CASPER, Wyo. — It is a myth that wedding rings and sacred vows guarantee permanent residency in this country.
Ashley Fuller applied for citizenship after he was married.
The federal government denied him a green card.
"It's only in the movies," said Fuller's wife, Cindy.
Fuller is facing deportation on Friday. He's lived the American dream alongside his wife for 25 years. Like many expatriates who arrive on U.S. soil, Fuller spawned a symbiotic relationship between himself and the community. The father of three owns a business, employs four workers and volunteers with two charity groups in Casper. With his bare hands, he built a large log cabin home that sits next to the North Platte River in Mills. His shop is on the same plot of land.
In their kitchen nine days before the deadline, the two lovers discussed what they would do without each other.
"I would have a lot of work to do," Cindy said. Then she broke down in tears.
"I haven't even let it enter my mind," Fuller said in response to his wife's anguish. "I wouldn't know how to deal with it."
Fuller came to Casper from the small town of Jerramungup, Australia. Fuller's skills as a yeoman were a sought-after commodity in the West. He found work as a sheepshearer and began his life as a Wyomingite.
Fuller and Cindy met on Valentine's Day in 1986. Cindy was giving away free samples at a Casper ice cream parlor. Fuller went in and asked if she wanted to meet for a drink at the Moonlight Bar. She said yes. But that night she and her friend went to a different bar. Fuller bagged the idea, too. By chance, he and a buddy went to the bar at the old Holiday Inn.
"I walked in and I saw her sitting there," he said.
The two were married in 1987. Fuller applied for citizenship.
The judge at Fuller's immigration hearing in 1988 threw him a curveball. He asked the Australia native if he had ever been convicted of any crimes outside of the United States.
Fuller had a marijuana charge on his record in Australia from his teens.
Fuller told the judge the truth.
The judge denied his request for residency.
"The judge told me that if I would have lied they would have never known," Fuller said.
Australian courts expunged his marijuana charge, Fuller said. But it still impedes his ability to become a U.S. citizen.
Since the judge's rejection of his application, Fuller's been working with lawmakers to find a pathway to citizenship.
Fuller has worked with all the members of the current congressional delegation, former Sen. Craig Thomas and former Rep. Barbara Cubin to receive citizenship through bills of private relief. The relief bill is special legislation that grants immigrants residency. The bill must go through the normal congressional process. It starts with a sponsor, goes to a committee and eventually winds up on the floor of its chamber of origin.
Private relief bills rarely make it to the president's desk. Only one passed last year's 112th Congress.
Fuller has had more 10 relief bills drafted for him in Congress. None has made it to the floor for debate.
Fuller could have continued asking the delegation for extensions. But this time he didn't.
Fuller is frustrated that the relief bills have not reached a president in more than two decades.
"I want results," Fuller said.
The final outcome of Fuller's American odyssey may rest in the hands of Rep. Cynthia Lummis. In an effort to reach a permanent solution to Fuller's residency problems, Lummis will speak with the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee about his options in the coming days.
If Fuller leaves the U.S., there would be a ripple effect across Casper.
His four employees could be out of jobs. He hasn't said much to them about what could happen down the road. Fuller said it would be depressing to do so.
"He takes care of us," said John King, foreman of Fuller Enterprises Construction.
Even Fuller's competitors in the construction business would hate to see him leave.
"He's a great, upstanding citizen," said Joe Park, owner of Can-Do Co., a contractor in Casper. "I wish more of my competitors were like him."
If federal immigration officials force Fuller out of the country, the woman's advocacy center True Care would need to find another vice chairman for its board of directors. The news of a potential deportation shocked True Care's president, Terry Winship. She assumed Fuller was a citizen.
"We need to be putting our resources in finding those people who are truly criminals," Winship said.
In a spare garage at Fuller's shop sit 6,000 books. He is a volunteer for Book and a Bite, which the Living Stream Fellowship Church sponsors.
Book and a Bite provides food and books to families in need. More than 350 people show up to the monthly event. Fuller uses his trailer to haul the books. He's been traveling around the state trying to spread the program. If he leaves, Book and a Bite may never branch out to other parts of Wyoming. The program would suffer greatly without him, said Jansen Bagwell, pastor of Living Stream Fellowship Church.
"The system is failing him," Bagwell said. "As a pastor and American citizen it's frustrating to see that."
Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, http://www.trib.com