Cannon, left, and RafiQ Salleh-Flowers, pictured here in Copenhagen, had no issues returning home after a vacation earlier this month to Northern Europe, unlike during earlier trips when Homeland Security officials refused to allow RafiQ to board the plane home.
(Photo courtesy Cannon Salleh-Flowers).

After 22 years together, Dallas couple finally gets the U.S. government’s seal of approval for their relationship

DAVID TAFFET | Senior Staff Writer
[email protected]

Cannon and RafiQ Salleh-Flowers have been together more than 22 years. For the past four-and-a-half years, they’ve been legally married. This week, the couple finally received confirmation from the U.S. government that their relationship is being recognized as valid.

“It’s a huge relief,” Cannon said on Wednesday, Aug. 8, “but we’re still just a bit gun-shy.”

He said they both keep re-reading the letter to reassure themselves that it’s permanent, adding “We’ve waited for so long.”

RafiQ’s permanent green card should arrive within the next week or so.

“Now we can think of home ownership,” Cannon said. But he said he is still worried about something Donald Trump said earlier this week:

“He’s going to limit naturalization for anyone who’s used any sort of government benefit, and he specifically mentioned Obamacare.”

He explained that last year the couple relied on health insurance through the Affordable Care Act, because RafiQ was eligible for that coverage with a provisional green card. So once the permanent green card arrives, they’re going to move quickly to file paperwork for naturalization.

The couple met in Singapore when Cannon managed Texas Instruments’ Singapore division. When he returned to the U.S., RafiQ accompanied him on a student visa. Over the years, RafiQ renewed his student visa several times before obtaining an entrepreneurial visa after investing in and operating a fast-food business near the Galleria.

Finally, in 2015, after the Windsor decision invalidated parts of the Defense of Marriage Act, the couple was able to legally marry. And the federal government was obliged to recognize the marriage.

Once they were married, RafiQ was able to apply for his green card, which would give him permanent residency and a path to citizenship. To support their claim of a “good faith marriage,” the men submitted a stack of documents — everything from joint tax returns and back accounts to wills, leases, loans and mortgages.

Despite their 22 years together and plenty of supporting documents, they received a letter in June claiming they had “not established that the marriage upon which you were granted conditional status was entered into in good faith.”

Homeland Security claimed the stack of documents the couple provided didn’t establish “shared assets, liabilities, finances and/or property.” The first item on the list of things the U.S. government wanted to see to determine the validity of the marriage was “children as a result of your marriage.”

While Cannon has two children from a previous marriage, he has been unable to get RafiQ pregnant.

U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson’s Dallas office stepped in to help clear up the question of whether the couple was together in good faith for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, a division of the Department of Homeland Security. A representative of Johnson’s office said it seemed the Trump administration was targeting all minorities applying for permanent residency status — whether on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, race or religion.

Her office intervened on behalf of Cannon and RafiQ two other times when the U.S. State Department had approved visas for RafiQ. Visas must be picked up in the applicant’s home country, so Cannon and RafiQ traveled to Singapore to get the document. But at the airport, the Department of Homeland Security refused to allow RafiQ on the plane.

The first time, he was told his name appeared on the No-Fly List.

Cannon returned to the U.S. alone and researched the name. It took him about 15 minutes to learn that a RafiQ Salleh, who is of a different nationality and a different race, was already imprisoned in Guantanamo. Despite that, it was several months before RafiQ was allowed to use his visa and re-enter the U.S.

Johnson intervened a second time after RafiQ was detained in Singapore again after picking up a renewal to his entrepreneurial visa. Prevented from re-entering the U.S. for another three months, he was forced to run his new Dallas business long distance by phone in the middle of the night (Singapore is 13 hours ahead of Texas).

Once they were legally married, RafiQ took his husband’s last name. That seems to have fixed his No-Fly List problem. Last month the couple traveled to northern Europe and returned to the U.S. without any questions raised about RafiQ’s right to re-enter the country.