Oregon’s first lady admits to secret past: A green-card marriage to Ethiopian teen

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A few years ago, Oregon’s first lady, Cylvia Hayes, shared her rags-to-riches journey — from her dilapidated childhood home in Washington state, to a tent on government land in Oregon, to the governor’s mansion, where she now lives with Gov. John Kitzhaber (D).

But she never mentioned the Ethiopian immigrant she married 17 years ago and divorced in 2002. When stories seeped out this week that she helped him obtain U.S. residency in exchange for $5,000, she said she needed the cash.
“It was a marriage of convenience,” she said in a statement. “He needed help, and I needed financial support.”
Hayes, 47, wiped away tears during a news conference Thursday, explaining that when she married the 18-year-old immigrant in 1997, she was “associating with the wrong people” and attempting to pay for classes at Evergreen State College near Seattle. She said she used the money to buy a laptop and cover school expenses. She was so “ashamed and embarrassed” of the illegal union she never even told Kitzhaber, her fiance — until the Willamette Week peeked into her past earlier this week.
Hayes was twice divorced and not yet 30 when she married an Ethiopian teenager identified as Abraham B. Abraham, who she met through a mutual acquaintance in Washington state. He was allegedly trying to stay in America to earn a college education.
Hayes said the two saw each other only a handful of times and never lived together.
“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,” she said.
Abraham eventually earned a mathematics degree from Greensboro College in North Carolina. He now lives in the Washington, D.C., area, according to public records. He declined to respond to calls and texts from the Willamette Week, and he refused to speak to a reporter who went to his home.
Although marriage fraud is a federal felony, there’s a five-year statute of limitations, meaning Hayes could not be charged as of 2002. However, there are no limitations on civil penalties. The Oregonian reported that the government has the power to revoke the man’s legal status. Hayes said she has hired an attorney in case there are legal consequences.
Shortly after Hayes got married, she loaded her two dogs in an old Toyota and moved to Oregon. She told the Oregonian in 2011 she “literally set up a tent on [Bureau of Land Management] land” in the summer while writing her thesis.
She said Thursday that once she got established in Oregon, her past “felt very, very distant and far removed” from her new life.
“I became an active and engaged civic volunteer, community member and I became active politically,” she said. She started a clean economy consulting firm called 3EStrategies. She unsuccessfully ran for Oregon’s House of Representatives in 2004. That’s when she met Kitzhaber.
Years later, Hayes became one of the first live-in partners of an Oregon governor. Kitzhaber calls her the state’s first lady.
Kitzhaber and Hayes confirmed their engagement in August.
The governor’s office did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment late Thursday night.
The story came to light Wednesday when the Willamette Week wrote a story about her private consulting work. In the article, the paper reported that she had been married and divorced three times — only two had been previously publicized.
At Thursday’s news conference, Hayes spoke alone, saying she cannot even look at Kitzhaber without crying. She said she is most upset by how the governor found out about her illegal marriage.
Source: Washington Post

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