Monday, November 26, 2007

The Servano Family Nightmare

On Thanksgiving Day last week, Dr. Pedro Servano and his wife, Salvacion, gathered family and friends together at their home in Selinsgrove , Pennsylvania for what may be the last time they will celebrate this American holiday together in the United States . A few days later, on November 26, the Servano couple voluntarily turned themselves in to US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) authorities who were set to deport them back to the Philippines . Instead of detaining them, however, the DHS allowed the Servanos to return home after their lawyers obtained a last-minute reprieve.

Dr. Servano is a prominent Filipino physician serving approximately 2,000 patients in an underserved section of Central Pennsylvania . His wife, Salvacion, a registered nurse, operates a grocery store and a bakery in the town of Sunbury , just outside Harrisburg . They are proud parents of four US-born children: Shappine and Steven, both graduates of Temple University ; a younger son, Peter, in 10th grade; and the youngest, Phoebe (13) in middle school.

Their saga began in 1982 when Salvacion immigrated to the United States after she had been petitioned by her immigrant mother in 1978. Pedro followed in 1984 after he was petitioned by his mother also in 1978. When they were petitioned, they were single. By the time they immigrated to the US , however, they had already been married since 1980.

They settled in Philadelphia where Pedro completed his residency in medicine while Salvacion obtained her nursing degree. In the course of a few years, they had a home, children and were on their way to living the American Dream.

In 1990, after they moved to San Diego , they applied for US citizenships, choosing to do it themselves without the assistance of an immigration attorney. They disclosed in their applications that they were married when they immigrated to the US .

Their naturalization applications were denied and they were placed in deportation proceedings charged with misrepresenting their status when they entered the US as they were not entitled to the immigrant visas that were issued to them as “unmarried” immigrants.

They could have applied for “suspension of deportation” as they had been in the US for at least 7 years, had been of good moral character during that period, and could have easily shown extreme hardship with their four US citizen children. But their lawyer apparently only argued that they did not intend to violate US laws as they were not aware they had to be unmarried until they arrived in the US .

The immigration judge did not accept their argument and found them deportable. Their lawyer appealed their case to the Board of Immigration Appeals which subsequently affirmed the decision of the immigration judge. The matter was then brought up to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals which denied their appeal. It was a legal process that took 15 years while the Servanos went about their lives, moving back to Philadelphia in 1992 before settling down in Selinsgrove three years later.

The bombshell news came on October 25, 2007 when they received their “bag and baggage letter” from the DHS instructing them to report to homeland security officers on November 26, bringing with them no more than 80 pounds of luggage each, to be processed for deportation. DHS spokesman Michael Gilhooly told reporters that the Servanos had their due process and ultimately must go.

After receiving the DHS letter, the Servanos sought legal counsel from Gregg Cotler and Ann Ruben from Philadelphia, and Gregory Graig from Washington, D.C. who are all making last-ditch efforts to contact the DHS directly.

Perhaps the only chance the Servanos have of remaining in the US is if one of their Pennsylvania senators, Arlen Specter or Robert Casey, sponsors a US senate bill that would allow them to remain in the US . To get a US senator to sponsor such a bill would require the endorsement and support of organizations like the Association of Philippine Physicians in America (APPA), the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA) or the newly-formed Filipino American Leadership Council (FALCON).

An online petition has been initiated ( and letters of support ( have come from patients, local officials and even from a surprising source, DHS counterterrorism operative Bill Schweigert.

In a letter obtained by the Daily Item of Sunbury, Schweigert wrote: "I fervently believe in the ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) mission. However, the Servanos did not sneak into this country illegally, they have broken no laws, and they have not been a burden to the economy. They pose no threat. I cannot fathom how deporting the Servanos fulfills any portion of the ICE mission. In fact, I would argue the action runs counter to it."

In a letter to the DHS, immigration attorney Ann Ruben requested that their deportation be deferred for humanitarian considerations.

“The extraordinary lives of the Servanos and the evidence of their deep dedication and commitment to this country during their nearly 25 years in the US,” Ruben wrote, “ is borne out by the tremendous outpouring of letters of support and petitions containing innumerable signatures from throughout the United States and from a variety of disciplines.”

The outpouring of public support caused the DHS to grant a temporary reprieve. Whether that reprieve will be permanent will depend on the extent of that support.

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