When the groom at a border wedding last month was asked by reporters why he was unable to travel to Tijuana to marry his Mexican bride he declined to answer.
This week the truth came out: he has a criminal record.
Brian Houston, a United States citizen, married Evelia Reyes of Guerrero on November 18 on a narrow strip of land between Tijuana, Baja California, and San Diego, California, known as Friendship Park.
The three-minute ceremony was held as part of the annual “Door of Hope” event that allows people living on opposite sides of the border to briefly meet.
At the time of the wedding — widely covered by various media outlets — Houston said that he couldn’t go into Tijuana to marry although he declined to explain why.
The beaming groom who told reporters shortly after the wedding that “love has no borders” had been arrested in February at the San Ysidro border crossing after police found 19.5 kilograms of heroin, 19.5 kilograms of cocaine and 21 kilograms of methamphetamine in his car.
Houston pleaded guilty to the crime in a San Diego federal court in May and was released on bail after paying a US $20,000 bond, surrendering his passport and agreeing not leave the United States. He is due to be sentenced in February.
But Houston’s lawyer rejected any suggestions that his client is a narco.
“He was basically a drug mule,” Russell Babcock said. “He’s certainly not a cartel individual.”
With a jail term looming, Houston took advantage of his precarious freedom to wed, and the Border Angels group — which facilitates the annual cross-border meet-ups — reportedly helped to organize the wedding.
However, both that group and Border Patrol officials say they were unaware of Houston’s criminal past.
Border Angels executive director Enrique Morones said the group had not done “any background checks [on Houston] as the [U.S.] border patrol advised us they will do all background checks and advise us which families have been cleared.”
But somewhere along the line, wires were seemingly crossed because Border Patrol spokesman Takae Michael said that while Houston was screened through an internal vetting process, the checks were based on information provided by Morones.
“A review of the provided information, through our DHS systems, did not indicate criminal activity,” Michael said.
However, Morones denies that the organization withheld any information from Border Patrol.
“We were shocked to learn this past week of Brian Houston’s very serious criminal situation. That goes against everything Border Angels stands for,” he said.
The vice-president and spokesman for the National Border Patrol Council Local 1613 added that border security had received no prior warning that a wedding was going to take place.
“They showed up dressed for a wedding,” Joshua Wilson said.
“The agents there were powerless to stop it. We were certainly put on the spot. The agents are upset, feel like they were taken advantage of, feel like they were duped,” he added. “[It] turns out we provided armed security for a cartel wedding.”
However, the surprise wedding aroused the suspicion of border agents and they subsequently became aware of Houston’s arrest.
The breach of protocol has placed future meetings between family members who live on opposite sides of the border — and who otherwise would have no hope of meeting face to face — at risk.
“This unauthorized event has now jeopardized future events and the continued opening of the border wall door,” the U.S. Border Patrol said via press release. The agency added that approval of the ceremony would have been “highly unlikely” had permission been requested.
Meanwhile, the newlyweds haven’t seen each other since the wedding.
Houston is preparing to be sentenced while Reyes is beginning a lengthy United States visa application process with the hope that she can be reunited with her husband after he completes his expected prison term.