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An immigration issue caused this Tucson family's separation. Now, they're finally reunited

A Tucson family has been reunited, after an immigration issue left a mother of four stuck in Mexico. 

One day in 2009, Gloria De La Rosa left her family home in Tucson and headed to Texas where, on the advice of a lawyer, she planned to travel across the U.S.-Mexico border for a green card appointment with U.S. immigration authorities in Juarez. 

Her son, Bill De La Rosa, was 15 back then. He and his three siblings are all U.S. citizens. Their parents are from Mexico, but in 2009, their father had just become a U.S. citizen. Gloria was undocumented. The trip to Juarez was supposed to change that. 

"So when she left, you know, we all thought, well, because she’s going through the process, she’s going to come back." he said. 

Instead, Gloria went to her appointment in Juarez and learned she was subject to a 10-year entry ban from the U.S. — because of her undocumented status. Under U.S. law, people who are in the U.S. without permission for more than a year can be found inadmissible for re-entry to the U.S. if they leave the country. 

"This law that was passed was intended to deter and discourage families, immigrants, from crossing the border unlawfully, that has not happened," Bill said. "What it has done ... is contribute to the growth of the undocumented migrant population in the U.S. because people don't want to use the legal process because they understand that if they do, they will be separated from their homes and families."

The family has been trying to bring Gloria home ever since. This weekend at the DeConcini Port of Entry, Gloria crossed the border and officially returned to Arizona as a permanent U.S. resident. 

Bill says walking his mom through the port of entry in Nogales this month was an incredible feeling. But so much has changed — Gloria's youngest son, who was four when she left, is a teenager now, and Bill is 30. Their father died in 2018. 

"Fourteen years and 99 days that she was separate from my siblings and I, and so we're obviously really grateful and happy that she's finally back home.  But I can't help but also acknowledge the fact that we've lost 14 years and 99 days, with her, those are years that we can't recover, and so much has happened in that time," Bill said. "There's just been so much pain and suffering involved ... it's a bittersweet moment."

He says he knows many other families go through the same things as his — often with less resources and support. That's why for now, they’re relishing the basics. 

"I think that’s been the most beautiful thing out of all of this — is having the freedom to plan, the freedom to think, the freedom to continue hoping and thinking about, what can we do now, that we’re together," he said. 

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Alisa Reznick is a senior field correspondent covering stories across southern Arizona and the borderlands for the Tucson bureau of KJZZ's Fronteras Desk.