Clerical error has BYU grad stuck in Mexico
Dec 18, 2023, 2:00 PM | Updated: 2:25 pm
SALT LAKE CITY — The road to United States citizenship is no simple task, even if you do everything correctly.
Maleny Heiner has been stuck in Mexico since August due to a clerical error made by her attorney and has no idea when she will be able to return, but let’s back up to the beginning.
Heiner came to the US with her parents from Mexico when she was 2 years old and moved to Utah for school at 18.
At the same time, she applied for DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, so she could legally live in the United States while she went to school and worked.
She came to Utah to attend BYU and later served a full-time mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Houston, Texas.
This is where she met her husband Taylor Heiner.
She and Taylor were married in 2018 and have been living in Saratoga Springs as they diligently work together on Maleny’s arduous process to gain citizenship.
The Process Itself and What Went Wrong
The process is so complicated that it usually requires the assistance of an immigration attorney to make sure every step is airtight and done promptly.
They began their efforts to first gain residency, the precursor to citizenship, four years ago, but “it was delayed because of COVID and other factors, like political factors, that intervene with that process”, according to Heiner.
Finally, in June of this year, they received the exciting news that the final step for her to gain her long-awaited residency was underway.
“We were really excited because that was the final step for me being able to gain my legal status in the United States, especially as a resident,” she said.
Undocumented citizens are required to return to their native country for a round of appointments which ends in the application being processed.
“My husband and I triple-checked everything with my attorney to make sure we were set to go. Everything looked good, and in August we flew out.”
At her final appointment, Heiner discovered that she “was inadmissible due to unlawful presence in the United States.”
Undocumented adults are allowed a maximum of 180 days of unlawful presence after they turn 18, and Heiner had accumulated about three months of unlawful presence while she decided whether or not to apply for DACA.
“I wanted to see how the process went for everyone else before I applied,” she explained.
For Heiner, who was very meticulous about doing everything correctly, the math didn’t add up.
“I was really confused”, so she asked where the extra time of unlawful presence came from.
“It turns out that on one of my previous DACA renewals during the pandemic, there was a delay in processing times, she said.
This means she was accumulating unlawful presence while the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services processed her renewal.
There is a waiver that prevents issues like this from ever happening, called the I601 waiver.
It would “basically forgive all that unlawful presence”, but her lawyer failed to file it.
A friend of Maleny and Business Immigration Paralegal Liliana Bolaños compared not filing the waiver to “going to the mechanic and driving off the lot without tires. It’s a very serious mistake.”
“I got out of the appointment in tears because I didn’t expect that to happen, I had done everything in my power to make sure I could return home.”
Heiner immediately contacted her attorney and the waiver was filed right away, but the real kicker is it takes up to 2 1/2 years to process.
The Struggle to Return Home
There is not much the Heiners can do themselves except wait.
Maleny is living in Zacatecas, Mexico with some family and is very grateful for their support as she adapts to a new country and culture.
While the Heiners wait for the I601 waiver to be processed, members of her community are trying to help get USCIS’s attention.
Burgess Owens, a U.S. congressman, tried to file an expedited request with USCIS but was denied.
Getting the attention of people with connections, like Owens, is the hope of Heiner.
Taylor Heiner suffers from a chronic illness in his stomach and being separated from him is extremely difficult for Maleny.
“We are working on filing a humanitarian parole now based on my husband’s health challenges,” she said.”We’ve had so many experiences where I have had to rush him to the emergency room.”
Being away from loved ones is always challenging, but especially during the holidays, in a foreign country, with no way of knowing when you’ll return.
“I’ve missed out on Halloween, and Thanksgiving, and now I will miss out on Christmas. I miss being with my family. I miss being with my husband.”
She was also in the middle of getting a Master’s degree in Social Work but has had to put that on hold.
Furthermore, she lost her job and is unable to work.
Heiner acknowledges that she is not the only one in this situation, and has worked especially hard to prevent something like this from happening.
“It’s frustrating because I am stuck in this situation after I did everything to make sure I was prepared.”
A GoFundMe has been created on Maleny’s behalf by the Utah With All Immigrants advocacy group to help cover any expenses accrued while she lives in Mexico unable to work. You can donate here.