STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – Immigrants Pedro and Salvacion Servano have been model U.S. residents since arriving from the Philippines in the 1980s.
Pedro Servano, 54, is a prominent family doctor in an underserved area of central Pennsylvania. His wife, 51, runs a grocery store and bakery. Two kids have graduated from college, with two more in grade school.
But a change in their marital status during their visa application process more than two decades ago has come back to haunt them, and now they are facing possible deportation back to the Philippines.
The couple have been told to report to an Immigration and Customs Enforcement office the day after Thanksgiving for the start of deportation proceedings, agency spokesman Michael Gilhooly said Friday.
It's a process the Servanos desperately hope to avoid. Their attorney, Gregg Cotler, is devising a flurry of last-ditch legal and political appeals to allow them to remain home in Selinsgrove, about 100 miles northwest of Philadelphia.
"We love this country and this is our American dream to be here," Salvacion Servano said Friday in a telephone interview. "We've been here for 25 years. This is our home."
Their present difficulties can be traced back to 1978 when, while both were single, their mothers applied for visas for them to come to the United States.
They married in the Philippines in 1980, and two years later, Salvacion Servano's visa was granted and she left the country. Pedro Servano followed in 1984 after getting his visa, and the couple moved to Philadelphia.
The Servanos applied for U.S. citizenship while living in San Diego in 1990, but an immigration official noticed during an interview that their visa application listed them as single. They were accused of lying and misrepresenting their marital status, and the deportation process began, Cotler said.
"I guess it's an honest mistake. It's not premeditated," Salvacion Servano said.
The Servanos went on with their normal lives as they filed appeals. They moved back to Philadelphia in 1992 before settling in Selinsgrove three years later. Dr. Servano works at Geisinger Medical Group in Selinsgrove, where he has about 2,000 patients.
Two of his four children graduated from Temple University, including a son in the Army ROTC program; another is in high school and a fourth in middle school.
Several years ago, the Servanos bought and rehabilitated two properties in the city of Sunbury, about a 10-minute drive from home. Salvacion recently opened a small grocery store there, selling Asian goods and baked items.
"They had an error on their visas when they first came here," said Terry Specht, Sunbury's city clerk, who frequents the store. "It's ridiculous to think they would lie about that."
But the appeals have been unsuccessful and appear to have run their course.
The Servanos switched attorneys and turned to Cotler after receiving notice earlier this month that they had to report to the immigration enforcement office.
"It was a surprise to us. After that, it was as if a ton of bricks had fallen on our family," Pedro Servano said.
Gilhooly declined to discuss the specifics of the case, citing standard ICE practice.
"They have had their due process through the U.S. immigration court system," he said. "They have exhausted their appeals."
Cotler hopes otherwise. His legal team is considering emergency appeals in court and directly to the U.S. Attorney General's office.
The family has lobbied for help from politicians. Friends scheduled a prayer vigil in Sunbury for Saturday night.
Letters of support to the government have poured in from local dignitaries, Servano's patients and even someone from the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees ICE.
"I fervently believe in the ICE 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," DHS counterterrorism operative Bill Schweigart wrote in a letter obtained by The Daily Item of Sunbury. "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."
Cotler said the couple understands the government's position, but would simply like another chance to tell their story.
"You would not find two nicer people, two more unassuming people," Specht said. "It's a shame that these two are caught up in all this."