A Down man has been stung by U.S. immigration law and separated from his American wife after traveling home to Ireland to visit his dying father.

Ruairi Oakes, 29, from Killyleagh, Co. Down and his American wife Ami, 38, left their home in Pittsburgh at the end of February to visit his terminally ill father in Ireland.

“I came back this time around for my Dad,” Oakes told the Irish Voice during a phone interview on Monday, from the family home in Shrigley, Co. Down.

“I just got home in time,” he said, explaining his father passed away two days after the couple arrived in Ireland.

When Oakes and his wife attempted to travel back to the U.S. last week, he was told he now faces a possible 10-year ban as he left the U.S. before he was fully legalized through his wife, who applied for a green card on his behalf.

“I didn’t even try the airport, they told me at the embassy,” Oakes said.

Oakes originally moved to the U.S. in October 2004 where he got a job as bricklayer in New York City. Two months later he met wife Ami.

“I overstayed my 90-day travel visa,” he explained.

The couple later married in April 2006 in the Bronx Courthouse. Once they married Oakes was eligible to have his American wife file a green card petition on his behalf.

But Oakes explained there was a delay in filing their case, as Ami has been out of work. However, when they filed their application an immigration official expressed doubt concerning the legitimacy of the couple’s relationship.

“The guy turned around and said, ‘I don’t believe you have been married,’” Oakes recalled.

With his green card application in limbo, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service issued him an advance parole document while he waited for his case to be processed.  Advance parole allows for departure from the U.S. while a case is being processed – but those who are undocumented are advised not to use it, as they could be subject to a U.S. ban if they leave.

Oakes was also issued a Social Security number and work authorization, allowing him to pay taxes.
Oakes traveled back to Ireland in December 2010 to see his ill father and was later permitted to re-enter the U.S on the return leg of his journey.

“They let me come back as a parolee,” Oakes explained.

However, this time around the U.S. Consulate in Belfast informed him it could be anywhere from six months to 10 years to process his case.

“My wife traveled back last week. She had to start the process from her end,” he said.
“We are just really waiting,” he added.

Oakes, who worked as a carpet cleaner and construction worker in Pittsburgh, says it’s likely he will lose both jobs.

“It’s hard being at home. There is not much about and there is no work for construction workers whatsoever,” he said.

“To give up two jobs to come home to none is tough.”

Ruairi Oakes and his wife Ami pictured in Down last week.The Down Recorder