There are days in which Alberto Caballero, 66, can stay awake for a few hours, but there are others when he sleeps most of the time. Caballero has relied on pain medication since he was diagnosed as terminally ill with cancer in April 2012.
“This is unfair,” says his wife Xinia, a naturalized U.S. citizen, who takes care of him at their home in San Francisco de Dos Ríos, a suburb southeast of San José. “He is very old and sick and no man like him should be denied the right to spend his last days with his family.”
Caballero’s three daughters and seven grandchildren live in the United States, but he has not been able to spend time with them since 1998 when he was deported back to Costa Rica.
Last October, the U.S. Consulate in Costa Rica rejected his immigrant visa application because of his health status and his involvement in a “crime of moral turpitude” committed in 1987.
Caballero is a Peruvian-born Costa Rican citizen who emigrated at age 16 to the United States, where he raised a family, owned a home, and started his own business. In 1987, he was convicted of a felony charge involving drug trafficking, and 11 years later, he was deported after a 1996 immigration law ordered the deportation of immigrants with past legal problems in the U.S.
In 1987, he was issued a deportation waiver by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), which allowed Caballero to stay in the United States, but in 1998, U.S. immigration authorities applied a retroactive law and started deportation proceedings against him.
“My father was the central figure in our family and he was the glue that kept everyone together”, says his daughter Patricia Williams, who resides in California. “When my father left, our family fell apart. My mother had to sell off his business because she did not know how to run it.”
Now, four times a day, Xinia changes the bandage around an open tumor in her husband’s hip. As the main caregiver, she helps him shower, dress, take his medications, and attend regular doctor’s appointments. Five months ago, doctors at San Juan de Dios Hospital in San José said there was no treatment available for him in Costa Rica and declared him terminally ill. Xinia cries when she remembers the last time the family spent a Christmas together in 1997.
“We have endured separation for many years and our dream is to be together again,” she says.
In 2007, Caballero could not attend the funeral of his youngest daughter, Shirley, who died of cancer.
After the most recent visa denial, Caballero’s only hope is to apply for humanitarian parole at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which grants foreigners admission to the U.S. for compelling humanitarian reasons.
“[The consul] has no idea how much his decision has affected our family,” says Williams.
The U.S. Embassy in San José does not comment on specific visa cases, but it lists criminal histories as a reason for ineligibility when applying for an immigration visa.