I do. I do. Lost Love And A Green Card In The Era Of Trump

In 2016, after a few years of owning a green card, I applied for citizenship. I wanted to stay clear of immigration woes in light of a possible Trump reign, and as a digital nomad cement the luxury of roaming wildly across the land of the free. This is my tale.

My friends tease me that I am Montreal’s very own Elizabeth Taylor. But for the purpose of this story, you can call me Alien Number Seven Six Triple Six. Yes, I tied the knot, but let’s get something straight, I think marriage is a mirage. (And I thought that a decade ago before it became so blatantly obvious).

But I still partook in the husband and wife design. To be precise, it’s more like I pimped and spat on its supposed sanctity. I was after a piece of the American Dream and for a wallet-sized green card, hell, I was willing to tie and untie the knot as many times as needed.

Each time, not only did I not walk down the aisle and collect my honeymoon in Hawaii, I risked going straight to jail. Quite a cheap deal, considering it only took a few fibs to the feds and a couple of broken hearts. By age 29, I was already a two-time divorcee.

If you ask me whether I harbor any regrets, I’ll gently lift my veil and whisper, “I do.” Because deep, deep inside I too wanted to reach ‘happily ever after.’ Not end up stripped and jaded, believing that our natural tendency does not lean toward monogamy. Instead it seems we are wired to form a temporary pair bond, only to separate and go in search of a new brief, tenuous attachment – over and over.

“I don’t think we are a monogamous animal,” says Pepper Schwartz, a professor of sociology at the University of Washington in Seattle. “A really monogamous animal is a goose – which never mates again even if its mate is killed.”

Only 3 percent to 5 percent of the roughly 5,000 species of mammals (including humans) are known to form lifelong, monogamous bonds, with the loyal superstars including beavers, wolves, and some bats. Thanks in part to polyamory,narcissism and dating apps like Tinder and Bumble, monogamy was invented for financial gain, is out.

Til You And I Die, And Die, And Die Again.

I met Husband One at age 22, during a visit from Montreal to Los Angeles. I believed that I’d stumbled upon a Mickey-and-Mallory kind of love. Us against the Universe – a bond so fatalistic, we’d already planned building our very own wooden caskets.

We clicked instantly. Manic, depressive with a hippie streak and an IQ of 135 – he was my very own Mr. Jones. He read Scientific America, grew mushrooms in his parent’s attic, and worked at a hospital on the weekends. Moles, spores, molecular structures; I fell in love with his wicked genius.

He textured my initial perception of El Lay with The Doors, Hendrix and Eucalyptus-scented drives through Lauren Canyon.

“We’re gonna ‘hold hands and watch the sun rise from the bottom of the sea,’ like Jimi says,” he promised.  God, I was such a programmed sappy chick back then.

One year and a journalism degree later, I sold my stuff, packed my old way of life and headed west. It was California or bust, baby.  But once in the U.S, I became an un-authorized “alien,” banned from benefits. I couldn’t get a social security number, a driver’s license, a credit card; an apartment. Let alone a career.

I tried landing a job. Journalists, however, aren’t part of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), a program that facilitates cross-border movement for certain Canadian citizens. Meanwhile, media outlets wouldn’t hire me without proper work documents and I couldn’t get the proper visa without a company sponsoring me. I was stuck in Catch-22.

So I proposed we get hitched – on paper. We were planning on being together for lifetimes anyway, why not help me jump-start my livelihood in Los Angeles? There was resistance. And then I reminded him that I’d left everything I knew for him.

Unlike other brides, I didn’t have to agonize over the look of invitation cards or make trips to Crate and Barrel to create a gift registry. And, I definitely had no need to read articles, such as “Choosing the Right Lingerie for your Dress” or “How to Plan a Bad-Ass Bachelorette Road Trip.”

Instead of church, my shotgun ceremony unfolded in a dismal industrialized city called Norwalk, at the L.A County Clerk’s Office where they dole out about 75,000 marriage licenses every year. Oh yeah, but first we stopped off at Wendy’s for lunch. I still ate fast food back then.

When it was our turn, we were escorted into a florescent-lit courtroom turned makeshift chapel. The altar was made out of Formica; a tawdry paper bell dangled over our heads. Pitiful isn’t even the word. And yet, I still managed to shed some tears as the Justice of the Peace recited our vows:

“Do you Husband One-To-Be take Alien Number Seven Six Triple Six to be your lawfully wedded wife? To love and to care for as long as you both shall live?”

