After Erin Standen married the man of her dreams a year ago, she showered him and his family in Cuba with love — and gifts.
In June, while waiting for the spousal sponsorship to come through in Havana, the 28-year-old Brampton single mother began renovating her basement apartment for their new life.
She ripped out the carpet, installed tile floors, bought a 47-inch big-screen TV and put in a $4,000 bedroom set, anticipating his arrival.
On Jan. 12, the long wait was finally over and Jorge Manuel Batista Gonzalez, 33, arrived at Pearson International Airport, embraced by an exhilarated Standen.
Three days later, Standen says, Gonzalez — after kissing her goodbye as she left for her waitressing job — walked out the door with all the clothes and other things she had bought for him, along with $1,000 tip money she had collected in the bedroom.
Erin Sanden says she met Jorge Manuel Batista Gonzalez on a visit to Cuba in April 2010 and soon fell in love, visiting 10 times and marrying him in Cuba before applying for a spousal sponsorship.
Erin Sanden says this is the note, written on a napkin, she found after her husband vanished, three days after he finally arrived in Canada.
All that remained of him, she says, was a misspelled note on a crumpled napkin: “Sorry I don’t fell love anymore. Don’t lock for me. I’l be good. I will try to pay you back. Thank x Everithing. Jorge Manuel.”
Standen says she was left with thousands of dollars in debt — from a $4,000 cellphone bill to money she borrowed from her parents for her wedding in Cuba — and a broken heart.
“We talked about how many children we’re going to have, about travelling around the world together, how he was going to treat me with a big dinner with his first paycheque, and how he owed his life to me,” Standen says, in tears.
“I came home. He took everything I bought him: shoes, winter jackets, three pairs of jeans, four sweaters and … underwear. I feel so empty. He just ripped my heart out of me. I feel so used and violated.”
Torstar News Service was unable to reach Gonzalez for comment. Someone who answered the phone at his family’s home in Cuba hung up. Standen says she has also phoned and emailed his family, but no one seems to know where he is.
Standen says she called the police but was told there was nothing they could do because the two were married. She called the Canada Border Services Agency to report the alleged fraud, but says she was told: “Your case is one in 10,000. You’ll never know what happens to him.”
CBSA would not comment to Torstar on the case. It has no readily available statistics on the number of permanent residencies revoked for alleged marriage fraud.
Worse, Standen says, immigration officials told her she is on the hook to provide financial support to Gonzalez for three years. Tiana Gabriel, a spokesperson for Citizenship and Immigration Canada, verified that if a sponsored spouse receives social assistance, the sponsor would be responsible to pay it back.
CIC implemented a new law last year requiring all sponsored spouses to stay in the marriage for two years before they can receive permanent resident status. But the condition only applies to those who submitted sponsorship applications after Oct. 25, 2012, and Standen’s case predates that.
Gabriel said the process for reporting marriage fraud hasn’t changed and said the government plans to launch a new campaign soon, warning people once again “to be wary of falling victim to marriages of convenience.”
The sponsored person’s permanent resident status can be revoked, but the process is lengthy.
Standen says the border agency would not tell her if a warrant would be issued, and officials didn’t even ask for a photo of Gonzalez.
Standen says she met Gonzalez on vacation at the Club Amigo resort in Guardalavaca in April 2010, where he worked as an entertainer. The two fell in love and she travelled back and forth 10 times to be with him. She married him in January 2012 and filed for sponsorship.
“I loaded his phone with money so he could text me. I called him every day, twice a day. I sent him and his family $60 to $80 every two weeks. I got them cooking utensils, jeans and spices,” Standen says, teary.
“I stayed with him at his parents’ house. They said they loved me and he always put me on the phone with them. Before I leave, there are always tears in everyone’s eyes.”
Standen said friends had warned her about Cuban men marrying foreign women as a way out.
“I was so blinded to it. It feels so real, the love I felt from him. I was so close with him and his family. I put everything I had out there. I wouldn’t have known he’d do this to me,” she said.
“I just want to ask him why he did this to me, if he didn’t love me and didn’t want to be with me. I just need some closure. He was my everything.”