Petty Officer 2nd Class Salvador Hernandez sat in his Chula Vista living room looking at pictures of his mother Gabriela Blancas Ponce.
Hernandez said his mother illegally crossed the border from Mexico more than two decades ago. Her four children were born in the United States.
"She has been here most of her life, she is more of an American citizen than she is a Mexican citizen," said Hernandez.
Hernandez said he tried to help his mother get a permanent visa last weekend by petitioning for forgiveness. It's a process where a U.S. citizen acts as a sponsor for a family member, so that relative can get a waiver to live in the U.S. legally. But the paperwork has to be done in Mexico.
"You go to the interview, you get your visa, you go back to the border and you get it stamped," said Hernandez.
But there was a big problem - Gabriela was denied. Salvador didn't know that he didn't qualify as a sponsor.
"You can only petition for forgiveness for your child or a spouse," he said.
Since Gabriela lived illegally in the U.S. for more than a year, San Diego immigration lawyer Jonathan Montag says she is also barred from coming back for ten years.
"The fact that she has all these U.S. citizen children and some in the service doesn't matter at all," Montag said.
Gabriela's younger children range in age from 16 to 11, they are now being cared for by their grandmother.
"As a sailor, our creed, the last sentence says ‘the fair treatment of all’. I just think this is really unfair," he said.
Gabriela is currently staying with family in Tijuana. Salvador is hoping the military or local members of Congress will help his mother come home.