I couldn’t help but cry.

“What are you doing,” he snipped in my ear. “Are you crying? This isn’t real! Remember?”

What are you doing? I asked myself that very same question by year four. Communication had deteriorated; our relationship had rotted into his stolid attitude and my nagging voice, begging him to ease up on the incessant bong hits. He resented my focused ambition. I hated his emotional vacancy; the pothead he’d become. We barely saw one another anymore now that I had my own place. His parents forbid him from living with me since we hadn’t gotten married “in front of the eyes of God.”

Despite my misery, I stuck around. Didn’t the fable go something like ‘for better or worse, till death do us part?” I suggested we consult a therapist, but he refused. I even purchased “Give in or Give up – A Step-by-Step Marriage Improvement Manual” from a used bookstore for $2.75.

Ultimately, I gave up. I gave up on the marriage and I wasn’t even thinking about my green card. If that were the case, I would have waited till it was nestled between my new credit cards before getting involved with Future Husband Two.

Addicted To Love

I met Husband Two on an Enrique Iglesias music video on some backlot at Universal Studios. I was 26. I’d recently quit a job producing the online news for MSNBC. (After nearly two years, I could no longer write about transients hurling wheelchairs out of sixth-story buildings, newborns in dumpsters or Sally Kirkland’s leaky breasts). I opted for the life of a starving freelancer and convinced myself I was doing research on my next piece – the glitz in being a Hollywood ‘Background Talent.’  In reality, I just wanted to get out of the house and meet people. I was tired of sobbing so violently that strands of mucus swayed precariously off my nose.

Husband Two-To-Be was a grip. He was a German/Costa Rican mix; tall, and chiseled with turtle-green eyes. Later, during our relationship, I would sometimes stare at his hands, which were too small for his body and think of a T-Rex.

He slipped his number into my pocket. Normally, I would have tossed the digits away. But I welcomed the distraction and stashed the note in a drawer underneath the kitchen knives.

He remarked on my butterfly spirit, an aspect of myself I’d forgotten existed. By date three, I was having a cup of Chamomile on his couch in Glendale. He traced my face with his fingers and gently played with my hair.

“You’re so beautiful. You deserve to be happy.” God, in retrospect, I could gag at my naivety. But I felt alive. I couldn’t remember the last time Husband One paid any attention to me. He leaned in. And within that splinter of a second I knew I was to become an adulteress. Just like my mother.

My father divulged the news to me and my younger sister on a bleak September afternoon as we took a walk around the block. I was 11. The clincher is we weren’t allowed to tell our mother that we knew about of her transgressions; she’d told my dad she’d attempt suicide from shame if ever we found out. You know, common shit you dump on an 9 and 11 year old.

He’d apparently unearthed some love letters my mother wrote to her lover. To cement his suspicions, my dad hired a Private Eye. Now let’s be clear this was a strict Egyptian household not a mob family in Jersey.  I envisioned images of a trench-coated man, snapping pictures of my mother. Francois, her lover, had been her driving instructor. So technically, my father’s the one who fixed them up.

“You’re a vegetable. Useless. When are you going to get over your fear of driving and be like all other women,” my father screamed at my mom. He paid for her lessons and still to this day, my mother’s too afraid to drive.

Who knew, I would find myself in my own rendition of an extramarital affair to understand hers.

The following dawn, when I returned home as a hussy, I rushed to the bathroom mirror.

“You know you can’t pretend,” my higher-self whispered.

I found myself playing out that cliché shower scene. You know, the one where the protagonist frantically scrubs her skin as though she can get rid of her sins along with dead skin. You may be squeaky clean, but inside you’re still oh-so dirty.

I wanted to plead guilty. It was just a matter of mustering up the balls to do it.  But Husband One  – like my dad – stumbled upon the truth first. He found my journal. A week later, he filed for divorce. A month after that, I received the date for my Green Card interview. But sans husband, I was screwed.

Soon, the now defunct Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) would place me under ‘removal proceedings’ and I would be forced to leave the life I’d forged in El Lay. (The INS ceased to exist under that name on March 1, 2003, when most of its functions were transferred to three new entities – U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) – within the newly created Department of Homeland Security, as part of a major government reorganization following the September 11 attacks of 2001.)

To distract myself from my ill fate, I pedaled into yet another full-blown relationship.

