Romance marries reality at Borough Hall

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As they soon...

By Jennifer Warren

Nausheen Khan and Syed Ijlal, a betrothed couple originally from Lahore, Pakistan, met last week for the first time. Following five days of courtship the two sat out a lengthy vigil at Borough Hall Monday for their marriage license.

As they soon realized, the wait rivaled their romance.

“We should have gone to Connecticut instead of waiting here. It’s really irritating,” Khan said, sitting beneath Borough Hall’s flowering cherry blossoms, wearing a flowing indigo salwar khameez and ornate, golden earrings with a fiancé and father in tow.

Khan, 23, and Ijlal, 26, were joined by hundreds of others who have found themselves in snail-like lines at the municipal building in Kew Gardens in recent weeks as immigrant couples rush to make an April 30 amnesty deadline.

A new immigration law called 245(i) provides a window from Dec. 21 to April 30, allowing U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents to sponsor spouses and family members if that person was in the United States on Dec. 21, the day the law was signed into effect by President Clinton.

Of the thousands who have sought marriage licenses in past months, not all have succeeded on the first try. Many have been forced to return for a second or third day of waiting when demand exceeds the office’s 9-to-5 hours.

Immigrant advocates and politicians, including U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) have been lobbying Congress for a six-month and one-year extension to the law, but as of yet neither bill has made it to the floor.

For some people, the law has spurred a windfall. Several brides at Borough Hall told tales of being offered as much as $10,000 for their hand in marriage. But in each case the women rejected the dowry in favor of romance — storybook style, they said.

For Khan and Ijlal, it was their parents who had sifted through myriad potential mates and decided that the two were well suited for one anther. Khan’s parents rejected many a suitor, she said, before they took to Ijlal.

“Oh lots, five or six. But I never met them,” Khan said. “They never made it that far.”

For Denise Green of Hollis, and her fiancé, Ghana-born Duke Awuku, the courtship took a little longer. The two met when Green’s friends came to her home for dinner more than a year ago and told her they were bringing a friend.

“It just clicked,” Awuku said. But Green told a different version. “No,” she said, “I thought he was ugly and I told him, ‘Don’t call my house,’” she said, just moments after kissing her groom-to-be.

Despite the rejection Awuku persisted. He followed her on dates with other men, photographed her outings, criticized her choice of companions and continued to call her.

“He was so persistent. Then one day I found out he knew how to cook!” she said. After accepting a dinner invitation and gorging herself on his culinary delicacies — fufu, a West African dumpling made from cassavas and spinach stew — she was sold.

“I just got hooked to hot food, and hooked to him too,” she said.

The couple were not marrying because of the amnesty law, Green said, but the law did accelerate their plans to enable him to qualify for his green card. For years Green, 35, dreamed of a large, elaborate wedding.

And though that wedding would happen next fall, it was with some sadness that they were rushing through the ceremony now, she said.

On the line, the protracted wait had worn away at many prenuptial jitters, but there were still some butterflies fluttering.

Sitting on the window sill of an ante room dressed a white lace gown, Wellmar Sattar, 56, originally from Guyana, was preparing to wed for the second time. Sattar became widowed from her first husband in 1995.

Her niece, Bibi Ali of Richmond Hill, said her aunt and suitor had to marry for the sake of tradition and to ease the minds of family members.

“Everyone wanted to see her happy,” Bibi said.

Reach reporter Jennifer Warren by e-mail at or call 229-0300, Ext. 155.

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