When Ivo Widlak first came to the United States in 2001, he was 21 years old. The only other person he knew of in the city was Oprah Winfrey, and he was determined to work for her. He was hoping his impressive credentials, as a journalist in Poland, would land him a job for her show. Winfrey cared about people's stories, he thought.
"This is what really made me want to be a journalist," Widlak told Windy City Times in an interview.
According to Widlak, it took him three weeks to get tickets to a screening. He was determined to work for "the most popular person in the media world." But after the show, he realized how small his chances of landing such an opportunity would be. He became a caregiver. For a while, he says he left Chicago and then returned, and was living with friends. One night he went out in Boystown, and it was at Circuit Nightclub that he met his wife, Laura Zabedra, or "Lale," as he calls her.
In September 2002, they married.
Now, according to Widlak, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), a branch of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), is calling that marriage into question. Widlak says because he and Zabedra are bisexual, the USCIS is trying to argue their marriage is not "bona fide."
Widlak said this situation began in 2009, after he worked on an investigative news piece about the Polish consulate general's remodeling of the Lakeshore Drive diplomatic mission. He said he uncovered contract deals that were not being won competitively and the mismanagement of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The consulate was eventually audited and found everything Widlak had been investigating to be true, according to Widlak. And it was shortly after his investigation that he received a letter from immigration services informing his that they were beginning his deportation process.
In July 2009, Widlak made his first court appearance and Zabedra filed paperwork for an alien relative, seeking to claim Widlak as her spouse.
According to Widlak, in December 2009, he and Zabedra were interviewed by USCIS concerning the validity of their marriage. They were interviewed separately, and during Widlak's interview he said the immigration officer made a point in declaring that Circuit was a gay club. He then told Widlak that a prominent member of the Polish community had informed him that he was gay, and asked him repeatedly if he was. Widlak denied that he was gay, but told the officer that he and Zabedra were bisexual.
According to paperwork provided to Windy City Times, the USCIS filed an intention to deny the alien relative petition in December 2009. In it, it states that the couple had failed to establish residency and finances together, but also makes specific mention of their sexual orientation.
"The beneficiary, however, openly admitted that both you and he are bisexual and you both have had several sexual relations with members of the same sex," it states.
A response to the intention to deny, written by the couple's attorney, stated, "The mere fact that the couple has openly admitted that each other is a bisexual does not support the Service's position that their marriage is not bona fide. Nonetheless, the petitioner and beneficiary are obligated to address the Service's reference to their sexual orientation as it clearly is an issue raised."
Since then, the USCIS has told both the couple and their legal representation that they have sent them an official copy of the denial. No party has received such a denial and, according to Widlak, the USCIS refuses to provide another copy.
Christopher Bentley, the press secretary for NSCIS, told Windy City Times that privacy laws prevent him from being able to discuss individual cases. However, he said that cases broadly concerning sexuality are subject to national law.
"Pursuant to the attorney general's guidance, the Defense of Marriage Act remains in effect and the executive branch, including DHS, will continue to enforce it unless and until Congress repeals it or there's a final judicial determination that it is unconstitutional," he said.
Widlak's resigned to leave this country. He says this case has affected his mood and his sleep. He thinks he's just be happier if he left. But he wants other people to know about his situation because it's the right thing to do.
"I believe there is nothing that I can do, that it is out of my power," he said. "But Lale is a U.S. citizen ... and her human rights and her rights as a citizen are absolutely violated."
[Editor's note: On Dec. 17, Widlak's case was continued until Dec. 12, 2013.]