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This St. Louisan hopes T-shirts will fund his father’s quest for a green card

Carlos Restrepo outside STL Style House on Dec. 21, 2018.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
Carlos Restrepo, 29, is selling T-shirts to create his own immigration story.

Carlos Restrepo estimates he’s about one year away from achieving a dream: having his father permanently in the U.S. after 13 years of living apart.

“It would be awesome if by next Christmas he was here,” Restrepo said.

Determined to make it happen, Restrepo is aiming to raise $10,000 to cover the many costs associated with his father’s green card application and travel from Medellin, Colombia to the United States.

The 29-year-old Restrepo is the membership manager at the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan St. Louis by day. In his free time, he sells the distinctive T-shirts he designed with his father, Luis Carlos Restrepo, in mind.

The black shirts carry the message, “Bienvenido a St. Louis,” which means “Welcome to St. Louis” in Spanish.

“When he comes to St. Louis, those are the first things I’m going to tell him,” Restrepo said. “That’s my personal meaning, but for anybody in your life, you want to make them feel welcome.”

Restrepo sells the shirts online for $25 from his GoFundMe page.

A green card, or permanent residency document, provides official immigration status, comes with certain rights and responsibilities, and is required for U.S. citizenship.

A better life

Restrepo’s parents divorced when he was 10 years old. His mother remarried, and in 2005, Restrepo accompanied her and her new husband to St. Louis.

“Both my mom, my dad decided that that was going to be best for me,” Restrepo said. “My dad never questioned that. He knew that I was going to have a better life.”

Restrepo became a U.S. citizen in 2015, and soon afterward he came up with a plan to fund his father’s journey to permanent residency in the U.S. It was important do so in a creative way that the senior Restrepo would be proud of.

So, Restrepo collaborated with STL-Style, a T-shirt printing company on Cherokee Street. Restrepo said he wanted to make sure he was selling American-made T-shirts.

Carlos Restrepo (left) and his father Luis Carlos Restrepo (right) pictured together.
Credit Carlos Restrepo
Carlos Restrepo (left) and his father Luis Carlos Restrepo (right) pictured together.

Since July, Restrepo has earned more than half of his $10,000 goal from T-shirt sales on his GoFundMe site and through selling the shirts in person at the Cherokee Print Bazaar. Restrepo came up with that number after factoring the many legal and application fees, medical exams, travel costs and other expenses associated with his father’s application for permanent residency. The figure includes a cushion of cash in case of complications.

Prep work

U.S. law requires that a child seeking to sponsor a parent for permanent residency must be a U.S. citizen. Restrepo had to wait years to get to that point and has had to bide his time while the permanent residency process takes its course.

“At this point, you’re looking at years and years of prep work and proving that he is a part of the community to just get to the point where he has the right to say that he wants his father with him,” said Jessie Chappell, the immigration lawyer Restrepo has hired.

It could take six to eight months for the government to determine if the relationship between Restrepo and his father is valid, she said.

“If everything is approved, it doesn’t guarantee him the right to permanent residence,” Chappell said. “All we’re asking for is his opportunity to present himself and be admitted for this.”

Other steps along the way include the U.S. Department of State’s National Visa Center reviewing an application by Carlos’s father, medical examinations Luis Carlos Restrepo will have to undergo, and interviews at different stages of the process. Chappell said all of those costs together easily add up to over $1,000.

Carlos Restrepo meets with customers at the Cherokee Print Bazaar.
Credit Chad Davis | St. Louis Public Radio
Carlos Restrepo meets with customers at the Cherokee Print Bazaar.

Still, Restrepo considers himself lucky. He acknowledges that he’s already in a different situation than others around the globe are faced with.

“I don’t think my story’s unique in any way,” Restrepo said. “I know people who make empanadas, who make Colombian food, who clean houses, who have construction businesses and they started those businesses because they want to bring their family to the U.S.”

Restrepo’s quest has caught the attention of many, including Canadian photographer Colin Boyd Shafer. He met Restrepo while working on his own project, Finding American: Stories of Immigration.

“So often with immigrants, the only stories that are told are either horrific or they are exceptional or extraordinary, and there’s nothing wrong with being a normal person,” Shafer said.

As a normal person, Restrepo is already celebrating the success he’s had so far.

“If I don't meet that goal, I’m still so much further ahead than where I was before I did this. My dad’s going to come no matter what.”

Follow Chad on Twitter: @iamcdavis

Chad is a general assignment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.