Monday, February 28, 2011

Huffington Post: Obama's DOMA Turn Around Prompts New Strategy in Immigration Battle

From The Huffington Post:
Immigration advocates are seizing upon President Obama's decision not the defend the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act and his conclusion that all laws that discriminate based on sexual orientation should be presumed unconstitutional, opening up a new front in the twenty-year battle for immigration equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.

In three cases involving married, same-sex, binational couples facing deportation proceedings in New York, New Jersey and California, attorney Lavi Soloway will argue that the proceedings should be halted because the only thing standing between each couple and a green card is the Defense Of Marriage Act, which he will argue should not be given effect in light of Wednesday's DOJ announcement. Says Soloway, "The issue is urgent as deportation carries with it a 10-year ban on returning."
Full article here.

Friday, February 25, 2011

PRESS RELEASE: Married Gay Couples Challenge DOMA in Immigration Court

Married Gay Couples Challenge DOMA in Immigration Courts Across the Country in a Concerted Effort to End Discrimination and Stop The Deportations of Spouses of Gay and Lesbian Americans

In New York, New Jersey and California three married, same-sex binational couples, two gay male couples and one lesbian couple, are facing Immigration Judges in deportation proceedings. Each will brandish a pending green card petition filed by the American spouse on behalf of the foreign spouse. In each case their lawyer, Lavi Soloway, will argue that deportation proceedings should be halted because the only thing standing between each couple and a green card is the Defense Of Marriage Act which the President and the Attorney General announced this week will no longer be defended in court based on their finding that the statute is unconstitutional.

Noemi Masliah & Lavi Soloway
Soloway, an immigration lawyer and long time gay rights activist, argues that the Department of Homeland Security should cease giving effect to this unconstitutional law and put all deportation proceedings on hold where they involve married gay binational couples, who but for DOMA, would be eligible for green cards on the basis of their marriages. The issue is urgent as deportation carries with it a 10-year ban on returning. This week's news from the Obama administration is a shot in the arm for a strategy that Soloway's law firm launched in October 2010 after a Federal Court judge in Boston struck down Section 3 of DOMA as unconstitutional. Participants in that strategy, the pro bono project known as STOP THE DEPORTATIONS THE DOMA PROJECT, include dozens of gay binational couples facing deportation, separation or exile. The law firm, Masliah & Soloway, whose partners are both gay immigrants who also founded Immigration Equality in 1993, created this pro bono project to raise awareness of the crisis of deportations of spouses of gay and lesbian Americans.

Contact: Lavi Soloway 212-227-9390 or 323-904-4730

stopthedeportations [at]

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Time is Running Out For 83 Year Old Veteran and His Canadian Husband in San Francisco

Another year of hope and anxiety, optimism and anguish passes by. We wonder: what will next year and the year after that bring? What obstacles will we face next, and how will we cope? Just as thousands of binational gay and lesbian couples in the US, my partner and I continue to await fundamental immigration rights that will permit me to remain permanently in the US, to enjoy our relationship free of any fear of being denied entry into the US, of being deported, and of facing a forced separation. Everyday, I worry and I’m scared. I want to add my voice to the effort this site aims to accomplish.

Our story is likely similar to many other binational same-sex couples featured on this site; I’m Canadian and my partner is American, and we’ve been inseparable since 1994. When we met, I had a busy and successful career in public administration, and he was recently retired from the airlines; it was love at first sight, to borrow the cliché. For the first few years of our relationship, we didn’t give much thought to our status as a binational couple; by combining his time in Canada with my visits to the US, we managed to remain together within the confines of the immigration laws, ultimately avoiding cross border issues, even though I faced the occasional scrutiny at the US border given the frequency of my trips. And as the scrutiny increased, we soon realized we had to find an alternative, be it his relocating to Canada, or my obtaining a US visa of some kind.

