Friday, April 29, 2011

DOMA's Cruel Impact: Married Gay Couple Forced to Live in Separate Countries and Visit Each Other

My husband, Bob, and I met three years ago through an online dating site. I am 50 and he is 52. On April 25, we celebrated our 2nd wedding anniversary apart—talking over Skype. We were married here in my home province of Nova Scotia, Canada. I know this may sound cliché, but it was the happiest day of our lives. We were surrounded by friends and family. One of our friends has commented more there once that it was a beautiful service, so much love and warmth in the room that day.

At a time when we should be building a life, maybe buying a home, we are forced to live apart because the federal government in the US does not recognize our marriage. Bob is an American and because of DOMA he cannot sponsor me as his spouse to join him in the US. So we are forced to live apart in separate countries. Even though we were legally married, we are nothing more than strangers in the eyes of the US federal government because we are gay.  No rational person could justify this discrimination against a gay American who is denied the right to live together with his spouse.

With the appropriate family-based immigration route blocked by DOMA, the only way Bob and I could be together in the US is if I could get a work or student visa, and even that is not a permanent solution, it would just buy us some time. We looked at one college and they required that we show proof of $30, 000 in the bank to cover living costs and this was for one year. So that was not an option. With the downturn in the US economy, it makes it more of a challenge to find an employer who would be willing to sponsor me for a work visa.  None of this should be necessary. We should be able to be together like any other married couple.

So, I visit him as often as I can. I am self-employed here, which has afforded me some flexibility in when and how long I can visit him. In the almost 3 years we have been together I have been able to visit him 6 times, the last being for 6 months, which we both agreed was a luxury for us. He has been able to come here twice, once for our wedding and the second for our first wedding anniversary. Going through US customs and immigration when I visit Bob brings its own share of stress. I must be prepared to answer any questions about my vacations to visit Bob and to ensure that the officer understands that my intention is temporary and that I will definitely be returning home at the conclusion of the visit.  It never gets any easier and as I make plans to visit Bob in June, the thought of going through customs stresses me out more than you can imagine.

Try to imagine what it would be like to separated from the one you love by something that you cannot control. I am tired of having to say goodbye to my husband in airports, not knowing when we will be able to be together again. Everyday that we are apart is a day lost that we can never get back. I don't want to see tears of sadness in Bob's eyes anymore, only tears of happiness. It breaks my heart every time I have to say goodbye to him after one of our visits. I have begun to have a love/hate relationship with airports. I count down the days until I can see him, but even when we are together, I am always reminded that our time together is limited. Bob recently told me it rips his heart out every time we have to say good bye from one of our visits. Nobody should have to go though this, nobody! Bob and I just want to be able to begin living our lives as a married couple. Is that too much to ask for? Just to be able to live under the same roof and be able to talk to each other face to face, instead of on a web cam, is what we hope for everyday. We meet every night at the same time and share our day, it makes this whole situation a little more bearable.

As I write this Bob is back in California, packing up the house and getting ready to move. I can't even be there to help him. He has accepted a new position in another state. We are leaving behind some really great friends, who I will not get a chance to say goodbye to. I can't afford to go right now because I am saving for my to trip to visit him this summer. I will be with him for a little over 2 months. It will be the first time I have seen him since December of last year.

I feel most days like I live between two worlds and I guess I do. This is our life for now. Me here and Bob there, never knowing when or if we can actually be able to live our lives together. So every day we watch and wait for any information, any hope, that the laws will change that will allow Bob and me to be together. I have met other couples like us and I have been able to talk with other couples who are facing their own challenges. Learning how they cope has been a great support for me and for us. There are some days when it all becomes too much, but you dig deep and push on with the hope that tomorrow could be the day that we all get to be with the ones we love. The time has come to repeal DOMA or pass the Uniting Families Act. The suffering that gay binational couples face must stop. We need to share our stories so that people become aware of the injustices we face everyday. I hope above all hope, that this year, will be the year that I hear Bob say, “Welcome home”!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Watch: Josh & Henry on MSNBC, Fighting to Save Their Marriage and Stop Henry's May 6 Deportation

Josh and Henry met over four years ago and were married last year in Connecticut. In just one week they face an Immigration Judge in Newark, New Jersey for Henry's final deportation hearing. Join their Congressman, Representative Rush Holt and the 60 other members of the House and Senate who have called on DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano to stop the deportations of spouses of gay and lesbian Americans in light of the administration's changed position on DOMA. Find out how you can help us stop Henry's May 6 deportation here.


