Editor's note • This is the second in a series of occasional excerpts from "Mia Love: The Rise, Stumble and Resurgence of the Next GOP Star" by Tribune reporters Matt Canham, Robert Gehrke and Thomas Burr.
Maxime Bourdeau, the father of U.S. Rep.-elect Mia Love, celebrated the 40th anniversary of his immigration from Haiti in 2014. He arrived with little money but a wealth of optimism and resolve. His wife, Marie, joined him months later, and relatives helped ease their transition.
The Bourdeaus haven't been clear about the details of their visas; the comments they've made have been contradictory. But they agree that Mia's birth helped them remain in this country and, eventually, gain citizenship.
"My parents have always told me I was a miracle and our family's ticket to America," Love said.
Maxime Bourdeau put it this way: "I always tell Mia, 'You are my gift because you are born here.' â€¦ Mia is a citizen born in this country and at that time the country was favorable for children."
It appears they are referring to a lenient immigration law that was set to expire on Jan. 1, 1976, just 25 days after Love was born. It benefited immigrants from within the Western Hemisphere who had a child in the United States. Her family would have been allowed to register her birth with the State Department and get preferential treatment in getting green cards, or permanent resident status, for the entire family, according to Margaret Stock, a Harvard-educated immigration attorney now living in Alaska.
Since at least 1924, the law has generally barred minor children from petitioning for permanent status for their parents.
"This was a very unique, unusual provision of the law that only existed briefly," Stock said.
Love has said her parents entered the country with tourist visas. If true, there's a flaw in her oft-repeated narrative that her family never ran afoul of U.S. immigration law. Tourist visas are short-term, and recipients are not allowed to work. Her parents had been in the country for two years by the time Love was born, and they had jobs.
Bourdeau says he came here on a "residence visa" with the help of his family and that it allowed him to work legally. He recalls only that he signed the papers immigration agents asked him to sign and he provided the information they wanted. He never really understood the system or how it worked.
The family declined when asked to petition the federal government for the release of Bourdeau's immigration file.
Opponents have used the ambiguity to accuse Mia of being "an anchor baby," a derisive and debasing term. Love dismisses talk of her parents' legal status as irrelevant: The United States government granted them citizenship, the trump card to end the conversation.
Bourdeau is 70 years old now, although he looks to be in his 50s. Only his cloudy, watery eyes betray his years. He's gregarious and proud, a storyteller who peppers his sentences with "you know what I mean" when he's searching for an elusive word in English, his third language.
A couple of years ago, he retired from a lifetime of maintenance jobs that allowed him to emerge out of poverty into a comfortable middle-class life. He still likes to tinker.
When inviting a reporter into his Stratford, Conn., home two months before the midterm election, he apologized and made room to sit at the kitchen table by pushing aside a dismantled water dispenser from his refrigerator that he was fixing, and an old worn Freemason handbook.
His white house sits on a corner lot in a middle-class neighborhood about halfway between Hartford, the state capital, and New York City. The walls hold art evoking his home country, such as one painting showing a woman balancing a basket on her head, along with numerous family photos, mostly of his three adult children.
As soon as his kids were old enough to listen, he told them they had to go to college and make a better, easier life than their parents had.
Those children graduated from college long ago. They have families and careers. They appear happy. What more could a father ask?
Bourdeau says he has lived his dream — and recently he has developed a new one.
He envisions his daughter slowly gaining influence within Congress, reaching a position that allows her to nudge and nurture Haiti toward a future with less poverty and more stability. For a man who smiles easily and often, this dream unfolds on his face in the biggest of grins.
"If, at some time in the future, Mia could make her country become my country, to bring a change in Haiti so people could have a better life, that would be noble and the name of the family would go far," he says.
He sees her collaborating with Haitian President Michel Martelly, who is nicknamed Sweet Micky from his days as a musician. Bourdeau considers Martelly an honorable man, a politician who is trying to help the people.
"I want Mia to meet him, to talk to him, help him to bring the country where he want to bring it," he said. "It's only America that give me that child. She is my hope. To see if she is in power, what she can do for Haiti."
No country in the Western Hemisphere is poorer than Haiti. Almost 60 percent of its people live on less than $2 a day, and this widespread poverty has persisted for decades. A devastating earthquake in 2010 reduced many of the cinderblock homes to rubble and set back any hope for a modern-day revival.
Most of its population was enslaved or killed following Christopher Columbus' "discovery" of the island of Hispaniola in 1492 and the subsequent split of the territory with France. In 1804, the slaves revolted and Haiti became the world's first black republic.
While free, the nation never found a political equilibrium. Skin color still marked an ingrained class system. Mulattos were often well-off and held key positions in business, politics and the military, while the black masses were mostly poor and repressed.
In 1957, a young man named FranÃ§ois Duvalier emerged to lead a black movement, rallying black nationalists and voodoo practitioners, that would give him total control of Haiti.
Trained as a physician — including a stint in the United States — and nicknamed "Papa Doc," Duvalier quickly became one of the world's most reviled dictators, setting a course that would drive hundreds of thousands to flee Haiti.
Bourdeau and his family would be among them.
When he was 20, Bourdeau's family sent him from the family's plantation in JÃ©rÃ©mie to Port-au-Prince to avoid arrest, or worse, at the hands of Papa Doc's personal security force, the Tonton Macoutes. The name derived from an old Haitian tale about a bogeyman who hunts down bad children and kidnaps them in a bag.
While Bourdeau felt safe in the capital for the most part, one night leaving a movie theater, a Tonton Macoute gave chase to him down a dark alley. Bourdeau went left at a fork and, a few seconds later, his pursuer went right. He crawled into a drainage pipe and hid for the next few hours, standing in filthy, stinking water with rats at his feet.
"Maybe God want me to go there," he said.
• A Catholic, Bourdeau wears a gold cross around his neck and speaks often about following the path that the Lord set out for him. Marie Lourdes Dorelien, 19, was working as a receptionist in a Catholic school when Bourdeau became smitten. The two wed about a year later.
Port-au-Prince suffered from rampant unemployment and Bourdeau was never able to find steady work. The couple lived on money from his upper-middle-class family and Marie's wages.
Some of his aunts and uncles, and his older sister Claude Marie, had previously emigrated to the United States, as had some of Marie Bourdeau's extended family. These relatives, along with his parents, helped him get a visa. He left immediately, in August 1974, even though it meant leaving behind his wife, his son Jean, and new daughter Cynthia, who was just a couple of days old.
He found work at a New Jersey plant making metal mirror frames and, living with his family in Brooklyn, started to save his money.
Within a year, Marie Bourdeau joined him. But it would be five years before they were reunited with their two children, who they left in the care of Marie's uncle, Father Gabriel Albert Dorelien.
On Dec. 6, 1975, the Bourdeaus had their third child and named her Ludmya. They called her Mia for short. When Jean and Cynthia arrived, at ages 7 and 5, they were surprised that their parents were less affluent in the United States than Father Dorelien was in Haiti. There was no big house or nannies. Their parents worked long hours.