SELINSGROVE, Pennsylvania (Reuters) - A U.S. flag flies outside the home of Pedro and Salvacion Servano, a symbol of their love for the country that’s trying to eject them.
After almost 25 years as resident U.S. aliens, the couple is under threat of deportation to their native Philippines because of an inaccuracy on their immigration applications in the late 1970s they say was an honest mistake.
Federal immigration authorities appear unmoved that Pedro Servano, 54, is a physician serving more than 2,000 patients in this central Pennsylvania town, that his wife, Salvacion, 51, is contributing to the revitalization of nearby Sunbury by running a bakery and grocery store, and that their four children, aged 13 to 24, are American-born U.S. citizens.
The Servanos see the Philippines as a foreign land where they have few surviving family members, own no property, and whose language is not spoken by their children.
“It’s a third-world country,” Pedro Servano said from the living room of the well-kept suburban house where they have lived for 12 years.
Their offense is that they were married when they individually entered the United States in 1982 and 1984, rather than being single, as stated on their visa applications made in 1978 and 1979, before they were married. They didn’t report the changed status because they didn’t know they had to.
“It was an honest mistake,” Pedro Servano told Reuters.
They have been fighting to remain in the United States since the irregularity was discovered during an application for naturalization in 1990. Despite a string of legal defeats since then -- and about $90,000 in costs -- they were not prepared for three letters that arrived on October 23.
“IN A PANIC”
The letters said they were subject to a final order of removal, and instructed them to report on November 23 to a federal prison to begin deportation. They were told they could bring one bag each, weighing not more than 40 pounds (18 kg).
“I was in a panic,” said Pedro Servano. “As the head of the family, I‘m just worried about the future.”
After intervention by their lawyer, Gregg Cotler, they reported on November 26 to ICE in Philadelphia and were given 60 days to wind up their affairs in America. That period was extended for an unspecified temporary period on December 5 when the Department of Homeland Security issued a rare “Deferred Action” order, allowing them to stay while they pursue legal options.
Cotler said the order signals that the authorities recognize the special nature of the case, but “in no way guarantees” that they will be able to stay in the long term.
Arturo Garcia of the Los Angeles-based Coalition for Defense of Immigrants Rights argued that immigration authorities have been harsh and inflexible. “They don’t see the human side of the law,” he said.
With legal options all but exhausted, their best hope is the possibility of a private legislative bill in Congress, a measure that would give them permanent legal status but which succeeds less than 10 percent of the time, Cotler said.
Their case is being considered by lawmakers including Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Arlen Specter.
Meanwhile, the Servanos say they have received support from the people of Selinsgrove and from across Pennsylvania, where an online petition opposing their deportation recorded more than 3,800 signatures by December 7.
Letters of support have been written to immigration authorities by local officials, legislators and colleagues.
“I have not heard anyone say they should be sent back to their own country,” said Emma Renninger, 29, owner of Emma’s Food for Life, a town-center restaurant.
Despite their fear of deportation, they have no resentment toward the United States, and no desire to live anywhere else, Pedro said.
“We love America in spite of all these things.”
Reporting by Jon Hurdle; Editing by Daniel Trotta and Eddie Evans