Josh and Henry are in the fight of their lives. For eight months they have tirelessly campaigned to raise awareness of the cruel impact of the Defense of Marriage Act on binational lesbian and gay couples. Fighting to save their marriage and stop Henry's deportation to Venezuela, they have organized petition drives, collaborated with many organizations, and shared their story with national and international media.  Josh and Henry's story is familiar to readers of this site because they have spearheaded and inspired so much of our strategy. They lead the effort to involve elected officials to call on the Obama administration to stop the deportations of spouses of gay and lesbian Americans. In 2010, Josh became one of the only gay Americans to have ever filed an I-130 marriage-based green card petition for his spouse.  Josh and Henry have sought the co-operation of Immigration and Customs Enforcement to terminate proceedings and have had the backing of their Congressman, Representative Rush Holt who has publicly called for a stop to deportations.  We are only a week away from Henry's final deportation hearing. On May 6, a Newark, NJ immigation judge will decide whether Henry can stay or whether he will be ordered deported. Help Josh and Henry stop this deportation, and stop the deportation, separation and exile tearing apart binational lesbian and gay couples every day.  Deportations are the catastrophic result of DOMA, a law which President Obama refuses to defend and believes is unconstitutional. Deportations bring with them a ten-year bar on return to the United States.  Deportations destroy LGBT families.  It is time to stop the deportations once and for all.

Sign Josh and Henry's petition to DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano here and ALL OUT's petition here.

(Video by and Courage Campaign)

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Sveta & Andi: Together for 11 Years, Married Lesbian Couple in Illinois Faces June Deportation Hearing

Hello, I am Sveta.

I was born in what is now Kazakhstan. I came to the US when I was fifteen; this year I will be thirty. I like Linux and painting. I love a wonderful woman named Andi and I have loved her since we met eleven years ago.

We met online, on a web forum dedicated to a show called Xena: Warrior Princess. Andi wrote poetry; I began adding onto her words and poetry became collaboration, long series of verse, one line after the other. It was through shared words that we grew closer: we fell in love, and she moved across several states from Colorado to be with me.

Many years later, we are still together. We now live in Illinois. We love each other and not much has changed in that regard. Except now, I am stateless, which means I am a person with no nationality or citizenship. An undocumented alien.

It wasn’t always this way. Until 2009, I was in the U.S. legally on a work visa. I contacted the embassy of my country of origin for help on renewing my passport. I provided all the necessary forms and documents proving that I was a citizen, demonstrating that my stay in the U.S. on the student visa and then work visa was legal. Despite the difficulty of speaking a language I barely remembered, I did my best explaining my situation and then I asked for their help.

At first, they seemed willing to assist and took down my information. But then their behavior drastically changed: I was ridiculed, ignored, and finally stripped of my citizenship. Their decision was made on a technicality and left me with no recourse.

That drastic action took place after the embassy officials learned from me that I had a wife: that I, a woman, was in a relationship with Andi, another woman, and a US citizen. Andi and I left the embassy with the paper stating that my citizenship had been revoked and we did not know then what it meant.

One thing was clear: out of many unacknowledged and unprotected men and women in my country of origin, I was still a lucky one. I was lucky to be alive, to be away - to walk away now, still able to speak out freely about what happened to me. After stripping every status I had in their country and almost every opportunity I had in the US from me in a single decision, the embassy officials had little else to take. They had already effectively erased me from existence.

When I applied for asylum in US in 2010 on the basis of my fear of persecution as a lesbian, the man who looked at my application informed me that he would have to strike Andi's name and information from the form because he could not "recognize" her as my wife, not even on the asylum application, which paradoxically asked for my marital status and the name of my spouse. He quoted the Defense of Marriage Act as the reason she was to be erased. He crossed every mention of her methodically from every field and asked me to review and approve every removal by initialing it. It was the proper procedure and federal law said we couldn't be married, and there wasn't much I could do about it. Instead I had to focus on talking about the stigma and discrimination that someone like me would face every day in my country of origin, of the injustices and the harm that they suffer, invisible and unacknowledged by the majority at every turn of their lives.

Despite all the heart-wrenching stress of that day, of having to relive a traumatic experience and speak out about just how terrified I was, for my future and for Andi's, through all our worry and our fear, I kept hoping that in the end someone would listen and the nightmare that hadn't lifted from our minds for months would be over at last.

