California man reunites with family after 2 years stuck in Mexico for admitting marijuana use
Nearly two years after he told the truth about having once smoked pot – a bit of honesty that left him stranded in Mexico, separated from his family, and blocked from re-entering the United States – a Southern California man walked back into his home last month and surprised his children.
Emily, 7, was napping in the living room, so it took her a moment to realize that the man waking her up was her father, Jose Palomar. She threw her arms around him and cried. He cried too. Next, he went upstairs in their Corona home to surprise 12-year-old April, who ran toward him and also started crying. Joshua, 14, was in the garage, playing video games, but he too sprung up for a hug.
“He’s a little more grown up since I last saw him,” Palomar said.
Melanie, the toddler, who was about six months old when Palomar left home, was with a grandmother when he returned. He’s missed her first words and her first steps.
Palomar’s return to California came nearly two years after he’d been denied what might have been a fairly routine immigrant visa.
The DACA recipient, who was born in Mexico but grew up in Southern California, had crossed the border in June of 2019 seeking documents for a green card and eventual U.S. citizenship. But during an interview in Mexico, Palomar answered truthfully when asked if he had ever partaken of an illegal substance – in this case cannabis, which is legal in California but illegal under federal law.
His answer set the stage for a nearly two-year odyssey in which Palomar was not allowed to come back and his family struggled.
Palomar’s wife, Christine, had to support the family while also advocating constantly with various government agencies and legislative offices for her husband’s return. She helped him land an apartment in Tijuana and traveled there as often as she could, sometimes with the kids. Meanwhile, as the pandemic hit and turned everyone’s lives upside down, she was left alone in their house to care for the children, who for a period were attending school online.
The struggle hurt financially and emotionally. The couple’s cars were repossessed as Christine worked to keep the family afloat. Then, five days after Christmas, her mother unexpectedly died. Between the trauma of her husband’s absence and her mother’s death, Christine developed seizures. The stress took an emotional toll on the entire family.
At one point, a weary and frustrated Christine wondered: “Do I have to die for the government to bring my husband back home.”
More recently, as the couple traveled together to the Mexican city of Ciudad Juárez, to finalize a spousal visa that will land him the coveted green card, both were more optimistic.
Still, the long separation has extracted a toll.
“It’s taken literally everything out of me to keep going,” Christine said.
Palomar thanks his wife for her persistence, saying: “She never gave up on us.”
Of the various legislative offices she reached out to – and she contacted them all, repeatedly – Christine said she received some help from a staff member at the office of CA-42 Rep. Ken Calvert.
Still, two years later, the couple still has a hard time understanding that Palomar was blocked from re-entering the United States because he answered a question truthfully, about once using a drug – cannabis – that isn’t a crime in California.
“The legal system is screwed up,” Christine Palomar said. “You are told to be honest at all these interviews. But, at the end of the day, you’re punished for your honesty.”
Palomar, now 28, grew up in Anaheim after he was brought illegally into the U.S. from Mexico when he was six years old. As a recipient of a program known as DACA, he’s had temporary relief from possible deportation. He also qualified for the green card because he is married to a U.S. citizen.
The couple met in 2012. Christine had two children already, Joshua and April, and Jose said he considers them his own. When they married, on Valentine’s Day 2014, Emily was already born; Melanie came later,
Now, after a two-year separation punctuated by visits in Tijuana, the family has to readjust.
“We have to literally rebuild our lives,” said Christine, 31. “It’s starting from scratch.”
Jose Palomar is helping his wife with her work in advertising sales and hopes to get back to running a construction business that he co-owns with his father in Orange County, working on projects across the state. The couple also is considering delving into real estate. Meanwhile, Jose Palomar is taking on some familiar duties: taking the kids to school and helping them throughout the day. But he’s having to get reacquainted with his family.
“It’s unbelievable because I’ve been gone almost two years and like I tell my wife, it feels a little weird,” Jose said. “Every time I thought about being back, it seemed like a dream. Then, I come back, and some things have changed and some things haven’t.
“And I think, ‘Man, I can’t believe I went through all that.’ But I’m back.”