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.

8 comments:

  1. The govt should come up with some amount that people must pay to stay here. If they have established roots.. then that should be enough. Charge them a fee for every year they were here and allow them to stay. Give them a certain ID that allows them to work and pay taxes.

    I know Brian and even tho I'm not gay I support this cause. We have a lot in common as I too am connected with the indonesian people here in Philly.

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  2. What's the government's stated reason for deporting Anton? Expired visa or some shit?

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  3. Anton came from Indonesia in 2002. He fled because of persecution against gay men, Christians and ethnic Chinese in that country. He applied for asylum within month of arrival, but he prepared the application himself without an attorney and did not have sufficient evidence to support his claim in the view of the immigration judge. He later got legal representation and much more evidence of worsening anti-gay persecution there including expert witness testimony. However, because he had already been appealing his case for years he needs to win a Motion to Reopen for this evidence to be heard. His case is slated for deportation despite the fact that there is a pending emergency Motion to Stay Removal and a Motion to Reopen. He may very well be deported before the Board of Immigration Appeals decides those Motions unless there is intervention. LGBT asylum seekers, lacking proper representation and unfamiliar with the legal process, face an extraordinarily and complex path and often lose cases that would have been won in the first instance with proper representation. In this case, the facts are even more desperate as deportation will split up this couple, because certainly there is no way this gay American could relocate to Indonesia and live as an openly gay couple with his partner. Our government has the power to rectify this by delaying the deportation until all legal avenues have been pursued.

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  4. I've known Anton since 2003, and he's pretty much been a model citizen, always working (and even buying his own health insurance). I see no reason to hasten his deportation while his case is still under appeal. It serves no purpose other than maybe to subsidize the airlines the price of a return ticket when his appeal is granted. I think it's just crazy that the office that manages deportations and the office that manages appeals don't even talk to each other!

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  5. The reality is that once Anton is deported, he is unlikely to be brought back even if he wins his current Motion to Reopen his case.

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  6. WE'VE GOT 7DAYS... LETS PULL TOGETHER AND DO IT!!!

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  7. Help us stop the deportation of Anton Tanumihardja on Feb 14.

    Write/call Secretary Janet Napolitano and urge her to halt this deportation

    Secretary Janet Napolitano
    U.S. Department of Homeland Security
    Washington, DC 20528

    CALL 202-282-8495

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  8. What happened??

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