Instead, we were forwarded to the immigration courts in what seemed to be a long road ahead, full of waiting for the next hearing date, trying to put the thoughts of alien numbers and identification documents from our minds, and fighting for a chance to tell my story and Andi's, because our lives are inevitably shared.

I've been in the States since 1997. Unable to be sponsored through marriage, or even to marry Andi and have our marriage recognized, I took the long path to retain my legal status, first by earning two Masters degrees, and then by working for my university. I was two years away from being able to apply for an employment-based green card when I learned that I no longer had citizenship. Anywhere. Such a development had very real and very concrete consequences. Without a valid passport I was unable to renew my work visa. I lost my job but gained a brutal diagnosis of PTSD and anxiety. I became an asylum seeker. Through it all, for eleven years, Andi was with me, sharing the same anxiety, and the same fear of separation. She was sharing my life as my spouse. In the end though, even though we made a commitment to each other and we have called what we have a marriage for years, it all comes down to the Defense of Marriage Act.

The Defense of Marriage Act says that we do not have the right to be treated as a married couple. It's unconstitutional, yet it is still enforced.

If DOMA wasn't in place, Andi would have been able to sponsor me for a marriage-based green card at any point since we began our relationship in 2000. We would have been able to request a marriage license and have our marriage recognized in many more states than a handful. Sadly, our state, Illinois, is still not one of that number. Fortunately, a neighbour-state, Iowa, now is.

If we were a heterosexual couple, we would have avoided over a decade of headache and fear: years of falling through the cracks of immigration law into legal limbo, of holding an assortment of temporary visas and depending on grades and school attendance and work performance and so many other factors painfully outside of our control in order to keep our family together. Every reason imaginable counted in the eyes of the law, except for the one that meant most to us: our love and our commitment to stay together.

But we are lucky. I am an overachiever, and she is strong and stubborn, and we survived this far.

Or did we? Statistically my chances of winning asylum are no better than an even half-and-half. Andi says that if I am to be deported in the end, she will follow me without question. If that's not courage, I don't know what is: for a disabled American woman, an openly lesbian one, being exiled into a country that does not acknowledge gays and lesbians, an authoritarian regime on the democracy index, one which actively opposes the UN Declaration on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, is a very dangerous situation. Trouble is, if I am to be deported back to my country of origin which no longer claims me as a citizen, Andi will not be allowed to follow me, just as I will not be allowed to return to the States. Andi is disabled, so she cannot qualify for a job visa and the only family tie she'd have - me - is not recognized there as family by local law. She'll never even be assigned an entry visa, just as I will disappear without a voice or means to survive.

This is the stark possibility that we’ve had to face every day for all the years of our lives together.

If we weren't a same-sex couple, but a heterosexual one, things would be quite different. Our first wedding ceremony in Illinois would have been recognized over the one in Iowa years later, one which finally allowed me to take her last name. The majority of my immigration stress would stem from studying for my citizenship exam. I would be able to travel freely, I would be able to work, I would be able to vote. Our relationship will be equally recognized and honored under the law as any marriage, with all the protection that entails. But despite no such protection being offered, we are together, and we are still lucky to have each other, for better and for worse.

In this age of fast-track marriages and divorces taken for granted, if one is looking for the very definition of love and long-term commitment, truly they should look no further than tens of thousands of same-sex binational couples and their children facing discriminatory laws, distance, and separation, in order to keep their families intact. Having to protect our families one day, one step at a time, we of all people realise what's at stake, we know what marriage is about, how valuable and precious and important such a union is, how it must be treated with all the respect it deserves; because we also face, personally and every step of the way, the dangerous cost of being denied such a basic human right.

If there’s anything that I've learned over these years, it's that even the hardest of times provide us with the opportunity to do incredible things. We survive unthinkable hardships one breath at a time simply by putting one foot in front of the other and refusing to give up. Every day we achieve unreachable goals and we make the impossible happen.

When John Lennon and Yoko Ono faced their deportation battle, they established a conceptual country of peace named Nutopia. It had no land, boundaries, or passports, only people. The references to Nutopia are still alive in today's culture, almost four decades later. It became a part of their activism and part of their story.

Sadly, in our reality, the lack of a passport only enforces the countless boundaries for Andi and me, and it only contributes to our hardship.

I am thinking of putting a rainbow flag cover over my invalidated identification documents. It's the only flag that I have left to count as my own.

One day, when DOMA is repealed, I hope this changes.

