Gloria de la Rosa’s husband, Arsenio, is in dire condition and spending what could be his last days of life at a Tucson hospital. Their four children are in Tucson preparing to say goodbye, but Gloria is an hour south, across the U.S.-Mexico border.

Arsenio, 85, and their four children are U.S. citizens. Gloria is not.

“My father is on the verge of death,” said their son Bill de la Rosa. “The least they can do is allow her to be with him during these last few moments, to allow him to see his wife one last time.”

Tuesday afternoon immigration officials denied the family’s request for Gloria to enter the U.S. to bid her husband farewell and be with her children.

The federal government sparingly grants what is known as Humanitarian Parole to “bring someone who is otherwise inadmissible into the U.S. for a temporary period of time due to a compelling emergency,” according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Last weekend, when he heard his dad’s health had deteriorated, Bill, 24, flew in from England, where he is studying at Oxford University on a scholarship. He then drove to Nogales to accompany his mother and brought with him medical records, a letter from Arsenio’s doctor and an application for humanitarian parole

“There’s no way we could be denied,” Bill thought that morning.

Back in 2009, Gloria left Tucson and went to the U.S. consulate in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico for what she thought would be an appointment for a green card. The family and Gloria’s attorney believed she qualified for legal permanent residency, because her U.S. citizen husband of over a decade sponsored her.

Instead, Gloria was told she was banned from returning to the U.S. for 10 years because she had entered the U.S. illegally many years prior. She had no criminal record otherwise.

At the time, Bobby, the youngest, was only four years old. Naomi was nine, Bill was 15 and Jim was 17 and a senior in high school. Since then, the family has been split apart, with Gloria living in Nogales, Mexico and Arsenio and the kids in Tucson, driving down to Nogales from time to time.

The separation affected each one of them differently, but even when Gloria was depressed and lonely in Mexico, and when the family was struggling, she never tried to cross back into the U.S.

“She has followed all the rules since she was barred,” Bill said. “And now she’s rejected?”

Gloria has waited in Mexico for nine years, and is only one year away from being able to apply for legal entry into the U.S. This is in part why Bill was so confused about the denial on Tuesday.

Bill also had high hopes because in 2011 during the Obama administration, when Arsenio had his first stroke, his mom was granted humanitarian parole. She was given a five-day permit, so she went to Tucson and spent the entire time taking care of Arsenio. She checked back in with immigration officials when the humanitarian parole expired and went back to Mexico where she has remained since.

This time around, it was a different story.

After hours of waiting and talking to multiple agents at the port of entry, Bill said an official came out “and he told us, ‘I have bad news.” He said that because Gloria was denied a green card in 2009, she couldn’t get a temporary permit to enter the U.S. and goodbye to her dying husband.

“Then [the officer] apologized and said it was up to his bosses and he had no say in this,” Bill said.

Gloria broke down. She thanked the officer for his time, and they were escorted to the door that leads back into Mexico, Bill said.

“I feel so sad for our government,” he said. “The fact that they can be so inhumane, cruel … unjust.”

Officials with U.S. Customs and Border Protection did not answer questions about Glorias case but sent a generic statement via email. “The authority to grant a parole is a matter of agency discretion and there is no inherent right to an alien to be granted a parole,” the statement read. “When an alien applies for a parole at a Port of Entry, all available information provided by the applicant at the time is weighed against any previous immigration or criminal violations, whether or not the alien has existing ties to his/her country of nationality, or will the alien remain in the US and become a part of the illegal population.”

This story was co-reported with Perla Trevizo of the Arizona Daily Star. In 2015, Fernanda Echavarri and Perla Trevizo met the family and produced a multimedia documentary about their lives. You can find it here:

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