Rosa Porro spent Good Friday in tears. She'd planned to be married that day. She and her El Salvadorian boyfriend, Carlos Herrera, had taken seminars with a Catholic priest in preparation. They had their valid blood tests and Virginia license. They'd put a deposit down on an apartment and made payments on furniture.
Everything was in order, and all of Porro's friends were happy for her, she said, until a week before the ceremony - when Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) officers picked up Herrera. He had no "green card," no legal papers, and by law no right to be in this country unless (and here's the catch) he is married to an American citizen.
Since Feb. 14 Peruvian-born Rosa Porro has been an American, and she's now a member of the armed forces.
Just a couple of days before they were to have been married, however, Porro found herself watching Immigration Judge Emit Bobek order her finance deported.
In tears, but undaunted, she decided to marry him anyway. She fired her first lawyer and hired a second, Stanton Braverman. She got a District of Columbia marriage license and she enlisted the help of at-large school board member and Latino leader Frank Shaffer-Corona.
As Herrera awaited a board hearing last Tuesday's Father Joaquin A. Bazan rode the elevator up and down between a waiting Rosa and Herrera in the INS "lock-up."
People at Immigration say they didn't pay much attention until a few minutes later when Braverman announced to the court that his client was indeed married to an American citizen.
Mr. and Mrs. Carlos Herrera are still apart, however. They are just one of many couples caught in the tangle of immigration laws and immigrant intrigues.
Marriage to an American citizen is indeed, sometimes used as a fraudulent ticket into this country according to Immigration officials, but the Herreras believe they've established the seriousness of their relationship by the investments and plans they have made.
But there are further complications. Herrara is accused of jumping bail once before, and resisting arrest when he was apprehended this time.
Rosa, 29, is the first to say that Carlos, 22, has had problems. She feels some of his friends were a bad influence. "But he has made so much progress," she told a reporter. "I wouldn't marry him any other way."
Herrera was first picked up by the immigration service in August and released on $500 bond. When he failed to show up for his hearings, according to an INS officer, letters were sent to him, and they were returned "addressee unknown." He soon fell under the category "abscondee."
Then, a couple of months ago - apparently about the time Herrera and Porro were getting serious about each other - an anonymous "female informant" called Immigration.
She told agent Joseph Paturzo that Herrera was working at The Man in the Green Hat Restaurant at 3rd and Massachusetts Ave. N.E.
"I couldn't get on it right away," said Paturzo.
So Porro and Herrera went ahead with marriage plans, unaware of what was happening.
Then the informant called Paturzo again, first to say Herrera had gone to New York - and then to say he had come back. Still, Paturzo said, he had other things to do.
Finally the informant called and told Paturzo that Herrera "is going to marry an American tomorrow." If the INS didn't pick him up right away, it might not get him at all.
So at about 9 on the evening of March 16, Paturzo and another INS officer visited The Man in the Green Hat. While Paturzo walked in the front, the other agent went in the back. After a 10-minute conversation with part-owner Peggy O'Brien in a warrant but didn't need one, she reluctantly gave him permission to visit the kitchen.
"We showed Herrera our badges," said Paturzo. "You should have seen his eyes pop out."
But it wasn't until he was handcuffed and almost to the agents' car that Herrera tried to make a run for it. He was stopped after a couple of steps and a brief scuffle, according to Paturzo.
That was enough. At the bail hearing last week, Bobek refused to set bond because of Herrera's record, despite what Bobek called the "apparent" marriage. Other Immigration officials are not sure whether the wedding is illegal or not thought it hasn't been specifically contested.
So now, Rosa - maybe married, maybe not - is trying to get back to work after missing 10 days and a promotion, because, she said, "I was so upset." Carlos Herrera is still in jail awaiting another hearing on the bond issue at the Board of Immigration Appeals. If bond is set, and the Herreras can pay it, their lawyer says they'll get married once again - just to make sure.