A valley man finds that a loophole in U.S. immigration policy may require him to support his ex-wife until death.
Steve Summers is being sued in federal court by his ex-wife Evangelina Zapata de Summers.
After six years of marriage they divorced in 2009.
Now, she is taking her ex back to court for breaking his contract with her and the U.S. government.
Since the mid-90's the law has required U.S. citizens like Summers to sign the I-864 affidavit to bring a non-U.S. citizen, like a spouse, into the country.
To ensure immigrants do not become a burden on social welfare programs, the sponsor must sign the document in which they essentially agree to support the immigrant at 125 percent of the federal poverty level if they have no income.
But if the two parties divorce --- the affidavit of support still stands.
A U.S. citizen can really get screwed under these circumstances," Summers said.
Zapata is suing to obtain alimony for the rest of her life.
Summers' attorney Marcus Barrera tells Action 4 even though they are divorced, and she's lived in the U.S. for about a decade, he may still have to pay up.
"The problem is these permanent residents come back and sue their sponsors and they sit at home and do nothing and the law makes it pretty clear that you have to support them at 125 percent of poverty, Barrera said. There is no mechanism built into this situation that forces the person to get a job as a permanent resident and become a citizen or you will be deported."
According to Summers, his wife can work, but she doesn't.
The only way to nullify the I-864 affidavit is if the immigrant becomes a U.S. citizen, works for 10 years, fails to keep permanent residency status or dies.
Even though Zapata has remarried and divorced, the contract remains.
"There is no incentive for them to become a U.S. citizen, no incentive to work. There is nothing where I can get out of that contract, Summers said.
"So they stay here in limbo and basically become a parasite to the original person that signs the affidavit of support, Barrera said.
Summers says he is doing all he can to bring attention to this part of immigration reform that is rarely spoken about and often misunderstood by lawmakers and attorneys.
"I had a very hard time finding an attorney. I went to attorneys who specialize in immigration and I was told this was a figment of my imagination -- 'you don't have anything to worry, Steve' -- only to find out that it has started to happen, Summers said.
That's why Summers is reaching out to valley congressmen.
The law is fairly ambiguous and I think there is some clarification that could be made, Summers said.
"Any immigration bill should have something in there that forces a permanent resident, if they aren't going to work to become a permanent, productive member of U.S society they need to be deported back to where they came from or the rest of the U.S. citizens, including the sponsor, will have to continue supporting them and we just can't continue that, Barrera said.
Action 4 News put in a call to Congressman Ruben Hinojosa to share Mr. Summers' story and his office responded saying they will address this issue as they work to formulate an immigration reform bill in the house.
Summers' next pretrial hearing is set for September 5.