National News

Hania Aguilar's father, Guatemalan resident since 2005, denied visa to attend funeral

Posted December 6, 2018 5:27 p.m. EST
Updated December 7, 2018 6:27 a.m. EST

The State Department denied a temporary visa to a Guatemalan father trying to attend the funeral Saturday for his teenage daughter, who was kidnapped outside her North Carolina home last month and was later found dead off a rural road, the man’s lawyer said Thursday.

The father of the girl, 13-year-old Hania Aguilar, traveled to the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala City on Monday and asked for expedited approval for a visa to fly to the United States. The father, Noé Aguilar, was denied on the spot because U.S. officials worried he lacked strong ties to Guatemala, his native country, and might not return, according to his lawyer, Naimeh Salem.

“To tell you the truth, with past administrations, we never had a problem like this,” Salem, an immigration lawyer based in Texas, said in an interview. “With this administration, most everything that is discretionary is getting denied.”

As the news of Aguilar’s denial was reported Thursday in North Carolina, some high-ranking state politicians pledged to help. Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, wrote a letter asking for the State Department to reconsider the father’s application, Salem said, and the office of Rep. Mark Meadows, a Republican, intervened as well.

“I’m hopeful we should be able to get it,” Salem said.

The offices of Cooper and Meadows did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment. A State Department spokeswoman, Nicole Thompson, said she could not comment on specific visa cases.

“The Department of State makes every effort to facilitate legitimate travel by international visitors,” the spokeswoman said. “We are also fully committed to administering U.S. immigration law and ensuring the integrity and security of our country’s borders.”

Residents of Guatemala must receive a visa to travel to the United States.

Hania was kidnapped on the morning of Nov. 5 outside her mother’s house in a mobile home park in Lumberton, North Carolina, a city of 21,500 people about 30 miles south of Fayetteville. Witnesses said they saw a man wearing dark clothes and a yellow bandanna force Hania into a sport utility vehicle, the police said.

The search for Hania dominated the news across the state and the South, as the FBI joined the case and coordinated a vast search over several weeks. The authorities had few clues. They released surveillance footage from a camera showing the SUV and asked the public to look out for shoes similar to the ones Hania was last seen wearing, black-and-white Adidas sneakers with a colorful logo on the heel.

After a nearly three-week search, the police found Hania’s body off a rural road about 7 miles south of Lumberton, the authorities said. The FBI declined to elaborate about why that area had been searched but said agents were following up on “investigative leads.”

A spokeswoman at the FBI, which prominently displays information about the case on its website, said Thursday that the case remained unsolved.

In his visa application, Aguilar stated that he owned a business in Guatemala and had no intentions of staying in the United States after the funeral, Salem said. But embassy officials denied his request because he had a low bank balance, she said.

“He has no negative immigration history,” Salem said. “No deportation.”

Aguilar lived in the United States when his daughter was an infant but moved back to Guatemala around 2005, she said.

While President Donald Trump has largely, and loudly, focused his immigration policy on the border, his administration has quietly reshaped the country’s legal flow of foreigners, including those seeking to travel, work or study in the United States. Work visas are being denied or delayed at high rates, companies have said. Colleges have worried about attracting international students who need visas. And foreigners in the United States have found it more difficult to extend their stays.

Salem said she had worked on numerous similar requests in past years for family members who wanted to visit a sick relative or attend a funeral in the United States. She said she could not think of another case with similar circumstances that had been denied.

“He has never attempted to come back to the U.S.,” she said. “He has no desire to come to the U.S. He wanted to kiss his daughter goodbye.”