Tom Swann, a U.S. citizen, was supposed to marry Guillermo Hernandez at a Palm Springs, California golf course on Valentine’s Day. But when Hernandez was arrested on charges of trespassing, federal immigration agents were called after they found out that he was undocumented, the Desert Sun reported.
Now, the pair will likely become the country’s first same-sex couple to get married inside an immigration detention facility after their marriage was approved by the Calexico detention facility’s warden and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency. According to the publication, the request was granted “as long as detainees are legally eligible to be married in the state they are detained.”
The pair met through a mutual friend last year, with Swann “blown away by Hernandez’s positive energy and contagious laughter.” Because Swann is legally blind and has AIDS, Hernandez became his caretaker.
“I don’t smile a whole lot or laugh a whole lot like I used to when I was younger,” Swann told the Desert Sun. “He makes me laugh, and smile, and brings joy to me. He’s a very happy person.”
Just days after they got engaged on Christmas Eve, Hernandez was arrested on a resort casino property that he had previously been banned from because he had violated the minimum age policy. But Hernandez also had previous charges for drug possession after a parole officer found drug paraphernalia in his apartment.
The three misdemeanor charges automatically disqualified Hernandez from being eligible for President Obama’s executive action known as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiative, which grants temporary deportation relief and work authorization to certain qualified immigrants.
ICE agents were called and transferred Hernandez to a detention center in Calexico, where he is currently awaiting a court hearing. Though the couple is unable to afford a lawyer to represent him in immigration court, they hope that their marriage could help with the deportation case. The wedding will likely take place in mid-March, with Hernandez’s hearing set for the following week.
It’s unclear how Swann’s marriage will affect Hernandez’s deportation case. But their case highlights the type of issues that both immigrants and U.S. citizens can face in the absence of congressional action to help immigrants find a legal pathway in this country. Because there has been a lack of federal legislation, immigrants with misdemeanors are often subjected to punitive measures that could leave them deportable, including those who had convictions from years, even decades ago.
It’s possible that if Hernandez was deported back to Mexico — a country he hasn’t seen since he was seven years old — he could be subjected to torture for being gay. The country recently expanded its efforts to protect gay rights and legalized same-sex marriage in Mexico City, but violence against gays and lesbians has increased over the years. And even before deportation, LGBTQ detainees often experience regular harassment, abuse, and even rape inside detention centers.
Still, cross-border weddings do occur, as in the case of Maricruz Valtierra Zuniga, a Mexican national who married Edgar Falcon at the Paso Del Norte Bridge, an international bridge on the southern U.S.-Mexico border. In another case, Ben Sangari, a United Kingdom citizen who overstayed his visa but was in the process of collecting the necessary documentation needed to apply for his Green Card, was stopped during a routine traffic stop in Buffalo, New York. He and his U.S. citizen fiancee Arlita McNamee Sangari married from inside the Buffalo Federal Detention Center.