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ELIZABETH, NEW JERSEY — A flat tire brought Ruben Quintero and Neida Lavayen together two years ago. Lavayen, a divorced mother of two, was leaving a friend’s party in Elizabeth when she got a flat tire. Quintero, a native Uruguayan with a handsome smile, stepped in to lend a hand. She drove away charmed, and he drove away with her phone number.
After three months, the couple moved in together. In June, Ruben Quintero proposed. The couple bought wedding bands and booked a pastor. She found a simple but elegant V-neck dress, and they set the date for Sept. 23rd, on Quintero’s birthday. But last month, one week before their wedding day, federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials caught up with Ruben Quintero, a 40-year-old mechanic at the Elizabeth, NJ auto shop, and arrested him at his workplace.
Now Quintero, who has lived in the country illegally since his visa expired in 2003, sits in Delaney Hall in Newark, NJ awaiting imminent deportation, while Neida Lavayen desperately tries to save the man of her dreams from the nightmare of him being deported from the United States, but she faces a Catch-22 situation... To prevent his deportation, she must marry him at the detention center where he is being held so he can apply for a green card... But to get a marriage license, Quintero must leave the holding facility and present himself to a municipal clerk in person.
"It’s just so unfair," said Javier Fabregas, Lavayen’s 23-year-old son. "If they’d gotten married one week earlier, we wouldn’t be in this situation."
Quintero has no idea what led ICE officials to him. His lawyer has filed for a stay of deportation and is asking ICE officials and both Newark and Elizabeth city clerks to issue the couple a marriage license within the facility.
ICE guidelines state a wedding ceremony must take place in the detention facility and that all arrangements must be made by the detainee. Officials said Quintero’s request is under review and similar requests have been granted in the past.
The lawyer representing Ruben Quintero has appealed unsuccessfully to both the Newark and Elizabeth city clerks to travel to Delaney Hall and issue the license. Both clerks say they do not travel off-site, except for hospital visits. Quintero’s ICE officer said Thursday that the agency has obtained travel documents for him, one of the last steps in the deportation process.
In 2003, Ruben Quintero came to the United States, looking for employment to support his family after his father died. He arrived on a 90-day visa waiver, a program that enables travelers from a select number of countries to enter the United States without a visa. The arrangement also waives travelers’ right to any judicial review should they overstay the 90 days.
Now, if he is deported, he cannot return to the United States for 10 years. For Lavayen, who makes a modest income as a nurses aide in Long Island, it would be financially impossible to travel to Uruguay to join him.
Family members fear the toll of losing Quintero could take on Lavayen, who suffered abuse in her previous marriage. "Ruben brought me back to life," Lavayen said in Spanish late last month. "He means everything to me. He has treated me and given me so much respect that I have never felt before."
Lavayen, 45, visits her fiancé every day after work, and each time she walks into the facility, her breath quickens with the rising fear that he’ll be gone. When she finds him still there, waiting, they chat about her day, who she’s seen and any progress she’s made toward getting them a marriage license. After a 30-minute visit, she drives home where her dress hangs in her closet waiting for the day she hopes comes before it’s too late.
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