Scroll down through the online mission statement of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and you’ll find this gem:

“Through our actions, this organization will become known as an example of respect, dignity and courtesy.”


Now spend an hour listening to Dean and Laura Franks recount their travails with the same agency and, well, let’s just let the nice couple from England sum it up:

“I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy what we’ve gone through the last year,” Laura said this week.

Added Dean, “It’s like getting a punch in the gut when you’re having a friendly conversation. It just comes out of the blue.”

As of this morning, life the way it should be is, for the Frankses, officially over. They’re en route to Nova Scotia with whatever they could cram into their SUV, trying not to look back on a dream that came true and then, just like that, morphed into a bureaucratic nightmare.

Chances are, you’ve already heard their story — it’s appeared over the past year not only in this newspaper, but everywhere else from Facebook to The New York Times.

A quick recap:

The Frankses came to Maine in 2000 after visiting and falling in love with coastal York County. They got married here. They bought a home in Arundel.

And, after obtaining “E-2 investor visas,” which allow citizens of certain countries to invest in businesses and work in the United States, they opened a small restaurant, called Laura’s Kitchen, on Sanford Road in Wells.

They did well. So well that they diligently paid off the mortgage on the restaurant and an adjacent rental home ahead of schedule, maintained zero balances each month on their credit cards, paid off their car loan early and kept up with the monthly payments on the house in Arundel.

And oh yes, each year their all-American work force numbered from two to eight, depending on the season. That’s right — in addition to carving out a life for themselves in what they still call “the best country in the world,” Dean and Laura Franks put Mainers to work.

Then, in 2008, the recession hit, and like every restaurant here in Vacationland, Laura’s Kitchen felt the pinch.

But with gross receipts of $64,000, along with $16,800 from the rental property, the Frankses managed to keep their heads above water on a gross business profit for that year of $38,800 — down from $50,700 in 2007.

Or so they thought.

Last summer, they applied for what they thought would be a routine, two-year renewal of their E-2 visa — they’d already renewed twice without any difficulty. But this time, a letter came back from a woman who works with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement way out in California.

She informed them that their business was “marginal” and that they had 30 days to pack up and leave the United States.

Dean and Laura appealed — and lost.

In March, they went to Barbados (a member of the British Commonwealth) in an end-run attempt to start the E-2 process anew at the U.S. embassy there. No dice.

They sought help from Maine’s congressional delegation, but it got them nowhere.

(To be fair, U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree’s staff continued to work on the Frankses’ behalf as recently as this week. As spokesman Willy Ritch put it, Pingree believes that “they’re not just making a contribution to the community, but they’ve become part of it.”)

The Frankses even hired Daniel Maranci from the Boston office of the Portland law firm Verrill Dana.

But Maranci, who is now working pro bono for the couple because they can no longer afford to pay him, said late Thursday that an eleventh-hour appeal to an immigration official in Massachusetts went nowhere.

“They said no,” Maranci reported moments after receiving the final verdict. “And that’s just bad.”

What makes the whole situation so maddening is that never once, from the first rejection letter in June of 2009 to their trip north on the Maine Turnpike this morning, have the Frankses received a clear explanation from the feds on exactly what “marginal” means.

“If they had said beforehand, ‘You’re coming up for renewal and you’re “x” thousands of dollars under,’ we could have opened seven days a week, had longer hours,” said Dean. “If we’d had a target, we’d have hit the target.”

Contacted Thursday in Washington, D.C., U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services spokesman William G. Wright readily acknowledged that the “marginal” label is “not defined” in the agency’s rules.

“That’s one of the concerns,” he conceded.

In a follow-up e-mail, Wright said a business is considered marginal “if it doesn’t have the capacity (currently or in the future) to generate more than enough income to provide a minimal living for the investor and his or her family.”

He said the “adjudications officer” overseeing a renewal application can exercise “leeway” when it comes to the business’ location, profitability and the number of family members it supports. (The Frankses have no dependents.)

What Wright didn’t explain was how someone a continent away, who has never even spoken with the Frankses (or laid eyes on Laura’s Kitchen), might be in a position to decide how financially sound they and their enterprise actually are.

It’s hardly a mystery. Thursday afternoon, a Facebook page titled “SUPPORT DEAN AND LAURA FRANKS of Wells, Maine. Renew their E-2 Visa NOW!!” had 1,100 members and counting — many of them loyal patrons who knew a great restaurant when they saw one.

Ditto for the 950 names now attached to an online petition, pleading for intervention by everyone from Vice President Joseph Biden and the director of U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement to Gov. John Baldacci and the entire Maine congressional delegation.

“Every government official that breathes the words ‘immigration reform’ brings disgrace and shame on our country for what is being done to the Franks,” the petition reads. “They are exactly the kind of immigrants our country should want and welcome with arms wide open.”

No matter. Sometime late today, the Frankses will settle in with friends from Kennebunk (also loyal customers) who have a summer place in Nova Scotia.

Then, on Aug. 18, they’ll go to the U.S. Consulate in Montreal to plead for a tourist visa so they can at least come back and liquidate their remaining assets in Maine.

For the record, the closed restaurant and rental house on Sanford Road are on the market for $399,000. And remember, thanks to their own sweat and elbow grease, Dean and Laura no longer owe a penny on the property.

“We shouldn’t have paid everything off,” mused Dean. “We should have run everything with as much debt as possible, and then we would have had a bigger bottom line and we would have been fine.”

Columnist Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at:

[email protected]