Tuesday, July 27, 2010
What Mistakes Teach Us - Jessica Barksdale Inclan
During the past season of HBO’s drama Big Love, two characters entered into a fraudulent marriage for the purpose of obtaining a green card. On one episode, the newly married couple sat in front of an INS agent, being grilled on personal details, the agent trying to catch them in their own fraudulent web.
According to government sources, since 1998, more than 2.3 million people have gained United States citizenship through marriage. According to other sources, an estimated 5-30 percent of those marriages were fraudulent. I personally know one of these fraudulently married couples. At least, I knew them as a couple until the day the husband was handcuffed, driven to SFO, and put on a plane to Argentina.
In 2006, my boyfriend’s daughter Angela was in a desperate spot, unable to succeed at anything. Barely passing her college classes, she bounced from bad job to bad job. At one of these bad jobs, she met Bernardo, a very sexy, very gay barista from Argentina. At thirty-five, he was sixteen years older than she, and when Angela brought Bernardo to family events, we were confused by their friendship. When they decided to share an apartment--joining forces, they said, in the expensive San Francisco housing market--we all shrugged.
Her father and I helped her move into the tiny place, and I wondered why she was sharing her single, about-the-town girl life with Bernardo, who clearly ran in very different circles.
Nothing computed. But her family went along with it, though there were cracks in the story. One evening at dinner, I noticed the gold glint on her finger and asked, “Where did you get that ring?”
“Oh, Bernardo gave it to me,” she said, picking up her fork. “Great pasta!”
Come tax time, all hell broke loose. Her father wanted to claim her on his return, but she refused for uncertain reasons. A fight ensued, and eventually she spilled the beans. Bernardo and she had married so he could establish residency. The wedding was not held slapdash at city hall but in a Catholic church. There were photos: the ceremony, the cutting of the cake, the first dance. Her sister—her only relative to know of the wedding—was her maid of honor.
Bernardo and she were living together to create a record of their marriage. The ring? Evidence. The trips on the weekend? More evidence. Bernardo had promised to give her a monthly stipend but had never followed through.
“All I wanted to do was help him,” she said.
Months passed. The living arrangement grew tiresome for both, and she and Bernardo loosened up on their plan. Angela moved away to go to school, met her current boyfriend, and took off her ring.
We thought it was all over, but the INS called them in for an interview, taking them both into separate rooms and grilling them with questions neither rehearsed. Within five minutes, Bernardo was whisked away. Within the hour, he was on a plane, never to be seen again.
The agent threatened Angela with fines and jail time but released her. She stumbled out of the interview, certain she would be arrested at any moment.
Three thousand dollars and a divorce later, Angela is now a single woman. She’s also an A student, waiting to be accepted to a local university. Somehow, this hard lesson taught her something that no bad grades or jobs had. Angela has finally learned to take care of herself. She doesn’t have to give away something so important to feel needed.
Lying to the government is not recommended, but what happened with Bernardo was good for Angela. The threat of losing her freedom made her take stock. The INS agent reached her in a way no one else had been able to before.
“You deserve better,” the agent said.
Jessica Barksdale Inclan
Posted by Jessica Barksdale Inclan at 1:00 AM