But as the need for a solution grew, my partner’s heath began to deteriorate, making travelling more difficult, ultimately requiring him to remain in the US on a permanent basis. As such, and in order to ensure I could be with him, I returned to college and registered for classes as a foreign student, at great cost I might add. When my visa expired following graduation, I registered full time for a two-year Master’s degree program, which concludes in 2011, and after which I hope to find practical training and/or find employment that will provide me with a work visa.

But time is running out: my partner is now 83. As a veteran with increasing health issues who served his country for seven years, I find it incredulous and frightening that current and discriminatory US immigration policies may forcibly separate us, partners of seventeen years. Why should he be required to choose between his country and his spouse? What happened to his most fundamental rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, rights that he defended patriotically so other Americans could enjoy them? Every day, I wonder what will happen after my visa expires, whether I’ll be permitted to remain in the US and care for my partner, particularly at a time when he needs it the most, or be forced to face the nightmare that so many have unjustly lived?

After seventeen years, the US is our home; this where we have our lives, our friends, our family, and our hearts. Like others on this site have expressed, it gulls me to hear my straight friends complain about how convoluted they find the process for sponsoring their foreign fiancés, some merely six months after meeting. In seventeen years, my partner and I have been apart rarely, a fact for which I am thankful. Our hope is that despite DOMA repudiating our marriage at all federal levels, we’ll continue to remain together no matter the continued and long wait for equal rights. Repeal DOMA and stop tearing apart families.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Together for Nine Years and Married, Lisa and Diana Are Still Forced to Live an Ocean Apart

Lisa and Diana on their wedding day in October 2005
November 7, 2001 turned out to be a changing point in my life. I was home in England recovering from surgery and felt a little lonely and down. I had placed an ad online a short while before hoping that I would find someone to correspond with. Then on that day in November, I received an unexpected email from Diana in Salem, Massachustts. We started chatting via e-mail and we developed a connection, becoming fast friends within days.

After Christmas she wrote to me and said she would really like to meet me. Diana invited me to come to the United States and offered to host me for the visit. I must admit I was a bit scared of flying thousands of miles to stay with someone I had not yet even met.

So, after a few more weeks of writing to each other, we changed plans. Diana booked a flight to England to visit a city close to where I lived and I agreed to meet and be her ‘tour guide’.  Diana wisely suggested that I bring a friend and meet her in a public place so that it would be less intimidating.  And that is how, finally in Easter 2002 I met Diana in person for the first time. She met me as she embarked from the train where I waited with my friend by my side. I was still cautious about seeing someone I had only ever communicated with online.

Exchanging Vows
Admittedly, I was a bit shy that day. Still, I knew within an hour of meeting Diana face-to-face after all the months of chatting, that she was someone I wanted in my life, someone I could love. I spent the week showing her the sites. Diana met my parents and my pets and came to see me at a performance with my dancing school. After her week-long visit she had to leave. Parting was heartbreaking for me. I knew I wanted to be with her and we agreed that we were now together as a couple. I was so scared when she left. What if I never saw her again? Talking on the internet and phone after that was just not the same. After a few more weeks, I decided that I would come over to stay with her and I started to plan my visit.  It would be my very first trip to the U.S. and my first time on a plane. It would also be my first holiday without family or friends.  To say the least, I was nervous! I stayed with Diana for three weeks and we had a great time together. During my visit I purposely put off thinking about the day that would soon come when I would have to leave her. I knew how my heart would be ripped out the day I had to return to England. (Plus, I was petrified to fly again, so that didn't help at all!) And so it continued for us with more visits over the years, never able to find a way to live in the same country but becoming more and more attached to each other.

