Awfully Wedded Wife

Bigamy charges and dozens of busts for sham marriages.It must be South Florida.

At a hearing June 13 in downtown Orlando, several American citizens including Raimer pleaded guilty. The Melbourne native wore her thick hair tied in a bun and held hands with her sister until she was called before a judge. Her attorney, Kyle Fletcher, then explained that the young mother had been living in a motel and was hurting for money when a man she called "Biggie" approached her in early 2005.

Although ringleaders forged Raimer's signature on some papers, Fletcher pointed out that his client could face six months in prison. "It's a shame she'll be adjudicated a felon," he says. "It's not a heinous crime."

Dozens of requests from New Times for comment from those indicted — by phone and in person — were declined. Two spoke briefly.

Loida Rodriguez
Courtesy of the Miami Dade Corrections Department
Loida Rodriguez
Eurice Rodriguez
Courtesy of the Miami Dade Corrections Department
Eurice Rodriguez

At an Orlando apartment complex overlooking a dirt field, Luisa (not her real name) told the story of her dramatic 7 a.m. arrest. "This country is putting fear into immigrants," she said with tired eyes. "I'll be happy to go back to Uruguay."

José Luis Class, another of the 83 arrested, stood outside his flat-top Orlando house on a rainy Friday. "Right now, I'm looking at zero to six, and I want to keep it that way," he said. "I did it as a favor to a friend, and it backfired."

Sirls entered a plea of guilty three weeks ago and, because of his clean record, is looking at probation. Others will face much more.

All but one of those arrested have been released on bond and await sentencing. To date, none has been deported, according to ICE. But those found guilty will be promptly sent back to their countries.

University of Miami immigration law professor David Abraham, who has taught and practiced for 30 years, says the situation is unheard of. "In all these years, I have never seen a case under this section of the statute," he says. "To now use criminal sanctions on the immigrant is a new frontier. It's a step up in enforcement."

The sound of a woman screaming echoes through a large, white, 1920s house in Miami's Design District. Upstairs, in a sage-green master bedroom, a couple is arguing in Spanish. Susana Baker, a pretty, tan 50-year-old, is sobbing. Her mascara is running down her cheeks all the way to her thick salmon-pink lipstick. Victor, a younger man with a round belly, a soft mocha complexion, and thinning hair, grabs her T-shirt at the chest and throws her against a wall. A loud thump sounds as she slams against it.

"No, no! Victor!" she shrieks. He grips her neck like it's a football and lifts her against the wall by the throat. Just then, her lanky 13-year-old son, Alex, enters and sees his frantic mom. He runs out and returns with a metal bat. When Victor notices the bat, he puts her down and leaves swiftly through the front door. "His eyes were bulging; he was foaming at the mouth," Susana remembers. "He wasn't the man I knew."

That fight in early April was the first time Susana, a New York City native of Puerto Rican descent, had seen her Argentine husband lash out that way. But it wouldn't be the last. A month and a half later, he'd return to seek revenge on the woman who says she was conned into marrying him. (Victor's phone has since been disconnected, and he could not be contacted for comment at an address listed in public records.)

Susana tells the tale of a jilted bride — of betrayal — and of inconsistent enforcement by ICE, the agency that polices immigration law. She provides a peek at the problems that arise from a secretive system that values numbers and headlines over people and situations. Whether completely true or not, it's the kind of case that happens every day in South Florida.

Susana, pregnant and alone, moved into her house on NE First Avenue 14 years ago. "I was totally by myself fixing it up," she says. "I came to this neighborhood when nobody would." Recently divorced, she was holding down a job in real estate and bought the place for $135,000. When she became pregnant in 2002 with her second child, this time from a man she didn't know well, she couldn't help feeling lonely. She did charity work and spent time with her cousin and Alex. But love — romantic love — was missing.

On a muggy day in June 2004, there was a knock at the door of her big, empty, white house. Victor, who worked installing windows across the street, had come over asking to rent a room. He offered $500. "I have a small child; I don't rent," she told him in Spanish.

He returned four times during the next month, hoping she would change her mind. "No" was always the answer. But then, as she reviewed a pricey electric bill, she thought, What the hell. Five hundred bucks is five hundred bucks. And she agreed to let him take the room.

Victor moved in about a week later and talked her down to $450. Around the house, he'd do carpentry jobs and play with Susana's 2-year-old daughter, Chantal. "He had that old-country charm," Susana remembers.

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