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Utah mother fights for citizenship after nearly 30 years in US

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 Utah) – A woman from El Salvador who has lived in Utah for years is facing deportation after a five-year battle for citizenship.

Patricia Bonilla has lived in the United States for 27 years. She arrived in 1990, when she entered the country under asylum from El Salvador. During that time, she fell in love and had children.

“It’s an entire lifetime, my daughter is 15 and son is 10 and they dream of moving forward here in this country,” said Bonilla.

In 2012, Bonilla was diagnosed with cervical cancer just as her husband Jose Hernandez was recovering from cancer in his kidneys.

“And that changed everything. So we kind of went through that process of taking care of the kids and her, and work at the same time. Now the immigration problem behind us. And now we’re trying to survive…again. We’re trying to keep the family together,” said Hernandez.

Erin Wilson, Bonilla’s attorney, explains that her immigration problem is not as simple as some other cases.

“In 2009, the government decided that El Salvador was no longer going to be a country that they granted asylum to,” said Wilson. “They had received a notice from ICE that they were no longer going to allow her to say. They allowed her to stay because of her medical condition with cancer for a number of years, but they will not allow her to stay any longer.”

Bonillas has been in remission for three years, but she says her doctors still require her to come in for regular check-ups.

Wilson explained that Bonilla and her family have been working with the court for a number of years to sort out her citizenship status, even during her fight against cancer.

“She had her son, when he was 18, he was in the military, she applied through him, that’s what she tried to do,” said Wilson.

But that application was denied.

“For this reason, I feel bad that for so many years we’ve been trying to fix our papers, but nothing.”

“We love this state, we come here, and we’ve been paying our taxes, we’ve been, I think we’ve been a good family for the community,” said Hernandez.

Bonilla’s children say their lives would be very different if their mother gets deported.

“She’s amazing, she’s fun, she’s caring, she’s always looking out for us even when we’re in trouble. No matter what she’s always looking out for us,” said Oscar Fray, son. “Seeing her go through all of this, it’s kind of like a slap to my face.”

“She’s always played a big role in my life and I don’t know what I would have done without her,” said Alex Hernandez, son.

“She’s just an amazing person, and I don’t think she should be deported,” said Esmerelda Hernandez.

Bonilla’s attorney says they are taking every action to keep from being deported.

“We have a motion though to re-open her case, and we’re waiting on a response form the immigration court here in Salt Lake, and hopefully we’ll be successful with that motion,” said Wilson.

Despite all of this, Patricia is preparing herself from the impending date of deportation.

“ICE issued an order that Patricia has to voluntarily depart by August 15th, which means that she has to buy a plane ticket,” said Wilson.

The ABC4 Utah team reached out to Senator Orrin Hatch’s Office to see if they could assist in the case. Matthew Whittaker, Hatch’s director of communications, provided the following statement:

"Senator Hatch receives countless requests to help Utah families with immigration cases and does his best to help in any way that we can. But out of respect for privacy we do not comment on specific cases.”

Patricia and her family say they have not given up hope.

“I got really faith in god that she’s going to stay. But if she has to go, I don’t know what’s going to happen really,” said Hernandez.

“What I desire most is to be able to be here in this country without having to hide, to be free,” said Bonilla.

If you would like to help in Patricia’s fight for citizenship, you can donate to her GoFundMe page here.

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