David Gonzales is soft-spoken and retiring, with a light, crisp, Latin American accent. He is 35 but looks younger, has bright brown eyes and fluffy black hair beginning to recede, and he sits far back in his chair at the office of John Nechman, the Houston attorney who helped him avoid deportation in March. Gonzales is gay, and came to America from Costa Rica on a tourist visa in 2003 to escape an abusive ex-lover who worked for the Costa Rican police. Fearful of returning home, Gonzales overstayed his visa and lived quietly as an accountant in California until 2005, when he met and fell in love with Mario, a Peruvian with a green card. They started a life together. The couple now lives in Houston.
Though Gonzales was arrested for being undocumented in 2006 and his future was uncertain, he and Mario married in California in 2008, while gay marriage was briefly legal there. That marriage became the basis on which federal immigration Judge Richard Walton administratively closed Gonzales’ deportation case in March. It’s one of only a handful of cases of gay unions influencing immigration proceedings, and the first in Texas. Though shy of the media attention his case unexpectedly generated, Gonzales agreed to tell the story of his arrest to the Observer.
“At the beginning, [Mario and I] lived normally. We rented a house. Each morning, we’d have breakfast, kiss goodbye, each one goes to work, come home in the afternoon. Just a normal, regular life with the same worries and joys as any other couple. Then we got pulled over at the San Clemente checkpoint.
“Once they asked us to step out of the car and come away into the facility, it was a little bit heartbreaking, because I knew already. I told him, ‘You know what? It’s happening.’
“Inside, we were just holding hands for a moment, and they asked us to split. ‘You sit there, you sit there.’ The only thing we could do was look at each other’s faces. Once they determined that he had a green card and was going to be able to leave, they told him, ‘Just say goodbye to him because you’re not going to see him again.’
“At that point I had told them I had no documents. They checked me in to a holding cell. There I stayed for six or eight hours in that place, on the floor, nothing to sit on, really cold. They made [Mario] leave. The only thing he could do is, I told him I was cold and he went to Walgreens and bought socks for me. He brought me socks and a book.
“They treat you like a dog there. They say, ‘Shut up, you dog.’ After six or eight hours, they transferred us, me and two others, to this place really close to Tijuana. This other facility, uglier than the first one, had bunk beds but the sewage wasn’t working so we walked on top of feces and urine on the floor.
“I was there a day and a half or two, and then they transferred me to a huge facility that was well-maintained with doors that open on their own. It was from third-world to first-world. I stayed there 12 days until the judge granted me bail—$10,000.
“It was hard to get the money, of course. My husband is the one who came up with the money. He asked several people for money. His mom helped us out. It took him a week or so. We talked on the phone once a day.
“One afternoon, they called my name. Every day in the afternoon the guard would come and everybody already has their pillows full with their stuff, waiting to see, will they call my name? They called my name, and they chain you as if you really were a criminal. They chain your hands, your feet, your waist. They drove me to San Diego and released me there.
“As soon as Mario and I got out of the building in San Diego, we just sat in the car and cried. I cried for three or four days in a row, shaking, saying, ‘What’s going to happen?’ For days, still shaking, you remember things, things people say they went through also, people who were detained. It was pretty heartbreaking.
“We didn’t come up with a plan, but Mario did say he would follow me wherever I go. We were going to stay together no matter what. That was always the plan.
“We thought, why don’t we pursue Canada? I almost became an expert in Canada. When we got married, our honeymoon was in New York and we went to Niagara Falls. We could stand over there and see Canada, and we saw it as our freedom. I felt like I was stuck inside a huge cage, that I can’t go there. That I don’t have the liberty of saying, ‘We’re a couple. We want to build a life.’
“Someday, when I get my green card, I want to cross that bridge.
“After we got married, we moved to Houston. We bought a house. Three bedrooms, room for kids. That’s another thing we haven’t been able to do. We went to the adoption orientation three times and finally the lady told us, ‘We’re going to put you last on the list and they’re never going to pick you.’ At least she was honest.
“I’m happy with the result of my trial. I’m happy it’s closed. I’m happy the government is not coming back anymore. But there’s still a lot to do. Every single day, I read the news, anything that has to do with immigration or [the Defense of Marriage Act]. I never stop thinking about it. It’s an every day thing. I can never stop thinking about it.”