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Tipline Investigation: Couple claims a text message set off a two-year immigration fight

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - When most people think about immigration, they think about what's happening at the U.S.- Mexico border. But, even some people who are trying to enter the country legally are running into a bureaucratic wall.

The last two years have been a nightmare for Dave and Daniela Henrey. They're married, but he lives in the Santa Ynez Valley and she lives outside Bogota, Columbia.

"I was at the airport to pickup my then girlfriend, Daniela. I was there to pick her up at LAX at 5:30. I waited and waited and watched all the people get off the plane. She never got off the plane," said Dave Henrey.

That happened in February, 2019. Daniela seemed to just vanish. Airline employees, TSA officials, no one knew anything, at least that's what they told Dave Henrey at first. Finally, almost six hours later an airline worker spoke up.

"They told me they are not allowed to tell me this, but, she's been put on an airplane back to Columbia the following day," said Dave Henrey.

He went home to pack and fly to Columbia still oblivious to what was happening.

"So, finally at 3:30 in the morning I get the call. It's from her, she's crying. The call lasts about ten seconds and I couldn't get any information from her because she's hysterical, crying. Then the agent came on the phone and said time is up," said Dave Henrey.

Daniela was being detained by U.S. Customs Agents at LAX. Dave said it wasn't until he notified the Columbian Embassy in L.A. the next day that Daniela was allowed to make another phone call to him and explain what happened.

"So, I was at the counter and they say, like 'give me your phone' and I was like, 'Okay, so have my phone," said Daniela Henrey during a Zoom call from her home in Columbia.

Daniela said the customs agents searched her phone, including all text messages for the words 'love' and 'work.'

"We can't say that you're gonna stay here for love, we're just gonna say that you were working, that's why you're going back to your country." described Daniela Henrey.

Daniela said the agents used a text message she sent to a friend explaining how she's been working a lot as proof that she was working in the U.S. illegally. However, Daniela explained to the agents that she had been working in Australia, not the U.S.

"In this case, this officer with the little information he had was given the ability to remove her from the country for five years," said Dave Henrey.

Daniela has a college degree and said she traveled around the world for more than 12 years, including many trips to the U.S. where her brother lives, with no problems until that day at LAX. She also claims the customs agent, a man, tried flirting with her when they were alone making her uncomfortable.

"Oh, it's terrible we are here in this situation instead of having a beer in like some famous place here in Columbia like a restaurant," said Daniela Henrey. "So he was hitting on you?" asked C.J. Ward. "Yeah, yeah," said Daniela.

The NewsChannel contacted the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department, but so far, they have not responded to those specific allegations.

Dave and Daniela married in March, 2019 as they planned to do all along. And for the last two years, they've met in Columbia, Mexico and places in between. They first contacted the NewsChannel for help in May, 2020. We started inquiring about the evidence against Daniela. Did U.S. authorities really revoke her Visa for five years based on one text message or did they have proof of something more serious? So far, we have not received responses to our questions. In the meantime, the Henrey's said they proved that Daniela never worked in the U.S.

"You, C.J. were a big help. So the good news is that over the two years we have had her Visa restriction removed, so she is now allows in the country and that was largely in part to you," said Dave Henrey.

However, since then the pandemic has kept them apart and now all they're waiting on is final approval from the U.S. Embassy in Bogota.

"It's hard, really hard," said Daniela.

"We try to do it the legal way, we try to do it the right way. We pay the fees after two years. There's a certain point where you start to understand just how bad the system is," said Dave Henrey.

Daniela said the U.S. Embassy in Bogota turned her down again about two weeks ago pointing out a problem with her paperwork which resets everything back to another six month window before she can get another appointment. At this point, Daniela does not know why she was singled out.

A State Department official sent us this statement in response to our inquiries for this story, "Visa records are confidential under U.S. law; therefore, we cannot discuss the details of individual visa cases."

National/World / NewsChannel 3 Investigates / San Luis Obispo County / Santa Barbara - South County / Santa Maria - Lompoc - North County / Ventura County
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C.J. Ward

C.J. Ward is the evening anchor for KEYT NewsChannel 3 and the station’s lead investigative reporter. To learn more about C.J., click here

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