Marriage News Watch: Josh Vandiver Speaks Out About His Husband's May 6 Deportation Hearing

See this week's full episode at Marriage News Watch.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Judy & Karin Get Married in Vermont and Bring the Fight for Immigration Equality to MSNBC

Readers of this site may recall that earlier this year Judy Rickard, 63, and Karin Bogliolo, 70, tireless advocates for equality for lesbian and gay binational couples, recorded this video for the We Give a Damn Campaign.  Last week they appeared with MSNBC host, Thomas Roberts, to talk about the book and to reveal for the first time, that they had recently gone to Vermont and married. As a married lesbian couple, Judy and Karin face discrimination caused by DOMA and exclusion from US immigration laws. Until DOMA is repealed or Uniting American Families Act becomes law, they will be forced to fight for every moment together. See also, "Same Sex Couples Still Awaiting Immigration Reform," Feet in Two Worlds, January 7, 2011.

Now with Judy's book, Torn Apart, officially launched, they have been doing many public events to educate audiences of the ways in which we can end discrimination that separates or forces in to exile so many binational couples. (Note all proceeds from the sale of Torn Apart benefit non-profit organizations fighting for immigration equality for lesbian and gay binational couples).

Friday, April 22, 2011

Congressman Rush Holt: Stop the DOMA Deportation of Henry Velandia, Save Henry & Josh's Marriage

Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) has emerged in recent months as an outspoken supporter of Josh Vandiver and Henry Velandia, a married binational couple fighting to stop a deportation that will tear them apart forever on May 6. Congressman Holt has written to DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano asking her to halt all deportations of spouses of gay and lesbian Americans until DOMA is repealed or struck down by the Supreme Court.

Holt: "There is no second class in our country, or at least there shouldn't be..."

This video was first shown last week at a Princeton University Marriage Equality event held to raise awareness of Josh & Henry's "Save Our Marriage" campaign.

Yesterday, New Jersey's largest daily newspaper, the Star-Ledger, published an editorial raising awareness of Josh & Henry's case and calling for an end to the "War on Our Families."

On March 31, 2011, Congressman Holt became the first member of Congress to send a letter to DHS Secretary Napolitano calling for an end to DOMA Deportations. Eventually more than 60 members of the House and Senate joined this letter writing campaign to urging the Obama administration to stop the deportations and put all green card applications filed by married same sex couples on hold.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A Presidential Duty: Stop DOMA Deportations Now

Read on MetroWeekly's site here.

American Immigration Lawyers Association's DOMA Letter to Napolitano, Co-Signed By 81 Organizations

The respected, non-partisan American Immigration Lawyers Association has been a powerful ally in the fight for justice for gay and lesbian binational couples. AILA, with its 36 regional chapters, its persuasive think tank, the American Immigration Council, and its cutting-edge impact litigation unit, the Legal Action Center, dwarfs all other immigration reform advocates with the scope of its brain trust and vast resources. AILA's membership consists of 11,000 lawyers and law professors that are dedicated to the practice and teaching of immigration law. Years ago, AILA attorneys formed a Gay and Lesbian Interest Group and and LGBT Working Group within the organization. So it comes as no surprise, that AILA continues to marshal its expertise to address the issue of same-sex binational couples at this crucial time. Earlier this month, AILA led a broad coalition of immigration reform and social justice organizations in the call for the Executive Branch to protect spouses of lesbian and gay U.S. citizens and permanent residents. After the President changed his position on DOMA, AILA circulated letters to DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, Juan Osuna, Acting Director of the Immigration Courts, and Thomas Hussey Director of the Office of Immigration Litigation at the Department of Justice.

Equality Matters: How Binational Couples Have Become "Obama's New DOMA Dilemma"

Read this excellent article by Kerry Eleveld at Equality Matters here.

“There’s no rule on how long it takes an agency to process a case – they have the discretion to allocate their resources so they should work on high-priority cases,” explains Lavi Soloway, an immigration attorney who has filed 10 cases involving foreign-born same-sex spouses who are in deportation proceedings.

Soloway saw an opening back in July of last year after federal district court Judge Joseph Tauro struck down section 3 of DOMA as unconstitutional in two high-profile challenges to the law.

“We felt that it was the right time to begin reframing the issues that bi-national couples deal with as issues that relate to DOMA,” said Soloway.

In the past, gay bi-national couples had primarily looked to the legislative branch for relief through legislation that would allow American citizens to sponsor their foreign-born same-sex partners. But by focusing on DOMA in the context of immigration courts – which is part of the Department of Justice – the issue would be placed squarely with the executive branch rather than leaving it entirely up to Congress.