“It’s too soon. You’re just escaping into this guy, instead of dealing with your shit,” my higher self hissed at me one morning as I busted a pimple in front of my bathroom mirror.  “You’re too afraid to be alone – to feel the emptiness and disappointment. This is wrong. This Is Wrong.”

I didn’t listen. Instead, I poured chloroform in a tissue and forced it over her face. And then, I asked him to move in. He made me feel sexy; he called me ‘babydoll;’ he put the seat down. And, he asked for my hand.

“No matter what happens, this marriage is strictly business – to help you stay in the country,” he swore. He wasn’t Husband One. He wasn’t going to cheat me out of life in America if things didn’t work out. Or so I thought.

The notion of getting re-married revolted me. One-shot white dresses; vows with limited warranties; diamonds instead of forever. Marriage was a money-sucking scheme; an ancient institution, curdling like sour milk under the modern age. But a marriage certificate was the slickest and fastest road to secure my legal status as a U.S. resident.

There were an estimated 11.1 million unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. in 2014. Trump has said he’ll deport or incarcerate 2 million to 3 million. As immigration policy under President Trump evolves, some of those most directly affected by the issue are bypassing potential obstacles by accelerating wedding plans. Marriage to an American is the clearest pathway to citizenship for an illegal alien, with more than 2.3 million gaining lawful permanent resident (LPR) status, according to latest figures. And statistics from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)— from 2013 to 2015– shows a 7 percent increase in the number of foreign-born nationals obtaining green cards through marriage.

The most recent although more current evidence is largely anecdotal. The Boston Globe reports city clerks around the country noticed a spike in marriage certificate applications after President Trump’s election win in November. What’s more, “observers note that the number of weddings at City Hall involving immigrants has increased since Trump was elected, with a marked increase after he took office.”

“Going to the chapel and I’m gon-na get a green card,” I whistled as we whizzed across the Nevada desert.

A glitch – I didn’t love the groom. But it wasn’t time for me to admit that to myself. Much easier to believe that I could catch up to his feelings  – like love was some sort of relay race.

The nuptials had to be even cheesier than the first. Naturally, I opted for Vegas. Viva Las Vegas. At only $77 a pop, the Little White Chapel’s legendary drive-thru wedding was ideal.

As our rented Subaru pulled into the takeout-style window, I imagined shouting, “I’ll have a small fries, a coke, and a McMarriage, please.”

How had I become the kind of gal who didn’t even have the decency to stand up on her own wedding day?

With the INS being so disorganized and backlogged, it would be yet another year before I was appointed Green Card Interview – Take Two. By then Husband Two was long gone. A show we were cast in accelerated the breakup. Following in the voyeuristic footsteps of HBO’s “Taxicab Confessions,” the visionary Gantz brothers had created a website to provide surfers with content “never seen before on the Internet, or even television for that matter.”

This show was called First Apartment. In hindsight it could have been called Second Divorce.

We were going to be the young hot couple with every aspect of our lives documented 24 hours a day by four full-motion cameras in every corner of their apartment. It was only 2001, and the age of the internet was still relatively young. I pounced on the ad in the LA Weekly. This was cinema verite before it fully morphed into ‘forced drama’ and reality garbage shows like “Animal Hoarding:Chihuahua Nightmare.”  In a way, I had a leg up. I had met the Joe and Harry when I profiled them a year back for The Hollywood Reporter.

People told me San Francisco was like Europe. Yah, If you are on crack and you’ve only seen the continent in Hollywood movies. It was the height of the dot.com boom. Artists were taking on multiple jobs, allowing them to just barely keep up with the yuppies.

As soon as I rolled into to the city, it dawned on me that they’d housed us in a ghetto, which I later found out is referred to as “The Tenderloin.” Upon moving in, my car keys got robbed. The second day, I saw my very first live crack head full of scabs on a corner.

We became one of their more popular series, maybe because it became evident that Husband Number Two and I did not mesh. Arguably, the production wanted to capture fucking and fighting but they only got the latter. Especially given we were housed under florescent lights in a carpeted matchbox ghetto condominium.

Three months later the show went bust and so did we. Homeless — I’d given up a sweet apartment near Lake Hollywood, I ended up in Pittsburgh of all places, where I was cast opposite a childhood friend in a play. It was based on the 1951 film Detective Story, starring Kirk Douglas. I played the main character’s wife who grappled with a secret abortion she could not share with her husband who was obsessed with catching an abortionist.

