A California man who married his Mexican fiancée in a ceremony at the San Diego border that went viral last year has been sentenced to prison for drug smuggling.
Brian Houston and Evelia Reyes fell in love through drinking and gambling-fueled binges in Tijuana last year, but their relationship hit an impasse when they realized that neither of them would be able to cross into the other’s country.
They turned to the Door of Hope – a large steel maintenance door in the fence along California’s border with Mexico where families could unite with their loved ones.
Border Angels, a non-profit organization supporting immigrants, organized Houston and Reyes’ Border Patrol-approved wedding in front of the Door of Hope at Border Field State Park on November 18, 2017.
The world – and plenty of Border Patrol agents – watched as the pair tied the knot in a heartwarming ceremony attended by nearly a dozen pre-screen families.
It wasn’t until after that authorities learned why Houston had been unable to cross into Mexico.
Months earlier he had pleaded guilty to charges of smuggling heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine into the US.
This week Houston was sentenced to 41 months in prison, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.
Houston and Evelia Reyes tied the knot last year at the Door of Hope on the US-Mexico border
Houston underwent a background check before the ceremony was approved by Border Patrol, but his felony smuggling arrest from earlier that year did not initially appear on record
Houston said at the time that the couple were marrying in the special ceremony because he could not cross the border – but declined to elaborate.
He failed to mention his February arrest in which agents say they found 43 pounds of heroin, 47 pounds of methamphetamine and 43 pounds of cocaine in his Volkswagen as he crossed through the San Ysidro Port of Entry.
‘The agents are upset, feel like they were taken advantage of, feel like they were duped,’ said Joshua Wilson, vice president and spokesman for the National Border Patrol Council Local 1613 to the San Diego Tribune. ‘Turns out we provided armed security for a cartel wedding.’
Upon learning of Houston’s criminal past, the incensed Border Patrol closed the Door of Hope permanently.
Border Angels pleaded ignorance, saying in a statement: ‘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.’
Border Patrol spokesperson Takae Michael said Houston was ‘screened through an internal vetting process based on biographical information provided to us’ by Morones.
‘A review of the provided information, through our DHS systems, did not indicate criminal activity,’ Michael said.
Border Patrol officials were livid when they learned of Houston’s criminal record after having overseen the ceremony that was watched around the world
The wedding was organized by Border Angels, an immigrant rights advocacy group that started the Door of Hope program to help families reunite across the border
The Border Patrol said that after the wedding, ‘a subsequent review of Houston’s information was completed and confirmed a match for a previous arrest for drug smuggling.’
‘We were shocked to learn this past week of Brian Houston’s very serious criminal situation. That goes against everything Border Angels stands for,’ the organization’s executive director Enrique Morones said.
Soon after Houston’s criminal past was revealed, the Door of Hope was closed permanently.
The heavy steel gate that was opened six times between 2013 and 2017 is now only opened for maintenance.
It sits in a small strip of land where families from both sides can see one another, but not touch, any time they want.
During the wedding that ultimately brought its downfall, Evelia Reyes arrived from the Mexican side wearing a white wedding dress, a long flowing train and a white veil.
She was accompanied by three children from her previous marriage, including a young daughter also dressed in white.
‘For a relationship this wall does not exist, for love there are no borders,’ Reyes gushed.
At the gate a Mexican judge promptly married her to Houston, who approached from the US side dressed in a smart grey suit.
The wife of the mayor of Tijuana and the local Mexican Human Rights commissioner served as witnesses.
‘It’s a statement that love has no borders,’ Houston told reporters during the ceremony. ‘Even though we are divided by a giant fence here, we can still love each other on both sides of the fence.’
Reyes, a native of the southern Mexican state of Guerrero, said she met Houston in Tijuana three years prior.
Houston and Reyes are still together, though it is unknown when they will be able to reunite
At the time of the wedding Houston said the couple were marrying in the special ceremony because he could not cross the border – but declined to elaborate
Court documents indicate that smuggling drugs through the San Ysidro Port of Entry on February 28, 2017, was rock bottom for Houston, who first became addicted to alcohol and gambling in college at San Diego State University.
While attending the school he would take frequent trips to the city where he would later meet his wife.
‘Brian acted on a primitive level of obtaining money so that he could continue to make that one more bet that was going to take him out of his debt and misery,’ defense attorney Russell Babcock wrote in a sentencing memorandum obtained by the Union-Tribune.
In a letter to US District Judge Dana Sabraw, Houston described how gambling got its grip on his psyche, leading him to drop out of San Diego State, leaving behind a promising future in music to go to gambling school.
He later moved to Las Vegas, where the addiction worsened.
‘As the booze were unlimited and free while I was gambling, I always felt it necessary to drink as much as possible to get my money’s worth,’ Houston wrote in the letter.
‘The more alcohol that I would consume, the more outrageous bets I would place which was a recipe for a disaster.’
When he moved back to San Diego, the trips to Tijuana started back up again.
It was there that he met Reyes and her two children, who gave him hope of turning his life around just before he was arrested for drug possession.
Houston pleaded guilty to the charges. While out on bond he underwent intensive treatment for his gambling and alcohol addictions.
He and Reyes are still together, though it is unknown when they will be able to reunite.