San Diego

Groom Suspected of Drug Smuggling Threatens End to Cross-Border Program

A federal complaint reveals Brian Houston was unable to cross into Mexico because he had surrendered his passport after a drug arrest

A San Diego resident's cross-border marriage at Friendship Park last month proved love had no boundaries, but a recently-filed federal complaint shows drug charges may have been what was keeping them apart.

Brian Houston, a U.S. citizen, married Evelia Reyes, a Mexican national, in November through an open gate at the U.S.-Mexico border as part of the sixth annual "Opening the Door of Hope" event, that allows selected families to reunite with loved ones for three brief minutes between two border fences. 

"Love has no borders," Houston said before the ceremony. "A wall might divide two countries, but it can't divide the love of two people." 

At the time, Houston declined to explain why he was unable to go to Tijuana, but said the couple's attorney was trying to obtain a green card for Reyes to join him in the U.S.

A month after the wedding, a federal complaint shows Houston was unable to cross into Mexico because he surrendered his passport in March when he was released on bail after he was caught smuggling more than 120-pounds of heroin, meth and cocaine across the border. He pleaded guilty to three felony charges of importing a controlled substance.

A spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) said his agents are angry about what happened.

The agents were there for what they felt was a humanitarian purpose opening Friendship Park up," said Joshua Wilson, Vice President of the National Border Patrol Council Local 1613. "And what they ended up doing was providing armed security for a cartel wedding."

"That's certainly discouraging," he added.

The cross-border event has been brokered annually since 2013 by Border Angels founder Enrique Morones, with the cooperation of CBP.

Morones says though he knew Houston had legal issues, he didn't know details. He says his group submits the names of people who want to participate and it's the responsibility of Homeland Security to do the vetting. He says Houston's name was on the list.

"Border Angels has never done any background checks, as the Border Patrol advised us, they will do all background checks and advise us which families have been cleared," Morones said.

Morones said he was surprised to learn this week that Houston had a "very serious" criminal conviction. That goes against everything Border Angels stands for."

"It doesn't look good for us. It's totally their fault," Morones said. "They're the ones that are the main people that can do it...We had no idea what these people's records are."

CBP did not immediately return calls or respond to emails requesting comments.

Wilson called the partnership between CBP and Border Angels "problematic at best.”

"When you factor in that Morones is not an honest broker, it makes it even more complicated," Wilson said.

According to the complaint, in February Houston attempted to drive a silver 2013 Volkswagen Jetta across the San Ysidro Port of Entry, but the vehicle was flagged twice. During an inspection, agents discovered 67 pounds of drugs in the lining of the car.

Houston plead guilty to the charges in May. His sentencing is scheduled for January 2018.

Houston's immigration attorney, Cesar Luna, said he didn't know the extent of his client's legal troubles because they weren't relevant to helping the immigration process with his bride.

U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) allows families to see each other through a fortified fence at Friendship Park while still remaining firmly in their countries. But for this special event, agents open the gates that separate them, allowing loved ones to hug, kiss and talk without boundaries. 

Luna called the issue with Houston's case a "miscommunication" and said he hopes it won't put an end to the cross-border event.

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