gurfinkel.singson

 

By Momar G. Visaya (reprinted from Asian Journal)

 

It was a tough and rude awakening for Ilocos Sur Congressman Ronald Singson when he was convicted for drug trafficking in Hong Kong back in 2011.

Along with the conviction was jail time for 18 months, leaving behind his post in the Congress. He was released after serving ten months at the Tung Tao Correctional Institution in Stanley, Hong Kong.

What pained him beyond belief was not the tarnished reputation but the realization that the unfortunate incident might displease his family and constituents. That, and leaving behind Samantha, his then one-year-old daughter.

As a single parent, Singson wanted all the best for Samantha. From time-to-time, his daughter, who had never been to the US, would request him for a trip to US’ Disneyland and other popular sites. But his drug conviction usually meant a lifetime ban. But he knew he had to make a way for his daughter’s request to happen.

Looking back, Singson realized that he “should have listened” to his parents more. He also learned that one must “choose friends wisely” because of the incident where the original owner of the confiscated cocaine, his friend, handed him the drug leading to his incarceration.

After almost a year in jail, Singson went back home to face the music.

As he tried to rebuild and put back some sense of normalcy in his life after the sentence, the 46-year-old bachelor chose to focus on their family’s businesses. He sought forgiveness and since serving people has always been in his heart, he decided to run again in 2013, and won as Ilocos Sur’s 1st District Representative.

Today, the Congressman busies himself with his job and his inspiration, his now 6-year-old daughter.

“If I don’t owe it to myself, I owe it to my daughter, Samantha,” Singson said on his decision to transform himself into an even better person.

He admitted that Samantha played a huge role in his commitment to rebuild himself. He also credited his constituents for being his motivation.

“She has been my strength. Aside from my daughter, my constituents [are also my inspiration]. I feel like I have to serve them more than ever, I have to go extra mile,” he said, adding that it was a relief to feel that the people of Ilocos Sur have seen that the worst part of his life is over, and were able to trust him more.

In one of his dinners with his father, former Ilocos Sur Governor Chavit Singson, Ronald was introduced to the possibility that there is a way to visit the United States again despite his prior conviction for drug trafficking.

“Michael is the only one who could help you,” Chavit said, referring to veteran immigration lawyer, Atty. Michael Gurfinkel.

Ronald knew he should meet the lawyer to resolve his dilemma in obtaining a non-immigrant visitor visa to be able to bring his daughter to her dream destination. Though unsure if the strict rules of US would allow him, the young Singson put his trust to the seasoned lawyer.

“I was very skeptical, not of his ability, but because of US restrictions and how strict they were. As Michael said, trafficking is a lifetime ban [for travellers to the US],” he said.

“I enjoy going to the US. We lived there for some time. We actually had a house in Las Vegas,” he optimistically recalled, comprehending that if granted a Visa, he could show his daughter where he once lived.

Realizing that there was this possibility of him being able to travel to the US with his daughter by his side, Singson persevered and worked harder.

Undergoing the normal process, Singson, through Atty. Gurfinkel, submitted every requirement and went through every step to obtain a Special Waiver. Their request was submitted to the US Embassy in Manila and after approval, was later forwarded to the US State Department in Washington. In the final stage, the waiver request was brought to the Admissibility Review Office.

Singson said the requirements included testimonials from his constituents and documentation of his achievements. The US Government, in order to grant him his request, wanted proof that he would not be a threat to the American community.

“What happened to him was unfortunate, but I also believe that people deserve a second chance. I’m a lawyer and what we do is fight for people’s chances in [going to] America—Ronald is no different,” Gurfinkel said.

“I believed he was eligible and he met the requirements for the waiver,” he stressed. “During the course of this processing, I said to him what I say to all of my clients, ‘While I cannot guarantee success, I will not give up, I will continue fighting for you’,” he remarked.

The process was not easy, it was in fact meticulous. The appeal took 15 months to be granted.

And finally, last Jan. 15, Ronald Singson obtained his US Visa.

“They had to follow the rules and waited patiently. There were no connections. There were no shortcuts. Everything was done by the book because you’re dealing with the US government,” Gurfinkel said.

Admitting that he was afraid of being rejected by the government because of its strict rules, Singson is now very glad the outcome of their waiver request was very positive.

“Because of his experience, his extensive experience, I knew that this was worth the try. If he says I’ve got a shot, then maybe I do,” Singson said. 

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