Former Sgt. 1st Class Bob Crawford began the fight to keep his wife in the United States more than 12 years ago, when he was still on active duty.
After a burst of media attention last week, it took a Virginia immigration court just about 10 minutes to finally clear her.
“I would like to thank the government, the courts, for terminating the deportation order, [and] the Military Times for taking interest in our story and getting it out there for all military families,” said Crawford, a U.S. Army Ranger and 7th Special Forces Group veteran.
In the days since Military Times first reported on the Crawfords, other military families have reached out with similar stories of multi-year fights to get legal status for their spouses or dependents.
Bob Crawford, his wife by his side, read his statement of gratitude from a bench outside the federal courtroom where, a few minutes earlier, a judge terminated the removal proceedings that could have led to her deportation to Honduras.
“I know there’s other families in this same situation, and hopefully this will help bring light to that situation, for our military and our veterans,” Crawford said.
The Crawfords have fought for Elia for many years. Attorney Leticia Corona joined the case in 2012 after the Crawfords had already spent years unsuccessfully navigating the immigration system.
“I’ve seen the boys grow up,” Corona said of the Crawfords’ two sons, who are 12 and 9. “I’ve also witnessed first-hand the stress that these proceedings have had on the family.”
The Crawfords still have several months of additional court proceedings ahead to get the military spouse exemption, called “Parole in Place,” approved.
The exemption allows spouses, dependents and parents of military service members and veterans to pursue legal residency, even if they crossed into the U.S. illegally, without having to leave the country.
It’s an exemption that started in 2007 during the height of the Iraq War, and was pushed in 2010 by now-Vice President Mike Pence when he and other members of Congress pushed the Department of Homeland Security to ease the immigration burden for military families.
Obtaining that exemption will allow Elia Crawford to apply for legal residency.
“It means the world to us,” Bob Crawford said. “Our family gets to stay together. Our children get their mother.”
Tara Copp is a Pentagon correspondent for the Associated Press. She was previously Pentagon bureau chief for Sightline Media Group.