Hers was not a marriage of convenience. She thought it might have something to do with love, her lifelong dream of being blessed with a husband and child. And to think, it was all unfolding in this beautiful country that she'd known only through postcards.
Five years ago, Miriam Cruz-Wood came to the United States from the Philippines as a tourist. Then she stayed on illegally, smitten with such wonders as Disneyland. Christopher Wood, who runs a medical imaging service from his home in San Pedro, gave her a part-time job keeping his books.
Miriam didn't understand many things about her new country, but she trusted Chris to teach her, and in turn, she would be devoted to him. The couple courted a year, then married in 1991. Their daughter, Katrina, was born a year and a half after that.
The violence, Miriam Cruz-Wood says, came as a shock. It crept in slowly at first, then became almost routine.
Police reports, court transcripts and restraining orders reflect Wood's history of spousal abuse. But as a result, it is Cruz-Wood who has come under scrutiny--by the INS.
Two months ago, after it became clear that his wife would no longer tolerate abuse, Wood withdrew his permission to grant her legal residency and asked that she be deported immediately. The Immigration and Naturalization Service agreed--because as a U.S. citizen married to an otherwise undocumented immigrant, Wood was exercising his legal right.
Immigration law gives Cruz-Wood no legal standing on her own.
Now, Cruz-Wood, 30, is in virtual hiding. She fears for her life and that of her child.
The practice of American citizens and legal residents using immigration laws to keep their foreign spouses in abusive marriages is rife, say attorneys, immigrant rights activists and counselors who work with battered women.
Given the nature of illegal immigration and domestic violence, hard numbers are scarce. However, the Family Violence Prevention Fund, a nonprofit organization in San Francisco, says it has documented more than 90 cases nationwide since the summer, including one involving a marriage of nearly 20 years.
"And the abuse is not just physical," says Seattle attorney David Chappel, a former prosecutor who specialized in sex offense and domestic violence cases. "It is often emotional, where the U.S. citizen-husband is threatening the foreign spouse with deportation unless she does exactly what he wants her to do."
Coincidentally, the day before Wood interceded with the INS, a Los Angeles court sentenced him to three years probation for beating his wife. And Cruz-Wood stresses that she did not "betray" her husband even then. Wood had attacked his wife at her accounting job and it was her employer who had summoned police.
"In our (Filipino) culture, the mother always sacrifices," Cruz-Wood says. "I know that he was treating me bad, but I stay. I am his wife. I made a commitment. I already slept with him. But then I tell myself that I need to wake up and just take care of my baby."
Wood acknowledges that he requested his wife's deportation but declines to comment beyond that.
Before they were married, Wood, 31, had been arrested in connection with other violent crimes, but Cruz-Wood had no idea. In August, a Superior Court judge ruled that Wood may not visit his daughter alone and made a restraining order against him permanent, preventing him from coming near his wife.
Cruz-Wood will not voluntarily return to the Philippines and leave her 14-month-old daughter, a U.S. citizen, behind. Her husband, who has filed for divorce, has told her she must do both.
"I don't care about myself," Cruz-Wood says, her eyes red with tears. "I just care about this child. I am at the mercy of the INS to get a future for this baby. I lost everything, but as long as I have my baby, I'll be OK. I won't be insane. It's just been too much."
The Family Violence Prevention Fund and other women's rights groups successfully lobbied legislators to include protection for such battered immigrants in the Violence Against Women Act introduced in the House this year.
Forty-one state attorneys-general--excluding California's Dan Lungren--have signed a letter to Rep. Jack Brooks (D-Tex.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, urging prompt passage of the bill. (Despite his opposition to the main thrust of the bill, Lungren says he "absolutely supports" the battered immigrant provision.)
The Senate version of the Violence Against Women Act, which is awaiting a floor vote, does not include the battered immigrant provision, but backers are hopeful that a separate piece of legislation will be introduced to accomplish the same thing.
The proposed provision would allow such immigrant spouses--usually wives--to file their own petitions to obtain legal residency based on marriage, while still requiring the INS to investigate the possibility of fraud.