In October 2005 we were married in Massachusetts. Of couse, like so many thousands of other same-sex couples despite being legally married we are still not considered married by the federal government. Still, it was a most beautiful, memorable and incredible wedding. We were married at Hammond Castle in Gloucester, Massachusetts. My parents both flew in from England and were present for the ceremony and the celebration. Diana's Mom and her stepmother were there. Diana's Dad and her grandmother knew of our plans to marry and were excited and happy for us; sadly, both passed way months before the date of the wedding.  Of course, Diana was very upset that they couldn't be there because they were so excited to see their only child and only grandchild get married.  But we pressed on.  On the brighter side, we had around 100 people as guests. It was mostly Diana's friends and co-workers, but they all supported and loved what we had together. Everyone told us that they had a great time, but every single one of them expressed the fact that they hate what we are going through, the struggle just to be together. They are all good people and just want to see us together in peace like any other married couple.

We are aware that while our marriage is not recognized by US immigration law, it can still impact my access to visit Diana in the US, as an Immigration Officer may see me has having the intent to stay permanently. The irony is that with the struggle we have been through for nine years——living apart but sustaining our love and our relationship——the last thing we would ever want to do is break the law. And so I dutifully visit briefly, and leave my spouse behind each time.  It is impractical and cruel to require us to sustain our relationship forever on the basis of infrequent visits.  I’m lucky that I am from the UK and we have more rights and greater ease to visit the US than citizens of most non-Western European countries; and we are also more fortunate than most because Diana could apply to immigrate to the UK on the basis of our relationship.  However, this good fortune does not provide solutions for us.  In order to sponsor Diana to move to the UK and live with me, I would have to earn more money, have a house of my own and, ironically, that would mean for several years I would have to stop visiting her while I set up a home and saved money. In contrast, Diana has land in the US and a place to build us a home, something I cannot do for us in England. Financially and pragmatically, we would be able to establish out our permanent home life together with more stability in the US if we were only allowed to that opportunity. But the law keeps us, quite literally, up in the air, tossed back and forth between two countries, never being allowed to settle down and call either one of them home.

The Wedding Party
In June of 2009 my mum and I went to visit Diana in Massachusetts. The day after we arrived, before we had even unpacked, Diana got an urgent call at 6:00 a.m. from a hospital in New Jersey where her mom was being treated. The medical team said that Diana's mom was dying. She had surgery for a hysterectomy 22 days earlier and now they said she wasn't going to make it. Diana woke us up and got us in the car and we drove as fast as we could for the 325 miles to try to get there. The doctor called about every 30 minutes to say that they had to revive her repeatedly so that we could make it to her bedside before she passed. We got stuck in traffic in New York state, about a 90 minutes from the hospital. The doctor kept calling. Diana would have to make the decision at that time whether or not to remove her mother from life support.  It was extremely difficult because that her Mom was her last surviving relative. But Diana knew in her heart that she had to do it. We did finally get to the hospital, but it was too late to do anything. Mum and I stayed with Diana and helped her through all the arrangements, the wake the funeral and everything. It was a moment of crisis and deep sadness, but it demonstrated how close we were as a family, despite being kept 3,000 miles apart. We have support for each other in times of need, unconditionally. Sure, my Mum and I arrived with the intention to enjoy a vacation with Diana; but things turned out differently on that trip. Circumstances proved that how important it is to have your family's support in your hour of need. And yet, sadly I once again departed and left Diana behind.

It’s now 2011 and we are still not able to live together!  This is the tenth year since I first met Diana on line. Diana visits me in England once a year and I visit her once or twice a year in the U.S. Diana doesn't have any close relatives still living, so she comes to England to celebrate Christmas and New Year's with us as a family and we always have a great time. However, the years of this are taking its toll. Physically, financially, you name it. We are both now depressed and suffer from panic attacks. We are struggling to find the money for more flights and the cost associated with being away from home for weeks, sometimes a couple of months when we are lucky. Travelling is a nightmare; I hate flying and the US immigration officers seem to hate me.  Whenever I visit I seem to get such a hard time, I’m scared to tell them why I am really there. Diana seems to have it a bit easier visiting me, she doesn’t come as often or for as long so they don’t seem as suspicious.  Or maybe the British immigration officers are simply nicer. Who knows. We should not have to be dealing with this stress.
Visiting Washington, D.C.

