China's Juxia "Angel" Qin and Orange County's Thomas Burton met through Qpid Network's "Chnlove" website, sent each other emails, chatted on Skype and visited several times before making a monumental 2010 decision. Believing they'd found everlasting love, they married in a state ceremony in her native Wuhan, an historic city on the Yangtze River. "It is through their help I can find my love and happiness," Qin wrote with the help of a translator in praise of Qpid. "We happily became husband and wife in the end."
Sadly, fate didn't concur. The marriage became a disaster that has prompted five years of contentious litigation landing on the desks of at least eight judges, somehow ensnarling Donald Trump's current White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly and involving allegations of brutal, unwanted sex; petty bickering; domestic violence; and a fraudulent immigration plot certain to terrify anyone planning a quick marriage to a person from the other side of the planet. From Qin's January 2012 arrival at LAX with a K-1 visa, the union took just 55 days to collapse with the arrival of police at the front door.
Marriages between people from the same background can be tough, but this arrangement began with built-in hurdles. Burton didn't speak Mandarin and convinced his would-be partner to sign a prenuptial deal limiting her to just $2,000 in compensation for every year of their marriage if they separated. Qin knew skeletal English. He earned about $10,000 per month at a Fountain Valley engineering firm as a drafting designer. She made $600 per month working in a Chinese bridal shop. Neither understood the other's native customs, attitudes and expectations. Both experienced failed prior marriages, yet wrongly assumed their shared Christian faith would guide them through new matrimonial landmines.
"Unknown to Burton, Qin's sole purpose to marry Burton was to use him to obtain a temporary permanent residence status to enter the United States," Burton's attorney Shun C. Chen of Irvine wrote this year in a court brief. "Immediately after Qin arrived in the U.S., she turned into a totally different person, wanted to control Burton's income and assets, and initiated endless and bitter arguments against him to seek to create a fight."
According to Chen, the woman aimed to qualify for protection under the federal Violence Against Women Act of 1994 (VAWA), which can allow domestic-violence victims expedited access to a "green card" instead of waiting the customary two years, a period when the American spouse has the power to nullify a marriage and block citizenship.
Burton's courthouse story of victimization supports Chen's contention. He says on March 5, 2012, Qin harangued him for not eating dinner with her. "I tried to ignore her, hoping she would give up the verbal assault, but she continued to argue, and I eventually found myself arguing back," Burton told an Orange County Superior Court judge. "Desperately wanting her to stop, I grabbed her coat and tried to move her toward the [bedroom] door. She grabbed the footboard of the bed, and it broke, and we both fell over it, breaking it completely off. . . . I got up and lifted her by the jacket and carried her headfirst out of the bedroom. She may have caused some bruises to herself again when she did this. I laid her on the floor gently and told her not to follow me back into the room. She tried to follow several times, but I placed my hand over her head to prevent her from getting up. Then, I went into the room and locked the door."
Qin told authorities a different version hinging on Burton's alleged Biblical requirement that she submit to his demand for "rough sex with me every day, several times a day." She claims he lost his cool that day, "screaming" and "repeatedly" throwing her to the floor after she'd protested painful intercourse that drove her violently into the headboard. "[He] said I didn't satisfy him sexually [that] morning and made him lose interest," Qin claims. "He started throwing things and yelled all kinds of bad things at me, calling me stupid and other words that I didn't understand."
According to Qin, she suffered bruises on her face, arms, ankles and torso before fleeing for help at Calvary Chapel, where employees contacted law enforcement. Burton ended up in jail, facing charges that were eventually dismissed after he pleaded guilty of disturbing the peace, a fact he has cited as proof their last fight was overblown.
"[Qin] reacted to this event as a woman in China would need to react," the then-51-year-old man explained in court two weeks after his arrest. "She would not get help from anyone unless the matter sounded very serious. She has made many false statements in regards to my relations with her. . . . [We] are both Christians that struggle with misunderstandings between language and cultures. I love my wife and would never try to harm her. I want to forgive her, and I hope that she will forgive me."
That sentiment evaporated after he decided Qin, 37, played him to win the "lottery," U.S. citizenship. In divorce proceedings, the two hurled insults, and he fought paying spousal support of $800 for eight months plus her $15,000 in legal costs. Nonetheless, a superior court judge determined sufficient evidence proved a marriage that justified the payments. In April 2016, the California Court of Appeal agreed, observing the couple's bond started strong and ended when they learned they weren't compatible.
"Although the marriage did not last long, emails between the parties show Qin initially did not want a divorce but wanted counseling to address their problems," appellate justices ruled. "Burton wrote the marriage would be fine if only she would stop nagging, complaining and provoking his anger. He wished she would be more obedient and quiet. . . . Qin adequately demonstrated a dire need for financial assistance."
Burton refuses to move on despite his loss. In September 2016, he used the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to seek Qin-related records possessed by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which encompasses U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. He wrote, "I believe Juxia Qin has made false statements and accusations about me regarding the status of our relationship and marriage."
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DHS bureaucrats refused to comply, claiming he needed her consent to see any documents. Inside Orange County's Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse, Burton filed an April lawsuit against then-DHS secretary Kelly. The move seems more of a complaint that VAWA gave Qin "a free hand to submit false information as a conceived scheme to obtain immigration benefits" than a records request. Officials responded in late July by insisting, "No records have been improperly withheld."
Chen declined to address the Weekly's request to explain the motivation for the FOIA lawsuit, but said he thinks the California Court of Appeal issued an erroneous ruling.
The dispute is now in the hands of U.S. District Court Judge Andrew J. Guilford.