Former City Plan Commission member Ralph Isenberg called me this week from Guangzhou, China -- at 3 a.m. his time-- to say that his years-long effort to get a visa for his Chinese-born wife Nicole has finally paid off.
"We got the visa on January 5," Isenberg says. "We'll be coming home Sunday or Monday. I'm waiting on a call from American Airlines."
Nicole Isenberg was forced by Immigration and Customs Enforcement to leave the United States because of irregularities in her visa application and a misdemeanor charge for prostitution. The controversy was the subject of this cover story in the September 29, 2005, paper version of Unfair Park.
The Isenbergs arrived in China from Dallas on November 1, 2005. They first lived in Dalian, a city in northern China where Nicole's family resides. They later moved to Shanghai, and then Guangzhou, in southern China, moving from hotel to hotel. Their daughter Niraya is now 18 months old and is speaking baby talk -- in Chinese. Nicole's teenage daughter stayed in Dallas, where she attends Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts.
The Isenbergs sandwiched in a three-month stay in Mexico, Isenberg says, to prove that the Chinese government was not restricting Nicole from travel and that any delays were on the part of the American government. In all, he's made eight trips over the Pacific Ocean.
"Nicole now has an LR1 visa, which ironically expires on the Fourth of July," Isenberg says. "That makes her a legal permanent resident. Nicole hopes to become a U.S. citizen like the rest of the family. The last three years have been difficult on the family. We are looking forward to returning to Dallas and leading a normal life."
Knowing Isenberg, it will be anything but normal. During the height of the North Korean nuclear crisis last year, Ralph says, he took a speedboat to North Korea, wearing a Chinese military uniform. Why? "Because it was there!" Isenberg says.
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Isenberg credits Judge Thomas G. Jones, Mayor Laura Miller, and U.S. Representatives Eddie Bernice Johnson and Pete Sessions for intervening on his behalf. Judge Jones talked to him two or three times a week on the phone. "He knew how isolated I was in China," Isenberg says. "There are so many negative things that go along with being exiled." He refuses to say what the other public officials did.
"I may have learned better diplomacy, how to keep my mouth shut," Isenberg says. He once posted an incendiary Web posting about ICE's efforts to deport his wife before taking it down. "But during this ordeal, I learned who my true friends were."
"I'm just thrilled he's coming home," says Mayor Miller. "It's just unfortunate that it took 14 months. Their teenage daughter has been living in Dallas without them."
Miller's appointee to several city boards, Isenberg resigned in the face of public pressure after details of his personal life became public. But he wants to get back into city politics. "If anyone will have me," Isenberg says, "I'm more than happy to serve in some capacity." --Glenna Whitley