We have gone through everything to try to see if I could live there. But I don’t meet the requirements for a work visa and don‘t have the money for other kinds of visa, like investing or going to college.

I can’t explain what it is like to have to leave or to see the person you love leave from the airport. It feels like someone is tearing out your heart or beating it up. Your heart simply aches. I feel like running away. I just want to run and run and never stop. I cry until I get a migraine. And I just want to say to everyone who passes ‘please, help, please make this stop’. It’s almost like the grief you fee when you’re told someone you love has passed away.

I am hoping to go to university soon, so I can eventually either get a job where it means I can sponsor Diana to live here or means that I can work in the US. But it scares me that if I go to the U.S. on a work visa and lose my job it means losing my status and being forced to leave. My status in the U.S. should be stable and permanent and based on my relationship not some employment visa. I hope and pray every day and every night that we will be together one day and build a home together.

Diana says often that she does not want to live her life without me anymore. She cannot wrap her head around the discrimination we face, despite being married. Diana and I see the Defense of Marriage Act as the ultimate obstacle to our happiness. We are married and immigration laws that protect families and keep married couples together should apply equally to us. How can it be right to keep spouses separated on two continents despite our 5-year marriage and our committed relationship of almost a decade? We have joined this fight against DOMA to help all binational couples like us who want nothing more than the right to live together in peace.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

CNN Interview: Anton Tanumihardja & Brian Andersen Speak About Scheduled Deportation

This interview was recorded before Anton & Brian learned that the deportation had been stayed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement and reflects their anxiety on the eve of Valentine's Day.

Monday, February 14, 2011

DHS Issues Last-Minute Stay of Deportation - Brian & Anton Celebrate Valentine's Day Together

This afternoon, just three hours before Anton was scheduled to be on a plane to Indonesia, Immigration and Customs Enforcement issued a Stay of Deportation which will now remain in effect until the Board of Immigration Appeals rules on his pending Motion to Reopen.

See complete, updated story from MetroWeekly's Chris Geidner here.

See also, "With Deportation Set for Valentines Day, Brian & Anton Fight For A Future Together" and "Down to the Wire: Brian & Anton Fight Valentine's Day Deportation."

Earlier today this gay Philadelphia magazine featured Brian and Anton's story.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Freedom To Marry: Gay Binational Couple's Marriage Threatened by DOMA and Deportation

Complete article here.

Freedom to Marry is working to win the freedom to marry in more states, grow the national majority for marriage, and end federal marriage discrimination.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Down to the Wire: Brian & Anton Fight Valentine's Day Deportation

See the full story on Philadelphia's NPR affiliate website here. (Audio of the broadcast here.)
Screenshot of Philadelphia Gay News article published today. Full article here.


***Listen to today's report on Anton's case from NPR-affiliate WHYY.

At Home in Philadelphia: Brian and Anton Are Fighting For a Future Together
Friday February 11 is the last day that your phone calls can make a difference. The Department of Homeland Security has scheduled Anton's deportation to Indonesia for Valentine's Day. Please call DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano at (202) 282-8000 and Pennsylvania's U.S. Senator Robert Casey at (202) 224-6324. Urge them to call on the Philadelphia Office of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement to halt Anton's deportation so the Board of Immigration Appeals can re-open his asylum case. Stop Anton's deportation to dangerous conditions for gay men in Indonesia. Don't let discriminatory immigration laws and a heartless system tear apart a loving couple on Valentine's Day.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Stop the Valentine's Day Deportation of Anton Tanumihardja

Last week we posted the story of Brian and Anton who are fighting a Valentine's Day deportation in Philadelphia. With only a few days left, we are asking our readers to help us by writing and calling their Senator, Bob Casey (D-PA), urging him to fight for a halt to Anton's deportation to Indonesia. We are also asking readers to contact Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Department of Homeland Security to intervene in this matter.  Every call, letter and fax helps us raise awareness of Anton's case with those who have the power to stop this deportation while Anton's case is still pending before the Board of Immigration Appeals. See our letter to Senator Casey and Secretary Napolitano. For more information email us here.

