May 18. Day 179.
Candance Mc Guinness was helping her 2-year-old daughter into their truck when Chloe noticed a man in the car next to them with his head bowed, reading.
“Look mama, that man is sad,” Chloe said. When Candance Mc Guinness asked why, her daughter said, “Because he misses daddy.”
Since March, Mc Guinness has been writing a blog tracking the days she’s been apart from her husband — 232 days to date.Gary Mc Guinness is more than 5,000 miles away in Castlebar, in western Ireland.
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Chloe is old enough to understand that her dad’s not around. But she’s too young to comprehend why he’s not home.
“Whenever she sees something that’s sad she associates that with her sadness,” Mc Guinness said, “which is missing dad.”
Until last November, the family lived under one roof in Castlebar, where Gary Mc Guinness, a carpenter, tried to find work as the Irish economy collapsed around him.
They lived together in San Luis Obispo County when Chloe was born, but Gary Mc Guinness overstayed his welcome and now can’t return until September 2013.
Despite their love for each other, their errors in dealing with the complicated and often obtuse immigration system now keep them apart.
Since then, Candance Mc Guinness has been trying to navigate a complicated immigration system, care for family members and return to school while hiding her angst from her growing daughter.
“It gets really hard at times and I’m unable to think clearly or sleep,” she wrote on April 30, the 161st day of separation. “Our two year old hasn’t seen her Daddy in almost six months. Her Daddy has missed so many milestones and is missing out on so much.”
She met a tall Irishman
Candance Mc Guinness was born and raised in San Luis Obispo County and graduated from Arroyo Grande High in 1999, later graduating from San Francisco State University.
In 2009, she traveled to Ireland with a friend for vacation.
There, on a quiet Tuesday night at Riordan’s Bar in Cork, she met a tall Irishman with a big, goofy smile. Conversation ensued, and continued nonstop even after she returned home.
“It was an instant connection where I always felt at ease with him,” Candance Mc Guinness recalled. “It just felt natural.”
A few months later, Gary Mc Guinness, now 26, asked her to come live with him. A few months after that, in October 2009, they returned to the Central Coast and married.
By that time, Candance Mc Guinness was pregnant and wanted their daughter to be born on U.S. soil.
In the meantime, they started the paperwork for permanent residency but were dismayed at the cost — about $2,000 — and applied for a fee waiver and were denied twice.
Candance Mc Guinness thought that Gary Mc Guinness could stay in the U.S. for up to a year illegally and not be penalized. She knew that if he stayed longer than a year, he’d be banned from the county for 10 years.
But she didn’t know that if someone remains in the U.S. for more than 180 days after their authorized stay ends, he’s banned from re-entering for three years.
Gary Mc Guinness should have left in January 2010, but stayed so as not to miss the birth of his daughter. Chloe was born in February, and Candance Mc Guinness faced complications from the pregnancy that lasted a few weeks.
In the meantime, her grandmother was diagnosed with an advanced form of breast cancer.
The couple finally returned to Ireland in September 2010.
That’s when they learned that Gary Mc Guinness, who had stayed a total of 234 days, would be banned from coming back for three years.
After about a year, with her grandmother’s illness progressing, Candance Mc Guinness decided to return home. Here, she thought, she could more easily navigate her way through the immigration system and bring her husband back to California.
“I dream of the day when she (Chloe) gets to run to him and give him a big hug and attack him with kisses,” she wrote May 8 (day 169 without Gary Mc Guinness). “I wish I knew when that day was. If I had any type of a time frame, things would be a bit easier.”
On a recent weekday, Candance Mc Guinness took Chloe to the local park. While pushing Chloe on a swing, she recalled the past eight months — the piles of paperwork, the numerous phone calls to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the waiting.
“There are so many people trying to immigrate that workers see you as a number,” she said. “They don’t see them as families who are separated and trying to be together.”
Candance Mc Guinness filed one form, a petition for an alien relative, in January.
She initially thought the process would take 30 to 45 days, but later learned it could take at least five to seven months. If their petition was approved, then Gary Mc Guinness would have to travel to Dublin for a medical exam and an interview.
Then, Candance Mc Guinness was told, the petition would likely be denied because he had overstayed the authorized time he could be in the United States. Once the ban is lifted, the couple would have to repeat the process.
Candance Mc Guinness is now working on a lengthy waiver claiming that extraordinary circumstances necessitate she stay in the U.S. and requesting the ban be lifted. Those circumstances include dealing with the aftermath of her grandmother’s death and helping her father, who is disabled.
She also wants to avoid moving back to Ireland, where the unemployment rate hit 14.9 percent in June.
“There’s not really a life over there,” she said.
In the meantime, Candance Mc Guinness has spent hours researching the paperwork that must be filed, tracking her petition and contracting elected officials for help. Only representatives from U.S. Rep. Lois Capps’ office have been able to provide assistance.
A caseworker in Capps’ San Luis Obispo office said she has handled about 200 immigration-related cases in the past year and a half, and on average, has 50 to 75 open cases.
As of 2010, there were 74 Irish-born immigrants living in San Luis Obispo County, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
‘Daddy left me’
As the months pass, Candance Mc Guinness continues to count the days spent without her husband. So far, he’s missed Christmas, Easter and Chloe’s second birthday. Candance Mc Guinness turns 31 in September and hopes they’ll be reunited by then.
Lately, Chloe has been asking for her dad more and more. One June 21, Candance Mc Guinness wrote on her blog, they were talking about Gary Mc Guinness and Chloe said, “Daddy left me.”
“I almost started crying and kept trying to explain to her what is going on,” Candance Mc Guinness wrote. “It breaks my heart more and more each time.”
Mc Guinness blog
Candance Mc Guinness has been blogging since March in the hope that her story will console others or spur change. Check it out at http://bringmydaddyhome.blogspot.com/.