ICE Arrests Gay Man While He Applies For Citizenship With His American Husband

“We thought we were going to be in and out in half an hour," says Paul Frame of his detained husband, Ivan Nunez.

A gay Philadelphia man was arrested by agents of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services last month in the middle of an interview with his husband.

Jose “Ivan” Nunez was put in cuffs and taken away, according to husband Paul Frame, even though they believed they were doing things “the right way” in order to live together in America legally.

“We went into the meeting, we got the marriage certificate, for which we were approved,” a tearful Frame said at a press conference Monday. “We thought we were going to be in and out in half an hour. I said, ‘Let’s become legal, then we have no worries.’”

On January 31, Frame and Nunez were in the USCIS office in West Philadelphia filing a I-130 Form, the usual procedure for U.S. citizens assisting a family member—in this case, a spouse—in legally immigrating to the U.S.

The two men met at a wedding in 2014, and were married two years later. “He is the love of my life,” says Frame. They were being interviewed about the validity of their marriage, a routine step in the process, when Frame was asked to step outside for a moment. He thought immigration officials just wanted to question Nunez alone, but he was soon told Nunez was being detained by ICE. He’s now in custody at the York County Detention Center as an undocumented immigrant.

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Nunez entered the country illegally from Mexico nearly eight years ago. He has no criminal record but, according to ICE, had been removed from the United States once before in 2010. Essentially he attempted to enter the country, was turned away at the border, and tried again a few days later. Technically people who reenter the U.S. after being removed or deported can be charged with a felony, but it’s rare. (No charges were ever filed against Nunez.)

ICE officials said while the agency focuses on people who pose a threat, “all of those in violation of the immigration laws may be subject to immigration arrest, detention, and, if found removable by final order, removal from the United States.”

In a bitter irony, according to attorney Gonzalo Peralta, Nunez and Frame were later approved for their I-130. So while one government agency was giving them the key to citizenship, another was taking it away. A petition to support Nunez has gathered more than 900 signatures. Nunez fears anti-gay violence if he returns home to Mexico—his sister, a lesbian, is in hiding there for the same reason.

“I’m mad,” said Frame, “because we were trying to do the right thing.”

Dan Avery is a writer-editor who focuses on culture, breaking news and LGBT rights. His work has appeared in Newsweek, The New York Times, Time Out New York, The Advocate and elsewhere.