“The primary mission is to stop the deportations, and the power to immediately stop the deportations lies with the executive branch; therefore, the appropriate place to bring this advocacy is in the immigration courts,” Soloway explains.

Following the Tauro decision, Soloway specifically sought out same-sex couples in which deportation proceedings had already begun for the foreign-born spouse in the relationship. He limited his cases to those individuals specifically because he did not want to draw anyone into a proceeding that might endanger them.

But by filing an I-130 on their behalf, he was deliberately using the petition as an advocacy tool.

“It was understood by every couple that the likelihood would be that their petition would ultimately be denied,” he said. “But in that denial, would be the first tangible evidence of the federal government actively discriminating against them because they were gay.”

But by January of this year, only one of the 10 petitions he had filed on behalf of his same-sex couples had been denied. That’s when Soloway began to wonder if the government had suspended adjudication of those cases.

“By the time the Newsweek story broke, we were beginning to suspect that the I-130s were taking a little longer to process than usual,” he said. After word spread of the temporary hold, Soloway’s firm received approximately 200 calls and emails from gay bi-national couples.

“They were almost all the same – a couple that wanted to know if this was finally a time that they could file a green card application on the basis of their marriage,” he said. But Soloway feared that identifying anyone in an application who might be staying in the U.S. illegally or even on a temporary visa could put them in jeopardy.

“I advised them that the risk of filing, even with this encouraging news, was that the individual could be placed into a removal proceeding,” he said.

After CIS announced the hold was over, another of Soloway’s I-130s was denied.

But one of his cases produced a positive result. An immigration judge in New York adjourned the deportation proceedings for Monica Alcota of Argentina due to the legal ambiguities surrounding DOMA and the fact that the sponsorship petition filed by her American spouse, Christina Ojeda, continues to be processed.

Overall, Soloway’s advocacy appears to have helped focus attention on the issue since he filed 10 cases in total and CIS spokesperson Chris Bentley estimated the number of cases once held in abeyance at 10-20 nationwide. It’s worth noting that, typically, same-sex bi-national couples wouldn’t have been filing I-130s at all since they were almost certain to be rejected.

The government’s decision to resume processing the cases has raised the question of whether the executive branch should be deporting a legally wed foreign-born spouse based on a law that the president himself has declared unconstitutional.

OUT Magazine: Glenn Greenwald, Pundit in Exile

Read the full article here.
Given Greenwald’s intellectual fecundity and argumentative ferocity, being gay may be the least interesting thing about him. But even Greenwald doesn’t claim that his sexual orientation doesn’t matter. After all, if he were straight he would be living in Manhattan, his home for most of the last 20 years. Instead, he lives in Rio de Janeiro, barred from moving to the United States with his Brazilian boyfriend, David Michael Miranda.
“Brazil recognizes our relationship for immigration purposes, while the government of my supposedly ‘free,’ liberty-loving country enacted a law explicitly barring such recognition,” says Greenwald, referring to the Defense of Marriage Act with the disdain he typically shows for policies he believes are eroding Americans’ freedoms. 

Glenn Greenwald: Binational Couples, UAFA & DOMA

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Don't Let Josh & Henry Be Torn Apart by DOMA

Full story here.

LGBT Immigration Activists to Protest President Obama in San Francisco on Wednesday April 20

On Wednesday April 20, President Obama will be in San Francisco for a fundraising event. Please join Get Equal, Marriage Equality USA and Out4Immigration and equality activists to remind President Obama that he has the power to protect all lesbian and gay binational couples by halting the deportations and ending denials of green card petitions. Help us STOP THE DEPORTATIONS!

WHERE: Nob Hill Masonic Center, 1111 California St. between Jones and Taylor.
WHEN: April 20 from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Video: ALL OUT and Courage Campaign Join Forces to Stop the May 6 Deportation of Henry Velandia

From Courage Campaign:

Because they are gay, Josh can't sponsor Henry's visa to stay in the US even though they are legally married in the state of Connecticut. No one deserves to be taken away from the ones they love. On May 6th, Henry faces deportation to Venezuela. If we don't act, their family may be torn apart.
The Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, has the power to stop the deportations, but it will take a massive public outcry to force her to stand up for Josh and Henry - and the 36,000 other families who face a similar fate.

Please help us by sharing this video.

