I’m the Wife of a Hungarian Immigrant. This is My Story.

Over the weekend, I celebrated my 7th wedding anniversary. Actually, I celebrated my 6th and 7th wedding anniversaries. You see, the first time I married my husband, it was at the Davidson County Clerk’s office, just over 9 months to the day that I met him. The second time I married him, it was exactly one year later.

It was the wedding I had always dreamed of: a colorful affair, pledging my love to my husband before God, family and friends. The reason we got married twice? Well, it’s a long story, but here’s the shortened version of it (which is still very long).

We met at a Christmas party that was put on by the Diocese of Nashville. We both belonged to different churches in the area and happened to be seated at the same table. Three days later, we had our first date. A few weeks into our relationship, my (now) husband confessed to me that he was in the country illegally because he had overstayed his visa.

He had come to the country legally seven years earlier on a sports visa as a triathlete. Having little knowledge of the immigration system and a mostly negative perception of illegal immigrants, I asked him to explain more about the situation. What happened next was a series of long, serious, confusing discussions about his options, which, I now know was really only one option- marriage.

The immigration system in our country is complicated, to say the least. Becoming a citizen- or even a legal resident- is an expensive, lengthy process. After deciding to stay in the relationship and continue to learn about the risks to my husband if he stayed in the U.S. illegally, both of our worlds got turned upside down.

One of the things we love doing together is traveling; particularly taking road trips. And several months after dating, we were headed back to Nashville after visiting my family on the west coast. We were approaching a border patrol stop in Sierra Blanca, TX, when we got a bit nervous. My husband was driving, and while we both “look” the part of American citizens, his thick Hungarian accent definitely gives away his foreign status. As we slowed the car to a stop, the agent asked if we were both U.S. citizens. I can’t even remember if we tried to lie, but we ended up being asked to come inside of the station.

My nerves were all over the place. I was so nervous that I had to use the restroom. I asked one of the men where it was, and he said I needed to be escorted. So while I released my nerves as a stranger stood outside the door, the other men interrogated my husband and asked him questions. Questions about when he came to the country, how he came to the country, how he knew me and others that could possibly incriminate him. Eventually they realized that he was in the country illegally, and informed us both that they were taking him in.

I can’t even begin to describe how I felt in that moment. What does that mean, “take him in?” If I tell them we’re getting married (we had talked about it throughout our relationship), will they let him go? Can I stick around and talk to them more? I asked one of the men to clarify, and he said, “He’s going to be deported and can’t come back here for ten years.” The weight of that statement was too heavy to bear. Upon telling the men I needed to make a phone call, I was told that I had to leave and then I could do so.

Leave? I thought. And go where? We had several of our bags, our laptop, food, and everything else you take on a road trip in the car. We still had a few days left of driving before we reached home, and I was in some town called Sierra Blanca that was not exactly a thriving metropolis. As a young woman, the thought of driving back home on my own, especially given my emotional state, was concerning to me. I couldn’t fly back home because the amount of stuff that I had was way more than two carry-on bags, and the rental car company wanted to charge me $1,000 to return the vehicle, since it was not the same location where the car was picked up.

My mother ended up flying into El Paso from California and the two of us drove back to Nashville together. As we did this, I was on the phone 24/7 with family, friends and lawyers, keeping everyone up to date on what was happening. (I still couldn’t believe what was happening.) I hired a lawyer in El Paso, and my husband spent several weeks (maybe more) in the detention center there. We spoke daily, him asking me about what the lawyer was going to do, when I could get the money to get him out of there. He had to move out of the place he was staying, and I sold a bunch of his belongings in order to pay for the lawyer and other expenses.

When he finally got released, he took a Greyhound bus home. During the ride, he wrote his marriage proposal and made me an engagement ring out of a $1 bill. It was all he could afford at the time.

While he was detained, I had to decide whether or not to say yes when he asked me to marry him. I had several concerns about marrying him. One, I questioned (for most of our relationship) if his love for me was genuine, or if he only wanted to marry me to get legal status. Also, we had only known each other nine months, and that’s not very long to really get to know someone. In the end, I decided I would rather risk regretting my decision later, than regret losing him forever and never knowing “what could have been.”

We got married at the first chance we had, but still had a lot of work to do. He was still at risk of being deported, and since the process of gaining legal status is so complicated, it took over two years for everything to get done- paperwork filed, fees paid, steps taken. In order to prove that our marriage was not fraudulent, we had to be interviewed. Yes, interviewed. We were each asked questions about the other, about our relationship and about why we got married. We then had to go before an immigration judge to state our case as to why my husband should be allowed to remain in the U.S. I was pregnant with our first child at the time, so of course this was terrifying. The judge agreed that deporting my husband would cause great despair to me and our unborn child, and since my husband has no criminal record, he was granted a green card. We’ve now been married for 7 years (or 6, depending how you look at it) and my husband is eligible to apply for citizenship if he desires.

What I’ve learned through all of this is that there needs to be immigration reform in this country. There needs to be an easier, less expensive way to become a U.S. citizen. The fear, the costs, the uncertainty I felt, no one should have to go through that. Because of the way things happened in my relationship, I was robbed of the chance to enjoy being engaged. I never took a honeymoon. I understand that I made the choice to risk being with my husband, but it’s hard not to when you know the only other choice is to lose someone forever.

Leena Kollar

(We re-published this article with the permission of the author. The original appeared in 2017.)

11 Comments

  1. While I feel for this woman and her husband, the conclusion she reaches from this experience is ridiculous. The immigration system worked the way it should, and, in fact, was quite lenient towards her husband. An easier less expensive way to become a US citizen? Well, for starts don’t overstay your visa. That was not the immigration system’s fault. Once he was out of status, everything else worked pretty much the way it should. Your husband was detained until the details of his situation became clearer, he was then released and amazingly granted a green card. He is now eligible for citizenship. I really don’t understand why this woman thinks anything in this scenario needs to change.

