Struggle on two fronts
Soldier fights in Iraq, wife battles deportation efforts
Sgt. Elhadji Mansour Ba has too much on his mind for a man in a combat zone.
He’s fighting for his country, while his country is trying to deport his wife.
Ba is working in one of Iraq’s most dangerous provinces, al-Anbar,
near the Syrian border. It’s his second tour in Iraq for the U.S. Army,
this time backing up Marines who are fighting the insurgency.
“I cannot protect my family when I am far away trying to protect our country,” he said.
So, Ba, 32, is leaving his post there temporarily to defend his
wife, Nana Diallo, at a hearing tomorrow in U.S. Immigration Court in
Arlington County. He is a member of the 506th Quartermaster Company,
based at Fort Lee.
He reported to the unit on Aug. 20, three days after the government ordered his wife into removal proceedings.
A native of Senegal, Diallo, 33, faces deportation to her country of
citizenship, France, for staying here long after her temporary visa
waiver expired nine years ago. The Department of Homeland Security also
has accused her of fraud because of the mistakes her husband said he
made on the application to allow her to remain here legally.
“I was confused,” Ba said in a phone interview from Iraq last week.
Diallo is a military wife in a waiting game, living in a neat home
in Colonial Heights with the couple’s son, Ibrahim, who will turn 5
next week. The child is a U.S. citizen, as is his father, who was born
in Senegal but naturalized in 2000.
“I don’t know what I am going to do,” she said.
Anita R. Schneider, her immigration lawyer, is a little perplexed,
too. Diallo’s plight won’t be easy to solve because she went to Paris
with her husband last summer to obtain a visa from the U.S. Consulate
there. She got the visa, but she technically hasn’t been allowed back
into the country.
If Diallo had stayed in the United States, she could have gotten
legal permanent residence as the wife of a U.S. citizen. Now, the
government regards her as an “arriving alien,” not someone who has
lived here since 1997.
The Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement would not comment
on Diallo’s case. The Bureau of Customs and Border Protection said her
case doesn’t meet the criteria for a humanitarian parole.
Diallo and her husband traveled to Paris in late June, a few days
after Ba re-enlisted in the Army. They had married in 2003, while he
was home on leave from his first tour of duty in Iraq. After he
returned in early 2004, he started the process of making his wife’s
presence in the country legal.
The problem was, he thought his wife and son would join him in
Germany, where he was stationed with the 147th Ordinance Unit. He put
Germany as her home address, which the government later would cite as
one instance of alleged fraud. The National Visa Center instructed them
to travel to Paris for the visa because Diallo is a French citizen.
Diallo went to the consulate in France and received the visa in late
July. When she returned home she was stopped at Dulles International
Airport, where border and customs officials questioned her. They didn’t
detain her but gave her deferred inspection status to sort out the
problems they found with her papers.
They wanted to know why she had put Germany as her home address.
They also wanted to know why she had answered “no” instead of “yes” to
a question that asked whether she had been unlawfully present in the
United States for more than a year. It was part of a larger question
about whether she had ever committed an aggravated felony and been
ordered to be removed from the country.
“I did not think that this described the wife of a U.S. soldier who
had never been in trouble,” Ba explained in an affidavit last month.
Ba also mistakenly said in another part of the application that
Diallo had overstayed her visa waiver from 1997 through 2003, instead
of 2005. Her lawyer, Schneider, said the error was immaterial because
they had not tried to conceal her illegal status. “There was no fraud,”
she said in exasperation.
This was the type of problem the couple had tried to avoid when Ba
completed the papers for his wife. “He was telling me he was going to
do everything because he didn’t want me to make any mistakes,” Diallo
The biggest mistake of all was leaving the country to process her
visa. Not only did Diallo become inadmissible, but she also faced a
10-year bar from returning because she had lived here illegally for so
long. They didn’t know that because they didn’t have a lawyer.
“We would have said, ‘Don’t leave the country, no, no, no!'” Schneider said.
Tomorrow, Schneider will ask an immigration judge to grant Diallo a
waiver of the 10-year bar so that she can formally enter the country
and adjust her status.
Ba is traveling from Iraq to attend the hearing. He’s an
automated-logistics specialist, but his duties there range from setting
up portable showers to manning a gun truck.
He moves constantly in dangerous territory. He worries about his wife and son.
“I keep saying to myself, what’s going to happen to them if something happens to me?”