Love's Labor Lost

The night before her deportation hearing, Magali Brunson drank a few glasses of wine with her landlady, two of her landlady's three daughters, the grandmother of those daughters, an old friend of the landlady's family from back home in Nebraska, and several female friends who'd stopped by to find out how dire the situation might be, which turned out to be very.

"My lawyer says my chances are less than 50 percent," the 28-year-old Magali told them.

Should she be deported, she would have sixty days in which to leave the United States. "When I thought about it, I was shaking from my nose to my toes," she says, trying out a rhyme in English. But typically, she continued to behave in a charming manner, introducing everyone to everyone else more than once and laughing whenever the situation remotely deserved it. As often happens when females gather around, the seriousness of the primary subject soon gave way to a light buzz on the topic of hair, its attendant disasters and potential improvements. Recently, Magali had come that close to dying her short dark-brown hair a color known as "rhubarb."

"Oooh, bad idea," she says now. "I can't imagine what the judge would think."

Magali is sitting in the waiting room of the Executive Office for Immigration Review. It's oddly reminiscent of a vet's office, with its stark white linoleum and two small photographs--Bill Clinton and Janet Reno--stuck off-kilter on one wall. Magali's friends, all twenty of whom are here to speak on her behalf should they get the chance, fill up and overflow two wooden benches. A few Hispanic children pertaining to an earlier case run by, dressed in a representative sampling of Denver pro-sports jerseys.

Conversation is trilingual. The people from Continental Book, where Magali worked after her marriage dissolved, speak Spanish and French. The people from Ball Corporation, where her ex-husband worked, speak in quip and engineer-ese. The landlady's contingent, including the longtime Nebraska friend, the daughters and the grandma, is still trying to come up with a down-home, Midwestern solution. The most obvious one, they point out, is a quick, fake marriage.

"Nope, he's too young," Magali says of the 27-year-old they propose. "Although I guess younger than me is better than nothing."

"I could go for that myself," one of the daughters says.
"I'd settle for 48," says the landlady.
"I'd settle for fifty," the grandma adds.

"Here you go, Magali," says the Nebraska neighbor, handing over an umbrella. "Go out in the hall and snag the next good-looking guy you see."

"Good-looking? What do I need that for?" Magali asks. "I just need a husband. And just for five years."

The fact is, Magali is not about to enter into the sort of marriage the INS considers fraudulent--which is what the agency thinks she has already done. "I can't go to the supermarket and buy a husband," she says. "I'm going to fight this."

"I had been to the United States once or twice," Magali Brunson remembers, "but it had never been my first choice of where to go."

Born and raised in Veracruz, Mexico, and educated as a construction project engineer, she was working on a new can factory in Toluca when she met Aaron Brunson early in 1995. He'd been sent down from Denver by Ball on a temporary assignment, and the two found themselves working together by day and living in the same hotel by night. It was a familiar lifestyle for both--Aaron, then in his thirties, had lived and worked all over the world, and Magali had settled into a pattern of working for two months, visiting her family at home for two weeks and then being sent back out on a new job.

"By the time he left for the States, we were dating," Magali says, "and we stayed in touch. Then I got sick--a simple thing, appendicitis--and when he called my house, my father told him I was in the hospital. The next day, there he was, in Mexico. My family and I all thought, whoa. We were impressed."

While recuperating, Magali agreed to visit Aaron in Colorado. But when she got here, she says, "it was scary, even though I thought I was living an unbelievable story of love. I had learned in English in school, but when I came here, I could not understand one single word. I never had gone to McDonald's to even order a hamburger alone, ever. He said he would handle everything."

The way she remembers it, Aaron suggested they get married right away, that Magali stay in the States and start her new life. Her parents came up for the civil ceremony. ("I couldn't be married Catholic, because Aaron had already been married and divorced," she says. "That would be playing games.") She wore a long white dress. A few months later, Aaron's mother held a reception for the couple at her home in Arkansas. And the new life began.

"He was working in the international area for Ball, and he had to travel," Magali recalls. "He wanted me to travel with him, so we went together--to England, France, China and several places in the U.S. We'd be back in Denver for two months and then go again. I'd traveled before, and I really enjoyed it. It was different, but I knew my life would be different. I was the wife, and that was supposed to make me happy. That's how I grew up, and that's what I knew."

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