Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Jesse & Max Celebrate Their Tenth Anniversary

This month we proudly celebrate our tenth anniversary.

It's been an amazing decade, for which we thank all of our friends and family who have nourished our relationship through the years. That nourishment was essential, given the obstacles imposed by the United States government. We never had the luxury to ease into our relationship as we were forced to face stark realities very early on.

It’s ironic that on the one hand we feel stronger as a committed couple (and we love each other more than ever) but on the other hand the US government does not recognize our commitment. This leaves us in an unrecognizable “limbo” the all-too-familiar world of gay  and lesbian binational couples. To survive as a couple in this limbo is not an easy task.

Luckily, we currently live in London where we are recognized as a couple and do not face the same discrimination.  Over the last few weeks we have found ourselves looking back on all these years thinking about our love, commitment & perseverance. The issue of not being able to return to the United States is often the most difficult one.

On the day of our anniversary, we gave each other a long hug and acknowledged how far we have travelled (both literally and figuratively) and knowing there’s so much more to come … for which we are prepared.

Thank you to everyone for your continued support for this fight for justice.

Jesse & Max

We are proud to stand up and demand the dignity, respect and equality that is rightfully ours. This is the receipt for our pending FiancĂ© Visa Petition. We look at it as a historically significant document because it embodies our hope that the U.S. government will soon end the discrimination against same-sex binational couples. This petition is a tool with which we assert full equality.  We call on the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services to approve this petition and cease enforcing the inhumane and unconstitutional Defense of Marriage Act.

Learn more about Jesse & Max's journey through three countries in ten years as they continue to fight to return to the United States. Find out how you can become more involved by contacting us here.

Monday, January 24, 2011

A Sister's Plea: Let Jesse & Max Come Back

Perhaps we do not write enough about the love between siblings, but few relationships can be as precious since siblings are there from the beginning of time. Siblings mark a lifetime together that transcends the parental bond in a unique way. Tear away siblings from each other and gone are the shared memories of childhood. There is just no other way to say it: the bond that my brother and I share runs deep, as in core-of-the-earth deep. Today I am frustrated, angry, sad and motivated by discriminatory laws that have taken my brother from me and flung him across the world. So absurd is the situation that I often wonder to myself: how many American families wake up each day hoping and praying that the U.S. government will end the exile of their loved ones? What can I do to hasten the end of this diaspora?

I was born on a freezing winter afternoon in February, a day that also happened to be my brother Jesse's seventh birthday. Our birthday would be only the first of many things we would share in lifelong friendship. Jesse and I enjoy a unique closeness, a true affection for each other that is hard to describe in words. It's like Jesse is my 7-year twin with whom I share vital organs, bone marrow, even my soul. He is many things to me: yes, an older brother, but, because I admire him and respect him so much, he is also sometimes like a father to me. But most importantly, he is my best friend.

Jesse paid special attention to me as a child. He was always willing to engage, play, interact, and in this way he created a world for us. Together we put on magic shows and went on strike with picket signs to demand an increase in our allowance. Jesse eagerly shared his favorite music and his thoughts about his personal philosophy. As we grew up, our age difference began to dissolve and our friendship deepened. We have traveled all over the world together and some of the most significant experiences I have ever had were shared with Jesse.

In the year 2001 my brother met Maxi, the love of his life and his soul mate. Quickly, Maxi became an important member of our family. For me he became another brother and a dear friend. On the day I write this, Jesse and Maxi celebrate 10 years of love, commitment, adventure, and partnership.
The winter of 2001 I was a college freshman and Jesse was living and working in New York. I remember as though it were yesterday, the afternoon I received the phone call from him in my dorm room. The phone was in the hallway of my suite, I picked it up and it was an elated Jesse on the other line. His voice was filled with energy and excitement as he explained to me that he had met Maxi. “He is the one!” he exclaimed. “I am in love!” He began to pour out all of his raw emotions to me on the phone and I knew automatically that he had met his love, just like that, overnight. And that was the beginning of a long and incredible journey that would not only enrich the life of my brother but of our entire family.

I watched as Jesse and Maxi coped with the long distance and the separation. Jesse visited Maxi in Argentina as much as possible. As quickly as possible, Maxi found a job in New York and returned on a work visa. They thrived together. After 5 years, with Maxi's visa running out and no way to stay together in the U.S., they were forced to seek shelter across the ocean. This was devastating for our family. We could not believe our own Jesse and Max would be banished from the U.S. and torn from our close family to a remote country.

Having Jesse and Maxi living in NY was something that I naturally took for granted during those 5 years. It wasn’t until they lived so far away, with no sign of coming back home, that I began to realize what it meant. In the beginning I tried to be optimistic, taking their lead, I tried to look at it as an adventure, but in my heart I had an aching feeling: adventures should be born from choice. They were not free to choose this adventure, instead this new chapter was imposed upon them. This great country of ours which offers so much falls extremely short when it comes to protecting its lesbian and gay citizens. This is never more obvious than for binational couples.

