MOUNT GILEAD, Ohio – By her count, Sandra Mendoza had not seen her fiance for 66 days.
On Thursday afternoon in a rural Ohio jail, she got to hold his hand, wrap her arms around his shoulders, kiss his lips and become his wife.
"I didn't want to leave him," Mendoza said after the 33-minute ceremony.
She wore a white wedding dress that cost her $9 at a discount store and an ivory jacket. Holding a bouquet of pale pink roses, she stood near two vending machines and a metal detector in the lobby of the Morrow County Jail.
She inhaled deeply and finished her thought. "I am ready for everything … whatever comes next."
Her husband, Yancarlos Mendez, 27, will either be deported to his native Dominican Republic or allowed to return home to his wife and stepson in suburban Springdale.
Ricky Solis, 6, Mendoza's son, a U.S. citizen paralyzed from the waist down in an auto crash a year ago, was not allowed to see his stepfather. Wearing a dark suit, white shirt and a pair of new shoes, he sat in his wheelchair and ate a bag of potato chips.
"I just wanted to see my dad," said Ricky, who tried not to cry. At least twice, though, he wiped tears from his cheeks. The child had not spoken with Mendez since he was led away in a Butler County courtroom Nov. 29.
According to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement rules, "only those essential for the marriage ceremony may attend." A Cincinnati Enquirer reporter and two photographers were not permitted to witness the wedding ceremony or interview Mendez.
Three people entered the secure area of the federal detention center in the county jail: the bride, their pastor and one of their attorneys, Charleston Wang, who collected signatures afterward on the marriage license.
"Yancarlos was emotional," said their pastor, Alfredo Ortiz, of Iglesia Jesucristo Rey de las Naciones in Lincoln Heights. "As Christians, we have hope that God will help."
Mendez was dressed in his prison uniform, light green pants, matching short-sleeve shirt and a white undershirt.
"He told me how much he loved me and said he didn't want me to cry," his wife said.
While attorney Wang drove the three hours to Mount Gilead with two other immigrant advocates, another of the couple's attorneys, Nazly Mamedova, filed more paperwork with the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati.
"We are petitioning on behalf of the son, the mother and the stepfather," Wang said in the jail lobby. "The public interest is served by allowing the family to remain together to care for the disabled child."
ICE disagrees and is unmoved, and its Detroit office issued a statement to that effect late Wednesday after a three-judge panel with the 6th Circuit granted the government's motion to lift the stay of his removal.
"ICE has carefully reviewed his case and determined he was ineligible for any agency relief, and as such will move forward with his repatriation to his home country," the enforcement agency stated.
Mendez entered the United States legally on the Visa Waiver Program from Spain — he has dual citizenship — but he overstayed the 90-day limit by more than two years, ICE officials said.
He has been in federal detention since late November, following a second citation for driving without a license. He worked as an auto mechanic to support Mendoza and her son and was trained by staff at Cincinnati Children's Hospital to care medically for Ricky. Mendoza had to quit her job in a pizza parlor to stay with Ricky around the clock.
Mendez proposed a few days after Ricky and his mother were injured in the car crash.
"He got down on one knee," she said. "We were so busy with Ricky, we just never got around to getting married."
Their attorneys had to get an authorized copy of Mendez's divorce certificate from Spain before securing the marriage license in Butler County.
Ricky's constant medical needs, even with a nurse in the apartment, are never far away and leave Mendoza with little time for reflection. But Mendoza said her husband loves Ricky like he is his own son, and she believes it is the family's love that ultimately will win out.
"If he stays, I am going to be happy," she said of her new husband. "If he leaves, it's going to hurt. But I know he's going to be home sooner or later."