The Marriage Visa
On a sunny weekend morning, Sue Marks and her husband Juan Videa linger around their kitchen table in Duluth, Minn. Juan, 31, laces up his new soccer shoes and gets ready to drive to a nearby game. When the couple met back in 2003, things were different. Juan was an illegal immigrant from Honduras. He didn't have a driver's license or a Social Security card and he relied on Sue and others to get around. Finding work in northern Minnesota was difficult. "But now I go play, I go to work," says Juan. "I do a lot of stuff. I feel free."
Today Juan has his green card. But until recently, the couple lived with the burden of Juan's vulnerable status as an illegal immigrant. Marrying Sue in 2006 didn't change things.
"People think it's easy," says Sue, 30. "They assumed that getting married would make it easy for Juan to become a U.S. citizen."
But it wasn't so easy.
Falling in Love
Sue and Juan met through their siblings. Sue's older brother met Juan's younger sister in the late 1990s while he was serving in the Peace Corps in Honduras. They later married and moved to Colorado where they started a family.
Juan made the dangerous journey to the United States from Honduras in 2000. He traveled with a group that navigated across the U.S. border along the Rio Grande. Because Juan couldn't swim, he traveled in a canoe. He made his way to Colorado and moved in with his sister.
In Colorado, Juan worked construction jobs and helped out around the house. During the summer of 2003, Sue made several visits to see her brother and sister-in-law. She and Juan spent a lot of time together that summer, playing soccer and goofing around with their nieces and nephews. Soon a romance developed. "Juan was shy so I totally had to pursue him," Sue remembers. "We decided we should date because we got along so well every time we saw each other."
The decision didn't come so easily for Juan. Sue explains how for Juan, it would be considered offensive to Sue's brother if their relationship didn't work out. But he decided to take the risk. One evening, Juan spoke privately with Sue's brother. "Remember when you married my sister?" Juan told him. "Well now I'm going to get back at you."
By 2005, Juan had relocated to Minnesota to live with Sue. The couple made plans to marry and began consulting with immigration lawyers. They learned that Juan would have to leave the country to apply for a visa. Their case was complicated because Juan had been living in the United States illegally. A Department of Homeland Security regulation said once he left, he could not return for ten years.
But this wasn't the only hurdle in Sue and Juan's path.
They learned the whole green card application process could take six to eight years to complete if they initiated their paperwork in the United States. "There are so many cases and not enough people to make it go faster," explains Sue. And at any point, Juan could be deported as an illegal immigrant.
The couple decided they didn't want to live under the threat of Juan's possible deportation. "Staying and applying was not a good situation for us," says Sue. "There's the stress that a long immigration process can have on a relationship."
They hedged their bets and hoped to expedite the process by submitting their application in Honduras where U.S. officials have fewer cases to review. "In the United States, you're competing with cases from all over the world," says Sue. "The line is shorter when you're only looking at people from one country."
Immigration lawyers cautioned they might be taking an enormous risk by leaving the country. If their waiver was denied, Juan wouldn't be able to return to the United States for ten years.
While the couple was planning their wedding, they got awful news. Sue's younger brother had gone missing in Hawaii. He had traveled alone to the island of Kauai to go hiking in November, but by December no one had heard from him. Sue postponed her wedding and traveled to Kauai with family members to conduct a search. They spent three weeks canvassing the island by foot and helicopter. She believes her brother died while hiking down the lush slopes of the Kalalau Valley. His body has never been found.
Back in Colorado, Juan and Sue had a quiet wedding. Three days later they boarded a plane to Honduras in the hopes of securing a green card for Juan from overseas.
Continue to part 2