Together For Six Years and Married, Alex & Doug Fight Deportation in California

Alex and Doug have been fighting deportation since Alex received a notice to appear in Immigration Court in 2009.  (See our October 24, 2010 post: "Gay California Couple Joins Challenge to Defense of Marriage Act, Fight Deportation.)  Alex and Doug are due back in Immigration Court in July where they will seek to stop the Department of Homeland Security from deporting Alex.

Read the complete Press-Enterprise story here: Gay illegal immigrants face legal, social challenges," and learn more about how you can help us stop this deportation.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

With Deportation Set for Valentines Day, Brian & Anton Fight For A Future Together

In retrospect, Brian describes the summer of 2010 as "momentous" for him and his boyfriend, Anton. Little did they know when they met online that they would now be fighting just to be able to spend Valentine's Day together.  Brian, 28, is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh and works as a Business Development Manager for a Philadelphia area car dealership. Anton, 45, holds degrees in accounting and marketing. He works at a nearby deli where he does some bookkeeping.

As Philadelphia turned sunny and hot, Brian and Anton began casually chatting online and via text message. Within a month they had met in person and started dating. They became inseparable. It was new love, and it was blossoming with excitement. Brian and Anton hit it off from the start; the more they knew about each other, the more they wanted to share.

Their romance was just getting started when they were hit with some bad news. As they were on their first date, Brian learned that his grandmother was losing her battle to breast cancer. Brian was preoccupied with his grandmother's situation. That day, as was his routine, he had visited her in the hospital before picking up Anton for dinner. Despite being preoccupied with his grandmother's health Brian had decided to keep his plans with Anton. Immediately both men were drawn into conversation. As Anton talked about being from Indonesia, Brian had an idea. He suggested they eat at the nearby Sky Café, a local Indonesian restaurant where Brian recently had dinner with friends. Brian was excited that he was able to introduce Anton to a new Indonesian restaurant.

An instant bond over food was formed and Sky Café became Brian and Anton's frequent hangout. While they were enjoying each other's company immensely, even their conversation centered around two "heavy" topics: Brian's grandmother's health and Anton's recent colonscopy. Looking back now, the couple laughs. Not typical romantic conversation! It didn't seem to matter what the topic was the entire night though, each talking while the other listened intently. Something felt different here, and they both knew it.

That first date went so well that they planned to meet the next day. However, on his way to pick up Anton, Brian received the call that his grandmother passed away. While their date was postponed, Brian could not stop thinking about Anton. After spending some time with his family, he made his way to Anton's almost instinctively. He wanted to spend time with Anton, though they had only known each other for a month. Anton's immediate reaction was to be there for Brian to console him and provide emotional support during a difficult time. Brian said it was as if his grandmother had sent Anton to watch over and care for him at a time when she knew she no longer could.

From that day forward, both felt that there was something special between them. Like any new relationship, it was not without its challenges. There was, of course, the language barrier since English is not Anton's first language and Brian doesn't speak Indonesian. There was also an age difference of 18 years. These challenges proved to be minor, however, in the face of the largest challenge yet: United States immigration law.  The devastating reality of discrimination become more apparent as their new relationship became more and more serious.

From the first week that Brian and Anton met, they spent as much time together as possible. Their friends and family took note of how this new relationship was flourishing. Quickly, Brian and Anton developed a routine: Mondays and Tuesdays they had dinner together. On Wednesdays, Anton joined Brian and his friends for their weekly night out. Since Anton didn't work on Fridays, Brian stayed at Anton's place for three day weekends arriving after work each Thursday. Brian and Anton spent last Thanksgiving with Brian’s mother in Albany, New York together with extended family members. The couple celebrated Christmas at Brian’s uncle’s home in the Philadelphia area. Each time Anton was welcomed with open arms by Brian’s family who could not have been more supportive.

