Just when it seemed hopeless, a phone call changed everything.
The Korotkov family, which 18 months ago had to leave the Tri-Cities for Russia because of a bureaucratic snafu, have gotten word that the U.S. government will grant them refugee status after all.
That means they should be able to return home — finally.
They never should have been forced to leave in the first place.
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This is an immigrant family who had done everything right and followed the rules. They had lived in the U.S. for 10 years, worked and paid taxes and even had children who are U.S. citizens.
And yet because of a flawed U.S. immigration system they were required to return to Russia, a country that was now as foreign to them as it would be for any American citizen.
Alex and Galina Korotkov came to Kennewick from Russia 10 years ago and sought asylum as religious refugees. For the first seven years of their stay, they assumed it had been granted.
They got jobs, bought a house and built a life with their four children.
But because of an apparent oversight by immigration authorities, their application was never processed. When government officials finally did pay attention to the paperwork, they denied the family’s request saying they didn’t prove their case of religious persecution. The family is Protestant and says they can’t worship freely in Russia.
The Korotkovs spent the next three years trying to find a way to stay, but eventually their time ran out. It was heart-wrenching to know they had to go.
And as it turned out, their fears of being outcasts back in Russia were accurate.
Once there, they were greeted with suspicion and betrayed by their “American” accents. Work was hard to come by because they lacked proper documentation. They ended up relying heavily on money they saved from living in the United States and the generosity of family and friends. They moved five times in one year.
It wasn’t right this family was living a life of constant worry and despair because of a mistake at someone’s desk — especially when millions of illegal immigrants have found ways around the system and remain in the country.
People who enter the United States legally should not have to suffer because their paperwork was ignored for seven years.
No one knows why U.S. immigration officials have now changed their minds. All the Korotkovs know is their case has been accepted, and they should be allowed to fly back to the United States.
Of course, the paperwork has to get through first. Let’s hope the process moves quickly this time.
The last thing this family needs is another unnecessary delay.