EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Miriam Herrera a few days ago asked a relative in Twin Falls, Idaho, to watch her kids for two weeks while she and her husband flew to the U.S.-Mexico border to fulfill a dream five years in the making.

But the dream of getting her “green card” based on her husband’s U.S. citizenship suddenly crashed. An immigration officer at the U.S. Consulate in Juarez last week not only rejected her application but also banned her from re-entering the United States for 10 years.

“Our kids are wondering when we are coming home. We don’t want to tell them what’s going on because it’s hard enough on us and I imagine it’s going to be hard on them, too,” Miriam Herrera said.

The couple has spent the past four days calling their lawyers and emailing state and federal elected officials in Idaho who can help return the mother to her children and the only country she’s called home for the past few decades.

“We figured everything was going to be good. We don’t have a criminal record. We’ve done everything by the book. We figured we were going to come here, produce all the documents that we needed, taking care of business and coming back to our family. That wasn’t the case,” said Baldemar Herrera, a Twin Falls home-remodeling entrepreneur.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) in 2020 received more than 700,000 petitions for alien relatives (Form I-130) of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents.

Immigration experts say such petitions have a high likelihood of approval, but that tens of thousands are rejected every year. The most common reasons for denial include insufficient proof of eligibility, having a criminal record, or having entered and stayed unlawfully in the United States. A six-month unlawful stay disqualifies you from petitioning for a “green card” or legal residency in the United States for three years; a one-year stay for 10 years.

Miriam Herrera, 31, said she was told at the U.S. consulate that she was present in the country unlawfully when she was 5 and then when she was 7 years old. She says her father told her they had been to the United States on two occasions, but that it was for no more than a couple of months. The immigration officer at the consulate told her it had been two years.

“She asked me if my father could attest to this, but my father is deceased,” she said. “My lawyer says this should’ve never happened. Two other lawyers said I shouldn’t have been banned. They said it was an easy case and should’ve been approved. Now, we’re here in Juarez staying in someone’s house and I don’t know when I’ll be back home, with my kids.”

Her children are ages 14, 13 and 8.

El Paso immigration lawyer Iliana Holguin said she’s seen many instances of heartbreak over the years when it comes to rejected immigration petitions.

“Getting your I-130 approved doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed a green card. It’s just one step in the process. They still have to go to the consulate and that’s where they take your fingerprints and your immigration history comes up, that’s where the determination is made,” Holguin said.

She recommends for immigrants and their sponsors to have the advice of a board-certified immigration lawyer before filing a petition, and even then there’s no guarantee.

“It’s a horrible experience to leave the United States, go to a consulate after you’ve been here for years – decades in some instances – and get denied. I can’t imagine anything more horrible than having your interview and getting told, ‘no, you’re never going back to the U.S.’ It’s incredibly stressful, traumatic because in many cases you have kids, you have a life here.”

Baldemar Herrera said he’s counting on his lawyers coming up with a solution. “It’s kind of hard right now. We haven’t been able to sleep. We’re kind of in shock to what’s going on,” he said.

Miriam Herrera said she wanted to obtain legal status in the United States to avoid a repeat of a traumatic experience she had as a child.

“I went through a situation where my mother was deported and it traumatized me. I wanted my kids not to go through something like this and it’s very hard,” she said, crying.