
When Akiko left for Tokyo with her children – Leonardo, 4 and Micah, 17 months – the family thought it would be a good opportunity to visit relatives during a brief visit in Akiko’s native land.
However, not only was the petition denied, Akiko was told she was forbidden to return to the United States for 10 years.
When he recently spoke to a representative of the U.S. Embassy in Japan, Keith said he was told the USCIS often employs the tactic of misleading people with visa problems so they leave the country.
“I’m beyond anger,” Keith said. “It makes my blood boil with determination.”
According to Tampa attorney and immigration and naturalization expert Osei Prempeh, the tactic is a common one. Once a person with visa problems leaves United States, they are told they cannot come back for a period of 10 years if a violation has occurred. This way USCIS no longer has to pursue the problem.
A family separated
Now Keith characterizes himself as a man possessed. A small business owner who still attends classes at USF, he has found his free time dedicated to the pursuit of reuniting his family. They try to keep close through e-mails, and the phone bills at home have seen a marked increase.
He spends his free time at a desk surrounded by pictures of his children, overlooking a playhouse that has been vacant since his family left. The pitter-patter of small feet has been replaced by the sound of fingers on a keyboard. Though he is busy, Keith said, the time he would have devoted to playing with his children or interacting with his wife is spent writing letters to anyone who will listen.
“Life isn’t necessarily the stuff you have, it’s the family,” Keith said. “They’re taking my life away over nothing. … We’re going to stay together whether it’s here or anywhere else.”
He also has collected more than 100 letters extolling the character of Akiko, citing her involvement in their church – the First Church of God in Bradenton – her professionalism and her excellence as a mother.
Though he has graduated, Keith is taking Japanese 4 at USF and said he is willing to sell everything he owns to be with his family. This may mean disbanding his business and finding a new home for the family’s dog, a rescued greyhound named “Q.”
The move would affect Keith’s son Matthew Campbell, 19, who moved in with his father and stepmother Akiko soon after the couple moved to the United States.
Matthew, a Florida State University nursing sophomore, said Akiko’s encouragement influenced his moral character and without her guidance he would not have earned the scholarships that fund his education.
“She’s an amazing person,” he said. “I met her for the first time when I was 10, when she was still my dad’s girlfriend. She’s always taken care of me.”
If the family moves, Matthew said, not only will he be deprived of his family, but chances are he would be unable to communicate with 18-month-old Micah.”I won’t be able to see my two brothers, except maybe every year or two,” he said. “Even then I won’t be able to speak to them because they’ll be mainly speaking Japanese. … It makes no sense to me why this happens. My family has nothing to hide. I don’t understand why we are being punished for it.”
During spring break, Keith was able to visit his family in Japan during a trip he planned on making to help bring his children home. He flew 26 hours each way to spend just a few days with his family, Keith said.
The legal ramifications
Prempeh said he has seen this type of case many times before.
“Nothing is little when it comes to immigration law, but there are a lot of solutions you can go for,” Prempeh said.The U.S. government looks at cases in which a person who is already married enters the country with a K1 fiancÃ©e visa as fraud and a clear violation of immigration law, he said.
In Prempeh’s experience, a hardship waiver – for which Keith has already applied – can take anywhere from two to six months to attain.
“When you are dealing with immigration, no attorney has control over them,” Prempeh said. “If any lawyer in America tells you, ‘I can do a waiver in a month or two months,’ they are lying to you. Nobody has control over what time that you are going to hear from (the USCIS).”
It’s this bureaucracy that has Keith frustrated.
“It’s like David and Goliath, it’s like me versus the government,” he said. “They’re wrong – they’re 100 percent wrong. It’s the perfect illustration of how the whole immigration system is broken. Not only can we not keep people out that we don’t want here, but we throw out people like my wife who has no record anywhere, who deserves to be here. And we’ll trick her in an underhanded way to get her out of the country.”