I miss the 5 years we had together in NY with a profound intensity. Sharing a love for live music, Jesse and I spent many weekends together going to concerts, discovering New York and going to social events and parties. We celebrated New Year's Eve together religiously, and of course, we were always together on our birthday. This year again, we will be apart in February and no email or phone call can make up for that loss. Almost three years have passed since I have had Jesse and Max in my life in an everyday way. For a time I moved to Budapest and we re-connected, but of course that could only be a temporary salve. They eventually found a new home in London, where the British government recognized their relationship.

As many families learn, the plight of same-sex binational couples is devastating on not only the couple but all those who love and care for them. We have been robbed of the privilege to experiencing each other in the regular way. I cannot hop on a bus or train and see my brother. I cannot call him on a whim, due to the time difference. I go out in the city, wander and explore, see art, and feel the deep absence of my brother and comrade. Daily events are lost to each other, they cannot longer be shared in real time, experiences start to slip through the cracks, and life inevitably moves on. When we do get to meet on holidays, we are brought together for a joyous week or two but it is just not the same. Sad to say, but those reunions contain a hollowness. There is a gentle scramble which reflects the dire need to make up for time lost. Our lifetime of shared experiences is fractured year after year because of discrimination built into the laws of this country. There can be no reason for our own country to be tearing apart our family.

I want my brother to have the choice to come home with Maxi. These laws are inhumane. I am thankful every day that Jesse and Maxi have found a way to be together when so many binational gay couples have been torn apart for good. But the price has not been small. In order for Jesse and Maxi to stay together they are banished into exile. They are not free to come home and be with their family. Jesse should be able to sponsor Maxi for a visa so that they can come back to the U.S. and marry and so that Maxi can be given a green card based on their marriage. There is only one reason that is not happening right now: the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). We must end discrimination by the federal government against gay and lesbian couples.

Until DOMA is repealed, my family will continue to suffer. My parents save their hard earned dollars to make the expensive journey to Europe once a year to see Jesse and Maxi, while we otherwise satisfy ourselves on their ability to make infrequent visits here. This injustice must end. I join other family members of binational couples who fight against this discrimination. I encourage others reading this to help join us in our effort to bring our loved ones home.

See also: Forced Into Exile, Jesse & Max Fight To Return: File Fiancé Visa Petition and Challenge DOMA, November 15, 2010
Another Thanksgiving Without Jesse & Max A Mother Speaks Out Against DOMA, November 21, 2010.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Josh & Henry Reach 10,000 Supporters As They Continue The Fight To Save Their Marriage

Learn more about Josh & Henry's struggle to stay together in this country by visiting their Facebook page. Help them by signing this petition calling on DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano to halt the deportations of spouses of gay and lesbian Americans.

Monday, January 3, 2011

DEPORTED: Forced into Exile, Tom & Emilio Fight to Return But DOMA Stands in Their Way

Tom and Emilio met in 2001 in New York City. A year earlier, like so many other gay men from his country, Emilio had left Venezuela in search of a better life in the U.S.  As Tom and Emilio fell in love and set out to plan a future together as a couple, they abruptly ran into the cold, hard brick wall reality of anti-gay discrimination in U.S. immigration law. For nine long years they have been deprived of a basic right that most families take for granted. Tom and Emilio have been denied the right to live together in this country. They have been denied the opportunity to build a life together with the support of Tom's supportive and loving extended family in New Jersey. Although Tom is an American citizen, he and his husband, Emilio, have been forced to start a new life in Canada far from Tom's family in New Jersey.  And because of Emilio was deprived of the usual path to lawful status, sponsorship by his American spouse, he was deported from the United States. That deportation means that Tom and Emilio cannot return for at least 10 years.

Tom writes:

On our first date at the VIP Diner in Jersey City, Emilio explained at some length the process of employment-based sponsorship. He explained to me that he was trying to obtain permanent resident status (a "green card").  The complexities of the laws were new to me. As an American I had no idea how difficult immigration was.  As Emilio described the challenges he faced because of American immigration laws I could not have possibly imagined that I would be embarking on the bitter realization of my own second-class citizenship. In the not too distant future, my country's government would spend a great deal of time, money and energy trying to rip my family apart.

After Emilio lost his work sponsorship we looked into other options. It was then that I learned that from the perspective of the American government, Emilio and I were effectively two strangers under the law. Even though over the years we owned a home together, shared our income and expenses and showed our commitment by entering into a New Jersey Domestic Partnership and a Civil Union, none of that mattered. During the six years of endless hearings with the Immigration Service and the Immigration Court in Newark, New Jersey I was never given the opportunity to do what every other American citizen can do quite simply for his or her non-citizen spouse: I was never able to sponsor Emilio for a green card. Only because we were a gay couple was our committed relationship denied recognition.  The frustration we felt at this time was overwhelming.

