Utah woman turns to online petition to bring husband home
Immigration • Orem veteran pressuring the feds to move faster to unite family.
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Mary Ann Rollins, of Orem, said her 15-month-old son, Ryhan, always comes running and squealing "da da" when he thinks he is about to see his dad.

But the sound triggering the scampering isn't a door opening or a car pulling into the driveway. It is Skype connecting on the computer for an Internet video call.

"He's never seen his dad, except on Skype," Rollins said.

That's because red tape has long delayed the immigration of his father, an Afghan interpreter who met Rollins when she was deployed to Afghanistan with the Utah National Guard. She is now trying to use the same Internet that lets her son and husband see each other to pressure immigration officials to move faster.

Rollins has launched an online petition on Change.org, which has attracted 7,000 signatures so far. In it, she urged support for her husband's visa request "to bring our family together at last."

Rollins met her husband — whose name she will not disclose because it could endanger him and his parents in Afghanistan — while deployed there five years ago.

She returned two years ago to marry him. "I just spent two weeks in Afghanistan," Rollins said. "I have [an older] daughter here, so I didn't want to be gone too long."

Upon returning home, Rollins immediately filed papers seeking a visa for her husband to immigrate as the spouse of a citizen. She was told those visas usually take up to a year.

"But it's been two years now," she said. Ryhan was born in the interim.

"It's the same thing other interpreters are running into. They have special immigration visas just for interpreters," she said, but processing them by the U.S. embassy in Kabul has been painfully slow.

Roger Tsai, a Salt Lake City attorney who is a past president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said Rollins' husband's case does seem to be going slow.

"Usually, you can get this wrapped up in about a year," he said. "I can only imagine that some of those difficulties are either based on the individual circumstances of the case or a lack of staff at the embassy in Afghanistan."

Rollins said her husband was frustrated in earlier efforts to get an interpreter visa. "The paperwork kept getting lost," she said.

So after they married, Rollins tried a different route — by seeking a spouse visa. But that process has been slow too. When Rollins asked why and how long it will take, "all they can say is it is administrative processing … and they can't give me a time line."

Rollins is giving the Change.org petition a shot after seeing how it enabled Brent Finnell, a veteran from North Carolina, to gather 97,000 signatures to extend a visa program for Iraqi interpreters. That program was set to expire last week. But Congress passed a bill to keep it going and, on Oct. 4, President Barack Obama signed the extension into law.

Rollins' petition attracted signatures fairly quickly — 7,000 as of Monday afternoon.

"It's clear to see that people across the country are moved by Mary Ann's appeal to reunite her family — especially after her husband has given so much for this country," says Tim Newman, deputy campaigns director at Change.org. It sends emails with new signatures automatically to the State Department and the U.S. embassy in Kabul.

Several other Change.org petitions seek to help interpreters to immigrate. Some were started by soldiers aided by Afghan interpreters.

"Every interpreter who helps our military in Afghanistan is risking their life for our country," Rollins wrote on her petition. "They all deserve the opportunity to live in peace in this country they have sacrificed for."

In an interview, Rollins added that her husband also is paid only $500 a month — money that also helps support his parents. So she is on her own here financially.

But even more, she lamented, her husband is missing a lot as their son grows. "He started walking early. He likes to climb on things. He never stops. I really hope we all can be together soon."

ldavidson@sltrib.com