Caught in immigration nightmare, newlyweds ripped apart after 6 days of marriage
(KUTV) Joshua Hedges will never forget the time he first saw his future wife.
"I just thought she was gorgeous,” he said. “She's cute and she's foreign and she's Russian."
That was March 2013 at the Provo Missionary Training Center. Joshua was preparing for a mission to Russia. Elizaveta -- also known as Liza -- was visiting some friends who taught there.
For two years the two stayed in touch. They reunited in April when Liza came to the U.S. for a conference. Joshua proposed, and the couple became engaged
"I don't know why she said yes," Joshua said with a smile.
They were married July 3 in the LDS Salt Lake Temple. The next day they left for their honeymoon -- a four-day Mexican cruise.
Last Thursday, the newlyweds disembarked and prepared for the drive home to Ely, Nevada. But first, the border agent had a question.
"He asked us why we were standing together, and I said, well, we had just gotten married," said Joshua. "He said, well, you've filed to change her status haven't you?"
Joshua had not. He said he had called the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services and was told that wasn't necessary.
"I tried to do what I knew was right," he said.
But the border guards determined Liza's tourist visa was invalid and she was in the country illegally. After hours of interrogation, the 18-year-old bride was sent back to Russia.
"It was hard to see my wife go through that," Joshua said during an interview with 2News in Nevada.
Sharon Preston, a Salt Lake immigration attorney, has seen this before.
"A lot of people are very innocent in their intent," Preston said.
The problem arose when the couple left the country. With just a tourist visa under her maiden name, Liza couldn't come back.
"It's looking very much like this couple's going to be separated for about a year now, all because of essentially a bureaucratic rule that they didn't understand," said Preston.
"I just want to see her," said Joshua who remains in Nevada. His wife is living with her family in Russia. The couple tries to stay in touch through Skype and texting.
In Russian –- the language the two speak together –- Joshua has a message for his new bride -- but in Russian.
It means, "I love you and miss you very much."
"I just want my wife," said Joshua.
The Hedges family has a Facebook page called Bring Liza Home.
They also have started a GoFundMe account.