Mum feels forced to leave children

Sisi Cifuentes.
Sisi Cifuentes.
A Wanaka woman facing deportation from New Zealand without her three children, despite still being legally married to a New Zealander, says she has exhausted every avenue in her bid to stay in the country.

Next week, Nicaraguan Sisi Cifuentes (43) will fly to the United States - where she has residency - to avoid being deported and possibly prohibited from re-entering New Zealand.

Her visitor's visa expires on Thursday, and after battling for months to retain her immigration status and stay with her children, aged 13, 12 and 6, she is now faced with leaving them behind, with their New Zealand father, with whom she has shared custody.

Ms Cifuentes separated from her husband - former international model Peter Nolet - about 18 months ago. The couple met overseas, married, and travelled together for several years before settling near Lake Hawea, in 2006, she said.

They had two children together while living in the United States, and their third was born after they moved to New Zealand. The paperwork necessary for Ms Cifuentes to become a New Zealand resident was not completed during the couple's marriage.

She was on a partnership work visa, which was renewed every two years. Since the separation, she was not permitted to work because she no longer had partnership status and for the past eight months, had been here on a visitor's visa only, she said.

After having an application for another work visa turned down, she enlisted the help of Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean.

Mrs Dean said she had been working directly with the Associate Minister of Immigration's office to seek an exemption for Ms Cifuentes. Associate Immigration Minister Nikki Kaye has the responsibility of reviewing individual cases and overruling earlier decisions. She was still considering Ms Cifuentes' case, and had requested further information, a spokeswoman from her office said.

But Ms Cifuentes said she was tired of fighting with only limited resources to stay in New Zealand.

''I've been doing this for two years ... I'm done.

''There comes a time when you have to stop the battle.''

She was now resigned to leaving and focused on finding a way to take her children with her, as she said she did not have Mr Nolet's consent to do so.

She planned to make a court application for the removal of the children from New Zealand.

Blenheim lawyer Graham Hill, who has been working pro bono on Ms Cifuentes case, described it as a ''tragic situation''.

''I'm appalled that a family could be busted up like this because of immigration,'' he said.

''In terms of the immigration policy, there is a gap, a hole in the policy. It doesn't recognise the interests of New Zealand children to have their mother with them, which is a fundamental human right ... therefore, the minister should exercise her discretion to give Sisi status.''

Despite Ms Cifuentes' prolonged efforts to stay in New Zealand, her lack of income made leaving inevitable, Mr Hill said.

''As soon as she left the matrimonial home, her status changed. She wasn't eligible to work and she's on a visitor's permit, so she wasn't entitled to a benefit.''

Ms Cifuentes had depleted her resources to the point where leaving was the preferable option, Mr Hill said.

An Immigration New Zealand spokesman said it was not possible for foreign nationals to apply for residence in cases where a partnership had broken down and the couple were no longer living together.

The Otago Daily Times has been unable to contact Mr Nolet, despite repeated attempts over several days.

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