City News

Michael's Frozen Custard on Monroe to close after owner’s spouse denied green card

The couple’s lawyer has her own concerns, stating the entire business is in jeopardy if Hernandez isn’t to return to America.

Image By: Will Cioci

Michael’s Frozen Custard will close its Monroe Street location after 33 years due to the owner’s spouse being denied a U.S. visa, the owner’s lawyer said. 

Michael Dix, owner of the local chain, married Sergio De La O Hernandez in 2015. Hernandez, a long-time resident of Wisconsin, was an undocumented immigrant at the time. Dix sponsored Hernandez for a U.S. visa and began the process of applying for a green card so Hernandez could obtain legal status in the country.

To finish the procedure, though, the couple needed to travel to the Mexican consulate for Hernandez’s green card interview, according to Jessica Slind, the couple’s attorney with Lofti Legal LLC.

It was during that stage Dix and Hernandez were informed they needed a waiver asking the government forgiveness for Mr. Hernandez’s unpermitted time in the states. Mr. Dix returned home alone, while his husband remained in Mexico. That is when they consulted Ms. Slind.

She informed the couple that to qualify for such a waiver, they would have to show that Dix would suffer extreme hardship if Hernandez wasn’t allowed to return to the U.S.

“The couple being separated, that’s not considered extreme hardship,” Slind said. “That’s considered normal, standard hardship. You have to show beyond what the average couple would suffer being separated.” 

They had a number of factors to prove this, Slind explained. Dix suffered from several medical conditions, for which they provided extensive documentation. Additionally, they had to show how Dix’s business — Michael’s Frozen Custard — suffered with Hernandez gone.

And it did. 

Slind’s firm recently received a letter of denial for Hernandez’s green card after sending in the required waiver. With the company in decline and Hernandez unavailable to help with day-to-day operations at the shop’s three locations, the Monroe Street venue had to close.

Oona Miller, 20 years old, worked at Michael’s Frozen Custard’s Atwood location preparing sundaes, cleaning the shop and taking orders from Summer 2016 to Summer 2017.

Miller said working at Michael’s came with the stress of most service jobs — busy summers, large crowds and bossy customers. She wasn’t surprised to hear one of the storefronts was closing. 

“While I was working at the Atwood location, there was talk of a different location closing because they weren’t getting as much business,” Miller said. “I think that Sergio is essential to the operation, though. When I was working there, he was the one making sure things got done.”

Hernandez has been waiting outside the U.S. for over a year now, according to Slind. Her firm is currently appealing the denial of the waiver.

A spokeswoman from the U.S. Department of State said the records of Hernandez's Green Card process are confidential under U.S. law and they cannot discuss individual cases, NBC15 reported.

“This appears as a process question where someone should be asking for clarification from the agency requesting this missing part of the application,” said Byron Bishop, City of Madison’s Equal Opportunities Division Manager, in writing. “[Someone should be asking] if they provide this missing information, will Sergio be allowed to re-enter his home in the U.S. and his employment?” 

The answer is still uncertain. And Slind has her own concerns, stating the entire business is in jeopardy if Hernandez isn’t to return to America.

“We have seen dramatic changes in the fairness of how cases are being adjudicated,” Slind said. “Seeing a denial of a case as strong as Michael and Sergio’s came as a real shock and is a clear indication of the pressure on officers to deny cases.”

Hernandez entered the country illegally more than 30 years ago to find work, Slind said. He has a college-age daughter in the United States and no criminal record.

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