This was arguably ironic since I’d experienced an abortion with Husband Number 2. Although it was a horrendous procedure, I wanted the abortion the moment i found out. And ironically ended up getting it alongside Husband Two’s sister which is a story in itself.

We broke up shortly after watching “Addicted to Love,” with Meg Ryan. Everything gelled during the scene where French Guy tells Mathew Broderick’s character, “you can’t choose who you love.”

How dense was I  –of course – you can’t choose who you love!! Love isn’t rational. It’s not about what the other person does for you. It’s about how you feel about them.

Sham Marriages, 9/11, And Silver Linings

Immigration authorities place marriage fraud high on their list of enforcement priorities; looking into about 2,000 marriages a year. If the purpose of the marriage is to get the immigrant a green card, it’s a fraud. Officials cannot state how many are fake but fraud can bring up to five years in prison, a $250,000 fine, or both. Deportation is always involved and you spend the rest of your life referring to America as Never Never Land.  My case was especially dubious because I’d already been married before.

Husband Two had served as a custom-made cocoon, which I’d used to transform into the electric blue Morpho butterfly I’d always imagined myself to be. But if I wanted to flutter around in the States, I needed a spouse stat.  I didn’t even know where he lived anymore. All I had was a P.O. Box number.

By most people’s definition – ours was now officially a ‘sham wedding.’  And as a website on marriage fraud outlines, “If small-time con artists and Third-World gold-diggers can obtain green cards with so little resistance, then surely terrorists can do (and have done) the same.” I’d like to think that I was none of those things.

When I finally tracked him down, Husband Two agreed to meet me at a Chinese restaurant in West Hollywood. As suspected, he wanted nothing more to do with me. I’d broken his heart; deflated his dreams. I was to him what Husband One had been to me.

“We’re going to have to be intimate if you want me to pull this off. I have to connect with those feelings or else they’ll sense how cold I am toward you,” he said nonchalantly as he smooshed a grain of rice with his index finger.

I gagged on my Peking dumpling. I still ate gluten back then.

“Let me get this straight. You are asking me to prostitute myself? I blurted. “What kind of human being do you want to be? I had no idea you could stoop this low. You made a promise. This is about being a man of your word.  You know Husband Two, I’ll go back if I have to. Enjoy your Mu Shu,” I said before leaving.

A week before show time he somehow changed his mind. But now we had to win the INS’s demented version of The Newlywed Game. There was no telling what they would ask, all in hopes of determining whether we had a ‘shared life.’ Fortunately, I had spent the entire relationship collecting documents: joint bank accounts and tax returns; a rental agreement with both our names on it. And since Husband Two was a photographer, I had tons of snaps. The only thing we’d forgotten were rings, which we picked up at Venice Beach for $15 each. That was not a happy day.

The morning of the interview I swallowed my first ever xanax, which i would then rediscover years later as an insomniac.

“Raise your right hand. Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?” the officer declared.

“I do,” I lied.

“Have you been married before?”

“Yes.”

“Any kids?”

“No.”

“What do you do, Husband Two?”

“I am a photographer,” he replied.

“And do you reside together seven days a week?”

“Yes,” he whispered.

“Okay. Where were you born Miss?”

“Canada.”

“I see here that you’re of Egyptian descent. Are you a member of any terrorist associations?”

The interview had unfolded post 9/11. Who knew that the tragedy would take the heat off my first marriage and actually help me?

“No sir. I’ve never been to Egypt. I am not even Muslim,” I quietly replied.

“Okay. You get me a certified copy of your marriage certificate and I will stamp your passport.”

“Um, do you wanna see any pictures?”

“No, it’s okay. I believe you. Just bring me that certified copy.”

The interview was over in seven minutes.

Tied up with government, organized religion, and archaic views of gender, marriage is an inherently oppressive institution, belonging to a society we no longer live in. A bible oath or a state’s permission is not what forges matrimony.  Like spiritual teacher and author Marianne Williamson says, “nowhere do we have more illusory ideas of what love means than in the area of romance.”

I do. I do. Lost Love And A Green Card In The Era Of Trump

Maryam Henein is an investigative journalist, activist, filmmaker and entrepreneur. She directed the documentary Vanishing of the Bees narrated by Ellen Page and is cofounder of HoneyColony, an online magazine and marketplace aimed at empowering people to be their own best health advocate.

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