Lieberman: a story of love, death and United States immigration policy

My husband Max would have been 40 today. He was a loving father or two, adored by everyone he knew, and the best friend I ever had.

Wendy Lieberman

Max was not a drinker or a smoker and otherwise took good care of himself, but for some reason was targeted with a very aggressive melanoma that consumed him from the inside out. Cancer trumped everything and his pain and suffering will be with me every day for the rest of my life, but that’s not what this letter is about.

Max was also at one time an undocumented alien. An illegal. We met and fell in love in Miami and I was aware from almost the very beginning that Max was not allowed to be in the country. And, still the heart wants what it wants, and over a period of months we got engaged and set a wedding date.

My father is a Fox News viewer, a Republican voter, and a highly accomplished physician with many political connections (my mother is also a physician without all the political baggage).

Marrying an illegal alien was not part of the script, and yet my parents fell in love with Max and welcomed him into our family. Ultimately, as the cancer was bearing down, it was my father who pushed hardest on the medical and pharmacological bureaucracy in a vain attempt to save Max’s life.

These two very different men had become family and experienced all the shared suffering and joy that entails.

With the date of our wedding now six months away and a ballroom paid for at the Sheraton Bal Harbour hotel, Max and his friend (a Cuban immigrant and benefit of the wet foot/dry foot policy) went on a fishing trip off the coast of Miami.

When the Coast Guard stopped their vessel for a routine check, Max’s undocumented status was exposed and Max was promptly sent to the detention center for processing. I immediately went to see Max at the ICE detention center, accompanied by a friend who happens to be an immigration attorney.

As a law-abiding U.S. citizen with all the privileges of being white and well-connected, ICE refused to provide any information on my fiancé and soon-to-be-husband. This was in December 2005. My family being who we are, we promptly hired a very high-powered immigration attorney, one who had previously worked for ICE and could manage the machinery of bureaucracy on our behalf.

It turns out that as an undocumented alien, Maximo had no right to due process, though I was certain that if we got married immediately and showed ICE the legitimacy of our love and desire to live together as one family, that Max would be able to remain in the country. Our attorney petitioned Homeland Security to let us marry and they acquiesced.

On Dec. 30, 2005, Max and I were married in the ICE detention center, he in his orange jumpsuit, me in my waiting room finest, our anxiousness highlighted by the industrial fluorescent bulbs overhead. No sooner did was say our “I dos” than did ICE arrange for Max to board the next flight to Buenos Aires. Worse still, Max was now profiled as a Cuban smuggler and would be ineligible to re-enter the U.S. for 10 years.

Over the ensuing two years, I would move to Argentina, establish a new life down there, live with Maximo, and work with our attorney to build our case, get Max’s deportation voided, and ultimately apply for a marital visa.

It took a lot of effort, but in the end Max died an American citizen, on American soil, surrounded by his American children, wife, and in-laws in a loving home. Surely Max’s case is not typical, but it speaks to the growing and urgent need for the U.S. government to change its approach to illegal aliens and asylum speakers. Certainly, we are a country of laws and no one, not even the President, is above those laws.

And, by coming into this country illegally, people are breaking our laws and potentially slowing the arrival of those who come in and stay via legal means. However, that does not excuse this nation, our bureaucracies, our policies, and especially our individual ICE agents from acting inhumanely.

Max had a story, he was unique, and so is every immigrant’s experience. Max had the benefit of money and privilege and still he and I were subject to the ice cold tentacles of our immigration policy. This is nothing to say of the thousands of families who are fleeing economic and socially desperate situations in search of a better life, only to have their families inhumanely and forcibly separated at the border.

My point is that we can be a nation of laws without having to check our humanity at the wall we seem so intent on building.

Editor’s note: Ms. Lieberman is a resident of Scottsdale

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