Deportation is every binational couple's nightmare scenario. Stories like the one depicted in this excellent article serve to remind us of the reality of deportation. The couple pictured here, Richard and Jair, waged a courageous and exhausting fight to stay together. Their fight would have been unnecessary if lesbian and gay couples were afforded equal rights under our immigration laws. We must fight for legislative action and for an immediate halt to deportations.
On December 17, as the U.S. Senate voted to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Jair Izquierdo was enduring his 58th day in an Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facility. That morning, he spoke by phone to Richard, his partner of five years. The couple was hopeful that last minute efforts by Senator Robert Menendez would at least delay the deportation, but it was too late. Within hours, Jair was abruptly taken to a plane and flown back to his native Peru, the country he had fled in 2001. An outstanding removal order from 2009 was enforced against Jair and the couple was powerless to stop it. The deportation will mean at least a ten-year bar on returning to the United States.
In 2008, Richard and Jair celebrated their relationship by entering a "civil union" under the laws of New Jersey. Despite this, U.S. immigration law did not provide an avenue for Richard to sponsor Jair for legal status. Like so many binational couples they reached a dead end after pursuing every route to legalize Jair's status over the years. They lived with the constant threat that one day Immigration and Customs Enforcement would come for Jair and enforce that removal order and that day came on October 20. As the article reports, the couple mounted heroic efforts but they were not able to slow down the deportation process. The consequences for them are devastating.
This heartbreaking story, transpiring as it did just before Christmas and on the very day we achieved a milestone victory for equality, illustrates why we desperately need leadership on this issue. Most urgently, the executive branch of our government must put in place a policy that halts the deportations of spouses and partners of gay and lesbian U.S. citizens until a change in the law brings same-sex binational couples into the family-based immigration system.
There are no quick fixes for binational couples, as any veteran of the long struggle for immigration equality can attest. While work continues to ensure that family unification—the bedrock policy of our immigration law—extends to all Americans, Department Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano must stop the deportations.
Another gay couple in New Jersey who are fighting deportation, Josh Vandiver and Henry Velandia, have taken a lead in this effort. They have set up a petition ("Save Our Marriage, Stop the Deportation of Henry Velandia") calling on Secretary Janet Napolitano to exercise prosecutorial discretion for gay and lesbian binational couples. Please sign this petition and share it with others.