SAN DIEGO (AP) – It was a heartwarming scene: A U.S. citizen, forbidden to enter Mexico, wed the love of his life in a brief moment when the gate separating the two countries was opened.
Now a newspaper says the groom is a convicted drug smuggler and border agents are furious that he passed a federal background check and was approved for the “Door of Hope” event last month.
“The agents are upset, feel like they were taken advantage of, feel like they were duped,” Joshua Wilson, vice president of the National Border Patrol Council Local 1613, told the San Diego Union-Tribune. “Turns out we provided armed security for a cartel wedding.”
On Nov. 18, Brian Houston of San Diego and Evelia Reyes of Mexico signed official Tijuana documents making them husband and wife and then embraced between the doors of a steel border gate that is opened for only an hour or so every year.
It was the first wedding at Border Field State Park during the “Door of Hope” event, which permits people who cannot cross the border to meet for about three minutes each.
“It’s a statement that love has no borders,” Houston told the Union-Tribune at the time.
Those allowed to take part in the event were supposedly carefully screened.
But it appears the federal background check didn’t turn up the news that Houston is awaiting sentencing after he pleaded guilty to drug smuggling in May in San Diego federal court.
Houston was arrested in February while crossing into the U.S. at the San Ysidro border checkpoint. Prosecutors said 43 pounds of heroin, 47 pounds of methamphetamine and 43 pounds of cocaine were hidden in his car.
Because of his arrest, he is not allowed to enter Mexico.
Because of Houston, the “Door of Hope” event is now under scrutiny.
The nonprofit group Border Angels has organized six such openings since 2013. Executive Director Enrique Morones said the group doesn’t vet applicants but provides the Border Patrol with questionnaires filled out by candidates. It leaves background checks to that agency, Morones told the Union-Tribune.
Border Patrol spokesman Takae Michael said Houston was screened through an internal vetting process based on information provided by Morones and a review did not indicate criminal activity.
Morones said he was shocked to learn Houston was a convicted drug smuggler and planned to meet with new San Diego Border Patrol chief Rodney Scott to discuss the case and future events.
“That goes against everything Border Angels stands for,” Morones said.