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Visa dispute keeps couple on opposite sides of world

Published June 2, 2007


BRADENTON - Keith Campbell woke alone on his 47th birthday last month to find little plastic cows scattered all over his front lawn, a whimsical surprise arranged by his wife and two young sons all the way from Japan.

The family members spent the day half a world apart because of an immigration dispute that has disrupted their lives for years and culminated in the Japanese-born Akiko Campbell's being barred from the United States after making her home here for almost nine years.

Critics say the Campbells' case illustrates how making mistakes while negotiating the paperwork-heavy and complicated process to get visas and permanent residency in the United States can lead to life-changing consequences for foreign spouses of U.S. citizens.

"It's kind of a surreal thing, " Keith Campbell said recently as he waited to have his daily Web-cam computer chat with Akiko, 41, and his two sons, ages 4 and 1, who are in Nagano, Japan. "We haven't done anything wrong."

Immigration officials say Akiko Campbell committed fraud in 1998 when she entered the United States with a fiancee visa after she had already married Keith. She now is prohibited from re-entering the country for 10 years.

Since she left in January, Keith Campbell has spent time furiously writing lawmakers, printing bumper stickers, talking to anyone who would listen and establishing a Web site - - to tell their story.

Advocates for families separated by unforgiving immigration policies say what is happening to the Campbells is more common than people think. A group called American Families United was formed last year to raise awareness of the problem and lobby Congress.

The group says that a minor mistake on an immigration form or a failure to file for the proper visa can lead to an arrest, jail time and deportation.

"People's lives are being completely ruined, " said Glenys Old of Wardensville, W.Va., whose British-born son is being deported because he turned 21 while his application for permanent residency was still being processed.

The Campbells say that when Akiko's fiancee visa didn't arrive before their planned wedding in Hawaii in June 1998, they were told by an official at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo to go ahead and get married and apply to change her status after she was settled in the United States.

The bomb was dropped in March 2000 when they went to the immigration office in Tampa to secure her permanent residency: Akiko wouldn't be allowed to stay in the country because she committed fraud.

In the years since, the Campbells have been working with lawyers and filing appeals.

[Last modified June 2, 2007, 01:50:46]

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