SALT LAKE CITY — A Mexican woman who has lived in Utah for several years said she was denied re-entry into the U.S. by immigration officials at the Salt Lake City International Airport under a bizarre set of circumstances with no justification.
Immigration agents revoked Ana Miriam Robles Leon's work visa because they felt she was lying about her job description. But even though they had no proof, immigration lawyers said the law gives immigration officers that kind of power.
"I was there (in Utah) because I had a dream," said Robles Leon.
Robles Leon loves her job as a management consultant, saying it's something that's also helped her provide for her family in Mexico.
"I was helping and supporting my family," she told KSL TV.
Last month she made a quick trip to visit her family.
"It was a wonderful reunion because it was also my mom's birthday," Robles Leon said.
But Robles Leon never imagined what awaited her upon returning to Salt Lake City. She never made it out of the airport after being detained by immigration officials while going through customs, despite having all of her paperwork in order under a TN NAFTA Professionals visa work permit.
"He (the agent) was like, 'No, there is something wrong. You are lying to me,'" Robles Leon said of the exchange with an immigration agent.
Robles Leon said the usually brief interview process upon re-entry into the country turned into an hours-long ordeal of repetitive questioning. The 30-year-old woman said she was detained shortly after landing at 7:30 p.m. on June 16 until 3 a.m.
"Around 3:30 in the morning he was like, 'Are you ready to go back to Mexico?' It's like, 'We don't believe you, what you said,'" Robles Leon said.
After more than five hours of questioning her about her job duties, salary and health benefits agents refused to allow Robles Leon entry into the country.
According to immigration documents, agents stated, "Subject claims to be a management consultant; however, she appears to be working as a regular employee who is doing something other than management consulting."
Robles Leon was booked onto the next flight to Mexico City hours later.
"Having reviewed the notes from her interview, I can't imagine why they would have turned her away," said immigration attorney Jonathan Shaw.
Shaw took a look at Robles Leon's case, saying immigration law puts the burden of proof on visa applicants like Robles Leon, they do not have the same legal protections American citizens enjoy.
"Due process that type of thing, that's something that doesn't apply in her scenario," said Shaw.
However, Shaw was concerned no attempt was made by agents to call Robles Leon's employer to verify her account.
"Every time you come back to the United States, you need to be readmitted and so at that time of readmission they can inspect you again and they do have that discretion to look for something to deny somebody's entry into the United States. But typically they should follow up on leads. In this particular interview, she gives phone numbers, full names of supervisors or managers, people that could verify her employment," Shaw said of the provisions under Robles Leon's visa.
Shaw said lower-level immigration officers have a lot of discretionary power to review visa applications.
He said cases like Robles-Leon are part of an alarming trend of visas being revoked for essentially no good reason.
"We're going through a transition period right now between two administrations and lots of policy changes where some of this discretion is being removed from lower-level officers – and we've seen this across the board, where people are starting to make rash decisions or apply the law in a draconian manner to situations like this," Shaw said.
Shaw felt Robles Leon has a strong case to file an appeal, though she faces an uphill battle.
"I think it will surprise the general public that in the United States, someone trying to gain entry can be turned away with no recourse," Shaw said.
In the meantime, lives like Robles Leon's are turned upside down as her life, job and belongings were left abandoned in America.
"I was telling him all the truth. The hardest part for me to understand was that he wasn't willing to call my employer to verify what I was saying," Robles Leon said.
KSL TV obtained a copy of the letter Robles Leon's company sent to the U.S. embassy describing her job as a management consultant — which immigration agents looked over and documented in a copy of the interview with Robles Leon.
KSL also reached out to immigration officials and had not received a response by Thursday morning.
A GoFundMe* account has been established to help Robles Leon with legal expensive
If you've had a similar experience, please reach out to Garna Mejia at email@example.com.
*KSL.com does not assure that the money deposited to the account will be applied for the benefit of the persons named as beneficiaries. If you are considering a deposit to the account, you should consult your own advisors and otherwise proceed at your own risk.