    I myself was an American citizen who married a foreigner who was then granted a green card. She was in the US on a visa, quite legally, and was in status when we got married and applied for the green card. the whole process, while not cheap, went smoothly.

    Don’t blame the system for your husband’s poor decision to overstay his visa.

  2. I missed the original story, but this “re-fried” version was equally delicious (more Maxican than Hungarian flavored, if I may say so without any prejudice.)

    The reason why white supremacist, Christian Right America gets away with refugee bashing, why Trump style immigration policy is a “vote magnet” for elderly white American males (bit like the proverbial “chick magnet” gas guzzling hot-rods are for the same cohort) is irresponsibility and ignorance. Irresponsibility on the part of legislators about immigration/refugee policy, and irresponsibility on the part of travelers such as Leena Kollar’s husband to be. He decided to play Russian roulette claiming he didn’t know the gun was loaded.

    The reason why “populism” (aka neo-fascism) is thriving in places like Hungary, many parts of Europe, and the Americas is the absence of responsible immigration policies. What goes for immigration policy in the EU is a sick joke. The liberal/conservative mainstream’s failure to manage change (climate change, technological change, global migration, rising inequality, abuse of power – the list is long) and irresponsible civic behavior, provides the mix for the perfect storm that’s ravaging Europe, America, and the world.

    In the US and many parts of the world, money can buy you love, regardless of that song by the Beattles. Leena Kollar should consider herself fortunate for being white, Christian, and blessed with the financial resources to hire lawyers, to get her irresponsible husband to be, around the broken immigration system in the US. There are hundreds of thousands of others who are actual refugees and are not so fortunate.

  3. I hate to say it Dear, but you most probably knew you were breaking the law, no matter how awful that mat sounds.
    If you had some concern before all that happened, you had looked into the possibilities and would have filed for a fiance visa waver for your man.
    There is a system that is fair and works, just have to follow and not to attempt to avoid it .

    You were scrutinized for the very reasons that far too many do marry for a fee in order to circumvent the law.
    Just as the case of “anchor babies”. Scores of pregnant women come to give birth in the US, so they attempt to bring all their families after that baby. But that too is un-Constitutional.

    There is NO other country in this world, while every country controls immigration, more arrive legally in the US than anywhere else.
    But it had to be controlled and with time more strictly limited.
    We just can NOT take in all that would like to come and live here.

    But my honest and open minded question is to all; why not make their own country to be like the US is?
    Something must be that attracts all those people from all over the world ?
    Yet many just hate and despise this country.
    Quite a few regular commenters right here on HFP and KMH.
    Why nobody wants to go and live in places like Cuba, Venezuela, North Korea, Congo, etc.
    They cry out and advocate their socialist hopes.

    They all need to put their actions where their mouth is !!!

  4. Now here is something new on the same subject.

    It was announced in the news yesterday that a migrant caravan started its way from central America to the US.

    President Trump odered the southern border to be closed !

    In today’s news, Mexico announced that will aplly the law equally toward the about 2,000 Guatemalan and Hondurian migrants.

    Their entry to Mexico will require entry visa. They may file for refugee status, that will be examined individually, while detained.
    Those rejected will deported.

    So, is Mexico another “white-supremacist”, “racist”, “christian bigot”, “fascist ” country now too”?

    Must be, or some apply a very prejudice standard to describe working, taxpaying ,law-obiding mericans.

  5. The man in question should have returned to Hungary and applied legally to immigrate to the US. All sovereign countries have the right to enact laws and those should be obeyed.

  6. Gussssh ,he looks like Chris Adam.

  7. Seems this illegal immigrant is a unifying influence on posters here. I have zero sympathy for either the Hungarian or the woman that married him. Seems he got of very lightly. I would not consider it unreasonable if he’d been deported with “never to return” entered on his record.

  8. Like ‘Martaburka’ pointed out the officials did sure lean backward and even broke the law.
    Since he was illegal in this country for well over six years.
    I’d assume his visa was valid may be 3-6 months.
    Than he found a wife and the immigration officials simply ignored the law for their benefit.

    His wife is totally silent on just why did her husband decided to be an illegally in the US ?

    By law, he was suppose to be deported, and as Phil S.Stein pointed out , never to be given another chance to enter, as the only penalty.

    Let’s not forget, in my time Hungarian authorities used to shut any one who attempted to cross the border illegally.
    If cought alive, got in much worse situations in the Stalin Ave.60 ,
    You both should remember to count your blessings, and stop complaining.
    You could not have been that lucky anyplace else on Earth.

  9. Bendegúz wrote “You could not have been that lucky anyplace else on Earth”. I have to disagree. I personally know number of people coming from the USA as a visitor, living together as common law with a Canadian man, only few of them got married in Canada. All they have to do is fill out a form to Immigration and Citizenship Canada for permanent resident status and live happily ever after. The ladies can work after approval and also covered by medicare by their common law husband. The process is simple, no lawyer needed as long as they follow the procedure. I think this is the reason why the wife of the Hungarian Immigrant wrote her story and suggested that the law should be changed, not because she is complaining. Also in some cases the canadian man has to sign a paper that he will be responsible for her ten years or so. There should be no law against people who to fall in love with or where to live after their commitment to each other.

    • Phil S. Stine says:

      I believe the US relationship with Canada is similar to Australia’s with New Zealand; the usual rules do not apply, (perhaps they should, but that’s another story). You obviously think this should be extended to Hungarians, what about, say Mexicans?

  10. She is excuse…. Rather plain looking so she is holding on to dear life…. I give it a few more years…

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