In recent months, Brian and Anton turned their attention to moving in together and talked about eventually getting married. Reality set in quickly as they realized Anton's immigration status would be a huge obstacle. Anton was fighting to delay his deportation but he had no legal status that would allow him to stay in the US.  With deportation imminent, living together could only be temporary. While they wanted to marry in the future, they realized that even as his legal spouse, Brian couldn't keep Anton in the country because their marriage would not be recognized by the federal government.

Their world was about to collapse. Anton received word the he would have to leave the United States in February. Before long, the cruel reality made its way into every plan they had made for the future with the clock ticking on Anton's deportation. Brian was starting to realize that they would no longer be sharing nightly meals together or sharing the trivia of each other's day over dinner. They would no longer be seeing plays produced by the theater company for where Brian serves as a member of the Board of Directors. They would never get to see the films nominated for "Best Picture" and then watch the Oscars together. All the little things most couples take for granted quickly became recast as their last cherished moments together.

Anton has lived in the US since 2002. He explains proudly that in that time he has learned English, integrated into American culture, maintained gainful employment while paying taxes and has otherwise been a model law-abiding “citizen” despite lacking U.S. citizenship. Six months after his arrival in the US, Anton filed an asylum claim because of his fear of returning to Indonesia. His application and subsequent appeals for asylum based his sexual orientation, his religion (Catholic) and his ethnicity (Chinese descent) have been repeatedly denied. Unfortunately, in the early stages of his case Anton did not have a lawyer with experience preparing a gay Indonesian asylum case. He was denied at each stage of the process and eventually ran out of legal options.

After several extensions, Anton was recently informed that his deportation from the United States is scheduled for February 14, 2011. The deportation is scheduled even though he has yet to receive a response to a recently filed motion to reopen his case based on worsening conditions for gay men in Indonesia. It is heartbreaking, but as millions of couples exchange flowers and enjoy a romantic dinner on February 14, the U.S. government will be tearing Anton and Brian apart. Deportation will mean Anton will be likely unable to return to the US for at least 10 years, if ever. There will be no Happy Valentine's Day for Brian and Anton.

By February 14 Brian and Anton will only have been dating for 7 months. They describe what they are experiencing as "love, interrupted." This is how Brian puts it: "When you meet and fall in love with that one person who makes your life worth living, who makes you want to be a better person every day, then you will fight for that." Brian and Anton are certain of one thing: they want to be together. If they could do so, they would marry and Brian would petition for Anton.  If they could, they would seek re-opening of Anton's case and fight for his right to stay in this country on the basis of his relationship with Brian. Unfair immigration laws and the "Defense of Marriage Act" (DOMA) bar Brian and Anton from the avenues that exist to keep all other families together. As they discuss their plans for marriage (which state, when?) they are under enormous pressure. Anton faces the reality that he will probably be forcibly removed from the United States, unless the government agrees again to temporarily postpone his deportation. Brian cannot follow Anton to Indonesia for many reasons, not the least of which is the tremendous danger they would face there as a gay couple. With their back up against the wall, they have no options, just their love for each other.

Brian and Anton have turned to the U.S. Senator Bob Casey's staff for help. They are also starting a letter writing campaign to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano asking her to postpone Anton's deportation indefinitely. Brian and Anton have joined the STOP THE DEPORTATIONS campaign, calling on the Obama administration to adopt a policy of halting deportations involving binational couples.

Help stop Anton’s deportation and keep this loving couple together by joining our letter writing campaign to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. For more information contact us at this email address and check out our Faceboook page here.

Congressman Mike Honda to Re-Introduce Gay and Lesbian Inclusive Immigration Reform Bill

"Fourth, the Reuniting Families Act, which I plan to reintroduce this Congress, would allow all Americans to be reunited with their families — including gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender “permanent partners.”"

Read Rep. Honda's full article "Immigration Reform Makes Cents," at here.