Ironically, Newark is the city where my parents were born and where their immigrant ancestors came to start a new life in the 1800s. Now, generations later, in that same city, Emilio and I fought in vain to keep our family together.  Emilio decided to apply for asylum because of his fear of persecution as a gay man from Venezuela.  I was not even allowed in the room when Emilio testified in his asylum hearings. The government prosecutor's position was that I was of no relation to Emilio and therefore both my presence and my proposed my testimony were irrelevant to the case.  The cruelty seemed gratuitous at times.  The stress and aggravation was driving us both crazy; it’s hard to live a normal life when every official letter in the mailbox or unexpected knock on the door arouses the fear that my own government is going to take my life partner and soul mate away from me.  Even today, years later, I still feel residual anxiety when I receive a notice for a certified letter. The impact of those days have not yet receded. To add insult to the injury we were paying for this mental torture with our taxes and paying for our defense with paycheck after paycheck.

After years of hearings we finally had reason to celebrate. We were joyful when the immigration judge ruled in our favor and granted Emilio asylum.   This meant that Emilio could stay in the United States indefinitely and in a year he would be able to apply for a green card.  In a cruel twist of fate, however, it turned out that our joy was premature. The government prosecutor appealed the Immigration Judge's decision. With our energy and finances drained, we could not fight any longer.  For years we had hoped to be able to live a normal life together in the United States but the mental anguish and practical considerations of years of legal battles compelled us to abandon hope.  We quite simply could not take it any more.  We decided to abandon the case and applied for residency in Canada. The way I saw it, I was choosing my spouse over my country. I hated this choice, but I was forced to make it.  Anyone reading this who has ever done it will know that moving to another country is not an easy task. We had to leave everything familiar to us: our family, friends, neighbors, and especially our beloved home that we had so proudly worked on together every weekend.  All, gone.

We have tried to remain optimistic. We started a new wonderful life together in Canada. We are fortunate to live in such a progressive city. We love living in Toronto and shortly after arriving here we got married at the top of the CN Tower. The symbol of our new home high in the sky. We are proudly and happily married and yet our marriage certificate does not allow me to sponsor Emilio.

You would think once we moved to Canada in December 2007 that all our problem with the United States government would be over. But that would not be the case.  U.S. law poured salt into our wounds by banning Emilio from re-entering the US for ten years, on the grounds that his departure in the midst of the government's appeal counted as a self-deportation.   The idea that we have been forced out for at least ten years or possibly forever, sickens me. This was never more true than a few weeks ago when we watched as the Ugandan legislator, David Bahati, obtained a visitor's visa to visit the US in December. Bahati is the  author and proponent of the infamous bill in the Ugandan Parliament that calls for gay people to face life imprisonment or, even, execution if they are convicted of having practiced homosexuality.  And our government gave Mr. Bahati a visitor visa, despite protests to Secretary of State Clinton to deny his application because of his advocacy of anti-gay hate and capital punishment for gays and lesbians. And at the same time, my darling spouse, Emilio, who has the kindest heart of any person that I know, is unable to obtain that same visitor’s visa.  We are unable to return to New Jersey for Christmas or Thanksgiving. We cannot visit my siblings or parents. It is all off-limits to us.  I have more rights as a permanent resident in Canada than I ever had as a United States citizen.

As we enter the new year, Emilio and I are now completing our applications for Canadian citizenship. This in a way caps our nearly decade long quest for equality. As Canadians we will not suffer the legal discrimination by the federal government that all gay Americans are forced to endure. I hope one day that we will return to the United States, equal under the law.

Recently we joined the effort to Stop The Deportations of gay and lesbian spouses of American citizens. With the guidance of my attorney, I filed a Petition for Alien Relative for Emilio. We intend to advocate for the approval of that petition by reaching out to our elected officials in New Jersey.  We understand that the federal government takes the position that it cannot recognize our legal, valid marriage. However, there is a higher principle of fairness and justice that will eventually bring a new reality to bear. The Defense of Marriage Act which dictates that the U.S. government cannot recognize the marriages of gay and lesbian couples, must be fought resolutely and aggressively and it must be defeated. To be sure that no other couple ever goes through the hell we experienced, to be sure that no more families are torn apart, and to be sure that all Americans are treated equally regardless of their sexual orientation, we must engage in this struggle.

As we begin a new year living in forced exile simply because we are gay, we continue to fight so that we can return to our life in the United States.  We urge those reading our story to learn how you can get involved to support this effort.