The wife of an American soldier missing in action in the Iraq War faces another potential crisis at home: deportation.
Yaderlin Jimenez's husband, Army Spc. Alex R. Jimenez, a Purple Heart recipient, disappeared when his unit was ambushed by insurgents May 12.
Now the immigration status of his Dominican-born wife, who illegally entered the country in 2001 and married Jimenez in June 2004, hangs in limbo.
At a dramatic hearing in immigrant court April 29, 2006, where Jimenez appeared in full-dress uniform alongside his wife, Judge Philip J. Montante granted the couple a temporary reprieve — putting a stop to the proceedings until Jimenez returned from what would be his second tour of duty.
"For humanitarian reasons, [the judge] realized it was unconscionable to go forward with an immigration case while Jimenez put his life on the line," Matthew Kolken, the immigration attorney representing the Jimenez family, told ABC News.
A spokesman for Department of Homeland Security's Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement told ABC News that the agency currently has no intention of deporting Yaderlin Jimenez. But with Jimenez missing in action and not yet declared a casualty of war, his wife's immigration proceeding is more up in the air than it's ever been.
If Jimenez was killed in action, his wife might get special treatment to obtain a green card, say legal experts.
Margaret Stock, a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve and associate professor at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, was not familiar with the Jimenez case but speaking generally, said that it would be difficult to stave off deportation if a soldier remains missing and is considered alive by the Defense Department.
"It's impossible in most cases for the spouse of a military member to get legal," said Stock, who estimates that thousands of soldiers are married to illegal immigrants. "There is no provision in immigration law that gives special provisions to spouses of military."
The Jimenezes married June 14, 2004, in New York, shortly before he left for his first deployment to Iraq. That same day, Kolken said, Yaderlin was encountered by U.S. Customs and Border officials and charged with entering the country illegally. She was briefly taken into custody and released, Kolken said.
While in Iraq serving his first tour, Jimenez filed an immigrant petition to obtain a green card for his wife. Because Yaderlin had been in the United States illegally for more than a year, she would have to depart the country in order to file the application. Moreover, she wouldn't be able to apply for reentry to the United States for 10 years, unless the couple could prove that her deportation would cause her husband "extreme hardship."
"Under no circumstances can I recommend that she leave the United States," Kolken said.
In a twist, Yaderlin could only prove hardship if he's still alive. "If her husband's no longer alive, there's no hardship," Kolken said.
Friends and family of Jimenez remain hopeful that he may be found alive. Military officials announced June 16 that they had discovered information cards belonging to the missing Jimenez and Pvt. Byron Fouty, who also disappeared in the May 12 ambush. The body of a third soldier, Pvt. First Class Joseph J. Anzack Jr., was found nearly a month ago in the Euphrates River.
"This shows they are searching for him," Jimenez's father, Ramon "Andy" Jimenez, told the Gloucester Daily Times. "Maybe they can pick up a clue from here. I know no matter what, they will find him."
Earlier this month, an insurgent group released a tape on the Internet in which it claimed that Jimenez and Fouty had been killed, according to The Blotter on ABCNEWS.com. The group, however, provided no evidence of the claim.
In addition to worrying about Jimenez's fate, Jimenez's lawyer and family are weighing options to prevent his wife's deportation.
They are appealing to members of Congress to intervene in the case and waive the 10-year requirement Yaderlin would face before being allowed to re-enter the country.
This morning, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., announced that he was working to prevent the deportation of Yaderlin and had contacted officials, including Department of Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff, on her behalf.
"Under no condition should our country ever deport the spouse of a soldier who is currently serving in uniform abroad," Kerry said. "Our country owes a special debt of gratitude to anyone who puts their life on the line by wearing a uniform and fighting overseas on behalf of the United States."
Kerry, a decorated Vietnam War veteran and Iraq War critic, said he would do everything in his power to make sure Yaderlin was not deported while the military continued its search.
Kolken said he might also try to argue that because Yaderlin was taken into custody and released in 2004, that could legally be considered "parole," allowing her to circumvent the 10-year requirement and submit her green card application.
Advocates for immigration rights and Hispanic veterans are outraged at the dilemma faced by Yaderlin.
"It's wrong and it's very upsetting to the lady," said Jess Quintero of Hispanic Veterans of America. "It's a difficult situation for the family and the Hispanic community."
A difficult situation that at this point has no clear resolve for the Jimenez family.
"That's the fear," Kolken said. "That she's going to lose her husband and she's going to be deported from the United States."