Oregon governor’s fiancee admits to illegal marriage for money to immigrant seeking U.S. residency

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Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber's fiancee, Cylvia Hayes, discloses an illegal marriage that the governor did not know about until this week. (Photo: KPTV/Portland)

Cylvia Hayes and Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber. (Photo: KPTV/Portland)

Cylvia Hayes and Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber. (Photo: KPTV/Portland)

PORTLAND (KPTV) — Gov. John Kitzhaber’s fiancee disclosed Thursday that she had wed an Ethiopian immigrant in Washington state for money so he could retain residency in the United States — an illegal act the governor did not learn about until this week, KPTV/Portland reported.

Cylvia Hayes said at a news conference that she married 18-year-old Abraham Abraham in 1997 during a “difficult and unstable period in my life.” She said she was ashamed and embarrassed by the marriage, and for that reason, she never disclosed it to Kitzhaber.

“This is the most painful part for me,” she said. “John Kitzhaber deserved to know the history of the person he was forming a relationship with. The fact that I did not disclose this to him meant that he has learned about this in the most public and unpleasant way.”

She said she made the “serious mistake” 17 years ago when she accepted $5,000 to enter into the sham marriage.

Speaking of the immigrant she married, she said, “We were both living in Washington. I was attending Evergreen State College, and we were introduced by mutual acquaintances…

“I want to be clear today – I was associating with the wrong people. I was struggling to put myself through college and was offered money in exchange for marrying a young person who had a chance to get a college degree himself if he were able to remain in the United States.

“We met only a handful of times. We never lived together. I have not had any contact with him since the divorce finalized in 2002.”

Hayes’ admission comes after the Willamette Week discovered she had been married and divorced three times – not two – and that the previously undisclosed third marriage was to Abraham. She told Willamette Week that Kitzhaber did not know about the third marriage until Tuesday afternoon.

The marriage with Abraham took place on July 19, 1997, in Washington when Hayes was 29 years old, according to the Washington State Department of Health certificate of marriage. Records obtained by FOX 12/Portland show Hayes and Abraham filed for divorce in King County in October 2001.

Immigrants can obtain citizenship in the U.S. through marriage, but the U.S. government doesn’t recognize relationships as marriages if the purpose is to evade U.S. immigration laws.

Kitzhaber, who began an unprecedented third term as Oregon’s governor in 2011, is up for re-election in November and running against Republican candidate Dennis Richardson.

Below is Cylvia Hayes’ full statement:

Seventeen years ago I made a serious mistake by committing an illegal act when I married a person so that he could retain residency in the United States. It was a marriage of convenience. He needed help and I needed financial support.

We were both living in Washington. I was attending Evergreen State College, and we were introduced by mutual acquaintances. This was a difficult and unstable period in my life. I want to be clear today – I was associating with the wrong people. I was struggling to put myself through college and was offered money in exchange for marrying a young person who had a chance to get a college degree himself if he were able to remain in the United States.

We met only a handful of times. We never lived together. I have not had any contact with him since the divorce finalized in 2002.

It was wrong then and it is wrong now and I am here today to accept the consequences, some of which will be life changing. And I cannot predict what direction this will go.

In the few years after this bad decision I completed my degree, got my feet underneath me and established my home and career in Oregon. I became an active and engaged civic volunteer, community member and I became active politically.

My decision to marry illegally felt very, very distant and far removed from the life I was building. I was ashamed and embarrassed. Therefore I did not share this information even with John once we met and started dating.

This is the most painful part for me. John Kitzhaber deserved to know the history of the person he was forming a relationship with. The fact that I did not disclose this to him meant that he has learned about this in the most public and unpleasant way. This is my greatest sorrow in this difficult situation.

I apologize deeply for my actions and omissions, first and foremost to John, the person I love and respect above all others. I also apologize to my friends, family and colleagues who have trusted and supported me. And to Oregonians, I deeply regret not being right up front about the fact that I had made a serious mistake. I owe you all an apology.

The work that I do on behalf of our environment and trying to make people’s lives better is incredibly important to me — it’s the focal point of my life. I will continue to do my best in that arena going forward.

But for the time being, there are more important issues. I need to take some personal time to reflect and address this difficult situation and to focus on my relationship with John.

 

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10 comments

  • Slam1263 (@IKnowBO)

    Gee, been together for over a decade, and the old “You should probably know that I committed a felony by marrying a Criminal Alien for money, Governor Boyfriend”, never came up.
    You definitely want to ask her about that reoccurring “cold sore”.

  • Diver206

    Who cares?! We all make mistakes, especially when we are younger, and this particular one is not that big of a deal. It occurred almost 20 years ago and she has obviously recognized that it was not one of her better decisions and grown into a betteer person who is trying to make a difference. She needed money for college and found it in a way that allowed someone else to have the shot at many of the opportunities so many here take for granted. Why is it that people are so quick to point fingers at things that don’t define the person they’re pointing at and don’t affect their lives at all. If she is doing good things today and working to make a positive difference, shouldn’t that be what we see her for? Life isn’t black and white. More people need to embrace the grey.

  • Asok Smith

    Uh, what she did is illegal under federal law, she admitted it on camera, she should be prosecuted. Yeah, right. We all know that Democrat piggies are more equal than the rest of the piggies.

    “It’s not considered a criminal act when we do it.” -Democrats

    • ted

      Repubs vs Demos?… There are basically two kinds of people in this world,.. those that are stupid enough to believe that there are only two kinds of people in this world,. and the rest of us…

  • true_archer

    It was 17 years ago, should she be prosecuted now? I don’t think so, but that’s not a legal response but my opinion. I find this all very sexist, I wish I had a dollar for every time a man in politics did a stupid illegal or immoral thing; the only ones we see are the ones caught with their photos of their wiggies on someone’s cell phone! She should not be up there crying her eyes out begging for forgiveness like she just dropped suitcase bomb somewhere.

  • bbbb

    They give you a 2-year conditional green card when you first get married. After that 2 years you have to convince the USCIS that the marriage is real WITH evidence. If they “met only a handful of times.” how did he get the 10 year card. Also, you can become a citizen after 3 years. I presume that is why the divorce occurred 4 years after the marriage. Again you need evidence. Did she help?

    I went through this process as a legal immigrant. It is really annoying to read about fraud. Combatting fraud is the reason why the green card process costs much and takes so much time for the honest people. I hope they prosecute her and him.