Alaska governor, AG seek President Trump's help bringing AG's Colombian family to U.S.
Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy and Attorney General Kevin Clarkson are asking President Donald Trump to help hasten the process of bringing Clarkson’s Colombian wife and stepson to the United States legally.
Dunleavy sent an official letter printed on state letterhead to the president dated Dec. 2, 2019, noting Clarkson’s multi-year effort to bring his Colombian family to the U.S. Channel 2 obtained the letter through a routine records request for Dunleavy's official correspondence.
“I have witnessed Attorney General Clarkson’s admirable patience as he has dealt with the seemingly endless bureaucracy of our legal immigration process,” Dunleavy wrote. “Any assistance that you can lend would be greatly appreciated.”
At Channel 2’s request, Clarkson provided a copy of a personal letter he wrote to the president, also dated Dec. 2. In contrast to the governor, Clarkson’s letter was written in a “personal capacity,” -- however he identifies himself in the first line as the Attorney General of the State of Alaska.
Clarkson is asking the president for two things: To help secure the completion of a Visa approval for his 6-year-old stepson, and to ensure reentry into the U.S. for his wife Johanna Ferrer Zarache de Clarkson.
Clarkson says he and Johanna married in Nov. 2016 and filed an application for a spousal Visa the following spring. She was granted a Permanent Resident Card in May 2018. According to Clarkson, Johanna had to return to Colombia to care for her son while they await the completion of his Visa application, which was approved by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in June 2019.
Johanna returned to the U.S. twice in 2018, but has now been in Colombia for over a year. While green card holders can travel outside of the U.S., according to USCIS that card “becomes technically invalid for reentry into the United States if you are absent … for 1 year or more.”
Card holders can avoid this problem by filing for a reentry permit before leaving the country. This assures USCIS that you intend to return and are not abandoning the U.S. to live in another country. According to Clarkson, he and Johanna did not file this form before she last left the U.S. in Nov. 2018.
“We did not anticipate that (her son)’s Visa application would require such an inordinate amount of time to process and we believed that Johanna and (her son) would both travel to the United States some time during the spring or summer of 2019,” Clarkson said in his letter to the president.
These requests from Alaska state officials to the president of the United States highlight a crucial question: Is it appropriate for government officials to leverage their position in order to receive preferential treatment when considering issues of legal immigration?
In response to Channel 2’s request for an interview, Clarkson reiterated the content of his letter to the president and added the following statement:
“I have asked for no special favors of anyone,” Clarkson said. “Just that the government please finally bring this unbelievably prolonged Visa application process to an end so that our family can finally be together.”
Anchorage immigration attorney Lara Nations says she’s worked with hundreds of families in situations similar to Clarkson’s over the course of her career. She says the time Clarkson has spent securing a Visa for his stepson is just about average for South American families coming to the U.S. She has even worked on cases that took 30 years to come to fruition.
"The immigration process is very difficult. Families are very frequently separated for a long time... It's really devastating, and so any attention we can bring to that process is, I think, positive,” Nations said in response to the letters to the president.
Nations says it’s not unusual for delegates to take up immigration concerns from their constituents -- but in her experience it
unusual for one government official to advocate on behalf of another as Gov. Dunleavy has for Clarkson. She hopes this treatment will extend to all Alaskans in similar situations.
"I myself have never heard of somebody getting a letter from the governor addressed to the president about their immigration case,” Nations said. “It is something that we would look forward to, if that is something that the governor is willing to do on behalf of everyday citizens.”
Clarkson said Sens. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, and Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, “… have also been trying to assist in getting (my stepson)’s Visa application processed and completed.”
Channel 2 has reached out to Alaska’s Congressional delegates for confirmation on Clarkson’s statement.
Murkowski's spokesperson, Karina Borger, said constituent services are confidential, "but one of the ways Senator Murkowski’s office serves Alaskans is through assistance resolving issues with a federal agency,”
“Examples include resolving problems with Social Security, veteran’s benefits, and immigration to name a few. Senator Murkowski’s office receives requests from Alaskans trying to resolve visa issues.”
Sullivan's spokesperson, Mike Anderson, also relayed that constituent services are confidential. He said one of the many functions of the Senate is to help Alaskans with various federal issues.
"Indeed, Senator Sullivan’s office has designated staff known as caseworkers who specifically help any Alaskan who requests such assistance, including Alaskans dealing with immigration issues," Anderson said.
Young's spokesperson, Zack Brown, citing privacy concerns could not verify whether their office has worked on Clarkson's case. However, they did acknowledge they provide constituent services working with, among other things, USCIS.
"Our office has closed thousands of these cases over the years, and we continue working very hard on behalf of Alaska," Brown said. "Constituent privacy is of utmost concern for Congressman Young's office, and we are unable to provide details of any individual case."