Barrie Goforth, 49, who had previously helped Bosnian Muslims to seek refuge in Britain, was stopped by immigration at Dover in November after taking a hire car to eastern Germany to reunite Nerfisa Kadric and her 11-year-old daughter, Elvisa, with her husband and two elder sons, who have been living here for three years.
While Mrs Kadric was released from detention the same night and allowed to apply for permission to stay, the Crown Prosecution Service sent Mr Goforth for trial at Canterbury Crown Court which handed down the sentence for facilitating the entry of illegal immigrants a fortnight ago.
His wife, Katherine, said from her home in Hull: "He has been sentenced as though he was someone doing this as a business, for money, when it was for wholly humanitarian reasons."
Mrs Kadric, who is living in Hull with the three children but speaks no English, is believed to have tried to return to her home town of Zvornik, now in Serbia, but was driven back and made her way to Germany.
Her husband, Ibro, came to England with their two sons, Elvis and Emir, in 1992 with a group bound for Scarborough, North Yorkshire. He later moved to Hull where a Bosnian community had become established and was put in touch with the Goforths last May after unsuccessful attempts to raise the family's plight through official channels.
On two earlier trips to the former Yugoslavia, Mr and Mrs Goforth hired coaches to return with more than 78 Bosnians who applied for refugee status on their arrival in Britain. They took their cue from Gerald Smith, a headmaster who was the first man to undertake a mission to bring refugees to Britain in hired buses.
Mrs Goforth said: "We had seen the newsreels, we had seen what was happening, the ethnic cleansing against the Muslims. It seemed like Hitler and the Jews all over again. We decided to do something."
Mrs Goforth said that, on the earlier occasions, immigration had been warned and had provided temporary documents. But a visa requirement has since been introduced.
She insisted that her husband brought Mrs Kadric and her daughter into the country with the intention of declaring them to the authorities, although she accepts he broke the law. "Technically yes, but we naively thought that we could explain to the immigration authorities that this was wholly for humanitarian reasons. We were reuniting a separated family. They had contact only through telephone calls that left the children in tears."
The affair has since been further complicated by the separation of the Bosnian couple, leaving Mrs Kadric to care for the children alone.
Mr and Mrs Goforth, who have three children, believed the case would be dealt with at the magistrates' court but the CPS got it committed to the Crown Court, where the maximum punishment is 7 years. "I have been advised that while Barrie could have expected a prison sentence, it should have been suspended, or he should have got community service," Mrs Goforth said.
Her husband, currently in Standford Hill open prison in Kent, wants to apply for bail pending an appeal that the sentence is too harsh, but has been advised by a solicitor that a pounds 5,000 surety is likely to be demanded. "We just don't have that kind of money," she said.Reuse content