First-Person: A Marriage Split By Immigration Policy

Jayme Gershen is a Miami-based photographer and artist who has been separated from her husband, Andres, because of U.S. immigration policy. The couple has started a collaborative Instagram project, @when.you.think.of.me, that documents their relationship and their separation across borders through superimposed images that they take when they think of each other.

I have a wonderful husband. We know how to laugh and cry together, how to get through hard times and enjoy precious moments. We love to cook together. He understands my quirks and has more patience than anyone that I know. The only problem is, hardly anyone in my life knows him. Andres lives in Medellin, Colombia and I live here in Miami. We live apart, but not because we want to. Andres’ visa has been repeatedly denied since we were married in 2010.

Everyone who hears our story looks at me with the same confused brow and says something like, “You’re American! Of course he can come here.” Unfortunately, that is not the case. Andres came to the U.S. on a tourist visa in 2005 and overstayed his allotted length of time. It has proven to be a costly mistake. He was put into deportation proceedings and was told that if he paid his own ticket home he would not be deported, but would be leaving voluntarily, which left him with a better status. So, he did all that was asked of him and returned to Colombia, where we met in 2009.

We had a very whirlwind sort of love story. We met on the corner, under a street lamp in El Parque Poblado. Andres was leaning against a wall on a bicycle and knew the friend that I was in town to visit. He asked me if I wanted to go dancing and I kissed him before the second song. He tells the story more poetically than I can, and I hope one day he will be here to share it with our friends and family. The point is that our love was sweet, real, and if anything, idealistic. We started our long-distance relationship and married in 2010 believing what the lawyers had told us —there was some sort of loophole in his 10-year ban from re-entry and Andres could come back to the U.S. His visa was eventually denied in late 2011, and the appeal was denied in the fall of 2012. We were told that as an able-bodied couple (meaning no major health issues and not pregnant), we could make it work. With those words, I feel like my marriage was denied a chance.

I left Miami and moved to Colombia to be with Andres, but almost immediately felt lonely. Watching as my budding career faded away, I felt like my life was going backward and that my government was ignoring my rights as a U.S. citizen. It was my first experience of really feeling unheard, and the frustration that came with it quickly spilt into other parts of Andres and my life. It’s weird when the government is involved in your emotional life, when political policy puts more pressure on a marriage than the actual people involved. We both carried a lot of suppressed anger over things we could not control. For me, I couldn’t handle the feelings of isolation that came with my migration. Andres was consoling, but could not always understand where I was coming from. When my mother suddenly expressed a need for some help caring for my grandmother, I jumped at the chance to come back to the U.S.

Though I didn’t come right back to Miami, I gradually made my way back to the city that has, over the past 10 years, become my home. I’ve spent the last 10 months in town and everyday I feel stronger about the idea of making a life here. I’m proud of how this city has grown, and when I think about a place where my contributions will make an impact, I think about Miami. I know that both Andres and I have a chance to grow here, if only he could come.

We want to make a life together and contribute to a place we can both call “home.” I want Andres to finally come to the big family Thanksgiving and to know the people that I work with. I want him to meet my grandmother and to see for himself just how much like my mother I really am. For all the time that I have spent in Colombia, Andres has never seen a single place where I’ve lived in the U.S. A marriage that only knows half of the lives involved is not a whole marriage.

Since the visa waiver was denied, we have been waiting for the year 2018. That’s the year that Andres’ ban will be lifted, and he can reapply for a visa to the United States. Every New Year, I am thankful that we are a little bit closer. There are moments when I imagine that he is going to walk through the door and in that instant, I begin to count down how many more days, months, and years until it could actually happen. We both wonder if we can realistically hold on until then, but we also believe that in order to be our best for one another, we must be our best selves individually. Do we go somewhere else when my career is growing here? Why do I have to choose between my husband and my country? Why does someone who is so good seem to have no chance because of where he was born? Why does it feel like I am leaving him behind? Andres makes me feel that I can be the best me, but he can’t be with me. I’m left with loads of questions, and I never seem to find the answers.

Through this experience, I have been humbled. Not everyone gets what he or she wants, but this lesson in patience is probably a lesson that I needed. I could never have imagined that government policy would dictate my love life, but what I’ve learned is that the immigration process is not simple. It is not always a fair process, because not all people have access to the same rights. I’ve learned that immigration has a variety of faces and stories. The emotional toll that migration takes on a person, a family, and a community are immense. There should be some sort of honor for strength given to the people who persevere through the moments of loneliness, culture shock, alienation, and change that stem from being an immigrant. I tried and failed. Andres would give anything to have another chance. One day he will, and I will be waiting to welcome him. We have to take a stand, because immigration policy can’t dictate whom we love.

First-Person is a series of essays by Miamians about their unique and personal experiences of politics and culture. If you would like to contribute to First-Person, please tell us about your experience at [email protected].