SARASOTA, Fla. -- It's been almost 20 years since Ramon Valdivia and his oldest daughter went through an underground tunnel with a Coyotaje from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, to El Paso, Texas.
A Coyotaje is often paid to smuggle illegal immigrants into the United States.
Valdivia remembers vividly the moment; they were robbed during their journey underground. He had just enough money to get them food for a few days.
“Give me your money and my daughter start to cry. I said listen, listen I'll give you money but don't hurt me. Look my daughter is crying,” says Valdivia.
They made it to the other side and escaped. Hours later, the tunnel was raided. Everyone inside was deported or arrested.
“He [Coyotaje] had drugs in that tunnel. He had bodies. FBI and Mexican police catch him."
Valdivia lived the next 18 years in fear of possibly being deported.
“I was scared. When I see the cops behind me I would pray. Please don’t stop me,” he says.
That worry went away after his daughter, Brenda, joined the Army to give her parents the ultimate gift, a chance at U.S. citizenship.
“I'm not worrying anymore deportation. So, that's a good thing,” he says,
The immigration law, Parole in Place, allows anyone in the military active or retired to get their family members citizenship.
The law allows family members living illegally in the United States to apply for a U.S. green card, without having to leave the county.
Once parole in place is issued, the applications for green cards are normally granted as a matter of fairness.
Tampa immigration attorney Neil Lewis explains not many people are taking advantage of it.
Unless you're in the military, many don't know about it.
Here's the catch, though, not everyone has the green light just because family has joined the service.
“They must have entered the U.S. illegally once. If you've entered more than once, it's not available for you. Many have entered twice,” says Lewis.
You also can't have a criminal record.
Valdivia was eligible, and now he's able to continue his life worry free thanks to his daughter.
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