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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

When it comes to America's immigration system, there's a lot of waiting involved; waiting for Congress to hammer out a deal to reform a system almost everyone agrees is broken. The illegal immigrants here in the U.S. living in the shadows waiting to get caught, hoping they won't. And those who've been sent back to their home countries, where they wait for word on whether they'll be allowed to return to the U.S. as legal residents.

The Senate has passed an immigration reform bill and Members of the House are meeting to discuss the issue this week. But there are still major obstacles to any kind of compromise, mainly the so-called pathway to citizenship that would allow illegal immigrants to apply for legal status after 10 years. It can be a long waiting game, even for those illegal immigrants who've married U.S. citizens and supposedly have a leg up in the process.

CALY MUNIZ CASTRO: My name is Caly Muniz Castro and I am a pediatric nurse. I work at a respiratory clinic for children. And I'm married to Jones Muniz Castro. We've been married about a year, in a couple of weeks. Unfortunately, we just spent our one-year anniversary very far apart from each other. He's in Brazil and I'm here in Minnesota - Minneapolis, Minnesota.

MARTIN: Caly Muniz Castro is our Sunday Conversation. Her husband, Jones, is an illegal immigrant and is currently stranded in Brazil, hoping to get legal residence status in the U.S. She spoke to us from outside Minneapolis. And I started by asking her what first brought her husband to the U.S. in the first place.

CASTRO: His brother, who he was very close to, was killed in a motorcycle accident. And his family was very concerned for him at the time. He was becoming quite reckless with his own life - suicidal. Once they found out that his uncle was going to come here, they really wanted him to go with to just sort of get a change of atmosphere, to hopefully, you know, kind of kick him out of that rut and basically to save his life.

MARTIN: But he did come to the United States illegally.

CASTRO: Yes, he did. They came here through a network of coyotes, which is people that bring people over illegally. They all flew together to Mexico. Once they were in Mexico they drove up to close to the border, and then they spent the next few days walking through Mexican soil into American soil. And then, another coyote met with them on the other side and brought them further into the States.

MARTIN: How did he make a living when he got to the United States?

CASTRO: His uncle has some connections with some people here to start working doing siding on housing. And so, that is what he has done in various locations over the years.

MARTIN: So how did you meet?

CASTRO: We salsa dance, Latin dance, and we met through mutual friends and we just got to talking. And, you know...

(LAUGHTER)

CASTRO: ...went from there.

MARTIN: And what attracted you to Jones?

CASTRO: You know, when we first started talking, it was odd. It was like we were just best buddies, not even romantic. But just like a good guy-friend that I would've known forever. And he was just so easy to talk to. And after meeting a couple of times, the attraction is just grew - it was just so nice. And it was kind of hard to resist, especially when, you know, you've kissed a lot of frogs in your life when you meet a man that's just so caring and sweet as he is.

MARTIN: Did he talk to you about his immigration status, that he was in the country illegally?

CASTRO: Yes, not right away. But probably within a couple of weeks of knowing each other, we did talk about it.

MARTIN: Did you think through the repercussions of being married to someone who may be and ultimately was forced to leave the country?

CASTRO: Oh, definitely. But unfortunately, both doesn't always listen to logic.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: A year after dating the two of you got married. And that didn't resolve the issue. I mean, I would have thought that since you're a U.S. citizen, that after he married you, it would put them on a fast-track to becoming a legal resident. Were you surprised to find out that that was not the case?

CASTRO: No, I knew the case up front. A lot of people don't know and just, you know, seeing TV here, Hollywood, think you get married, you're done, you're there. But it's actually a very difficult process, one that we've been working on pretty much since the day that we got married. You know, and there's just no guarantee either. We still don't know what's going to happen.

MARTIN: Ultimately, Jones was forced to leave the U.S. He is now in Brazil.

CASTRO: Yes, and then that's part of the process, also, that a lot of people don't realize, is they actually have to out of the country to do an interview and a medical exam and all these other steps, and so we've been separated since the end of January.

MARTIN: Did people take you aside before you got married and sat you down and say, Caly, do you understand the repercussions of married someone who is here illegally?

CASTRO: Most of them had concern but didn't actually sit me down. My father did. He was very concerned. You know, he just wants the best for me. I'm his youngest daughter. But he was the most protective and the most concerned. But he ended up falling in love with Jones just as the rest of my family and friends. And so, they're all rooting for us. They're all on our side now and they hate seeing us go through this.

MARTIN: You said you have a lot of friends who came to the U.S. illegally. Are a lot of those people talking about these issues - this idea of a pathway to citizenship - which is something being floated right now in the legislation? Did they talk about that as a viable option, even though it could take at a minimum, 10 years?

CASTRO: Mm-hmm. It's the hope and dream of a lot of people, it really is. But so many people are afraid to even start the process because by starting the process you're drawing attention to yourself, which means that the government can turn around and just deport you.

MARTIN: Why not move to Brazil? Have you thought about that?

CASTRO: Yes. That's actually part of the things that they need to consider for our waiver. For me, it would be very difficult. On an emotional standpoint, I'm very close to my family and friends and I have two young nephews that I'm extremely close to - and so is Jones. But also on a professional standpoint, I would not be able to get license there to work.

MARTIN: How often do you get to talk to Jones?

CASTRO: He lives in the northern part of Brazil and the technology there is not very reliable. About 90 percent of the phone calls I make to him don't go through. And the last time I was able to talk to him was almost a week ago.

MARTIN: I imagine this is delaying a lot of other plans in your life, and I understand the two of you want to start a family.

CASTRO: Yeah. You know, we got married with just a few of my family members but we've love to be able to celebrate it and to say our vows in front of all of our family and friends.

MARTIN: Caly Muiz Castro, her husband Jones Muniz Castro came to the U.S. illegally. He is waiting legal U.S. status in Brazil. Caly, thanks so much for talking with us.

CASTRO: Thank you very much and thank you for allowing me to spread the word about what is going on in the process that we're going through.

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MARTIN: You're listening to NPR News.

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