Patricia & Ira: Lesbian Couple Together for 8 Years, Faces Exile to Canada With Their Newborn Daughter

DC -based couple married in 2010 and had a baby, but time is running out on Ira's visa leaving them no choice by exile.
(Photo credit: Love Shack)
My name is Patricia, I was born in Brazil and became a naturalized American citizen in 2008. My partner Ira, who I have been with for 8 years is a Finnish citizen. When we met in 2003, Ira was a student and right from the start there was a lot of tension and worry surrounding the problem of how she would stay in the country. Could she afford school one more year to renew her student visa? Would she be able to get a job that would sponsor her for a work visa? U.S. work visas are very limited, but lucky for us she did get hired and got a 3 year work visa that could be renewed for another 3 years. However, this visa is going to expire in less than two years and I cannot give her a greencard through marriage, even though we did get married in the District of Columbia last year.

Last year was a big year for us. In addition to tying the knot, we also had a baby girl. Having her in our lives prompted us to try to move to a more accepting society where our partnership is recognized and legal. As such, we are trying to relocate to Canada.

The irony of our situation is that both Brazil and Finland recognize same sex partnerships for the purpose of immigration. Ideally for us we would like to stay in the U.S., but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen any time soon. So Canada here we come!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Princeton University Hosts Marriage Equality Event Featuring Josh & Henry's Fight Against Deportation

Excerpted from the Daily Princetonian, April 14, 2011:

The Frist Campus Center Multipurpose Room, decorated with floral confetti, white drapery and event schedules decorated with silver borders, looked fit for a wedding on Thursday afternoon at the “Speak Now for Marriage Equality” panel and discussion session organized by the Princeton Equality Project.

Deans of Religious Life Alison Boden and Paul Raushenbush joined Joshua Vandiver GS, his Venezuelan husband Henry Velandia and the couple’s attorney Lavi Soloway in a five-member panel that shared different perspectives on marriage equality and discussed the impact of U.S. marriage laws on the LGBT community.

PEP, a student-run organization at the University working to realize full LGBT equality, dedicated the event to Vandiver and Velandia’s fight against the Defense of Marriage Act. This February, the Obama administration recommended that DOMA no longer be defended in federal courts because it prevents the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages.

Velandia and thousands of others are threatened with deportation because DOMA bars Americans such as Vandiver from sponsoring same-sex spouses for green cards.

Boden opened the panel with an invocation in honor of the event’s wedding theme. “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to witness and celebrate the equality of all people and of their civil liberties,” she said. “We are grateful most for those we cherish, those who fill our hearts with love and for whom our hearts pour out such love in return that we cannot begin to measure.”

Vandiver shared how he and Velandia met at the University and married last August on “one of those late summer days, green and gorgeous in eastern Connecticut.” Two days after the marriage, he filed a petition for his husband’s residency and green card.

However, Vandiver’s application was rejected this February. Velandia is scheduled for a deportation hearing on May 6. If the hearing goes against him, he could be required to leave the United States and be barred from returning for a minimum of 10 years.

Vandiver talked about the couple’s petition to Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano to stop the deportation of people in Velandia’s situation until the DOMA dilemma is officially resolved. “She has the power to do that immediately,” Vandiver said. “She’s done it for other groups, and she could do it in our case as well, but the broader struggle is to repeal DOMA.”

“We can’t trust in our presidents or our Congress; we have to work very hard to encourage them to bring about the change,” Vandiver added. “They may have promised that they want to do it, but they need us behind them to do it ... That’s what Henry and I are trying to do, both to save our own marriage and the marriages of dozens and dozens of couples.”

As an immigrant from Venezuela, Velandia talked about his journey of self-discovery as he came to terms with his “identity as a gay man” while trying to “live the American Dream.” He talked about his happiness upon finding Vandiver and referred to him as his “life.”

“I fell in love with him the first day,” he said. “It’s like a horror movie to imagine that we could be separated.”

Soloway, a lawyer who has represented binational same-sex couples for 18 years, recently won a case to stop the deportation of Monica Alcota, the wife of American-born Cristina Ojeda. The judge allowed Ojeda to petition U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to have Alcota recognized as her spouse and provide residency.

Soloway urged the audience to reach out to Senator Lautenberg and Senator Menendez of New Jersey to join the fight against DOMA.

After the panel concluded, the audience was encouraged to sign the online petition “Save Our Marriage — Stop the Deportation of Henry Velandia,” which already has nearly 3,000 signatures, attend a reception and enjoy wedding cake on the South Frist Lawn.

According to PEP president Andrew Blumenfeld ’13, the program was a success, with over 80 people writing letters to their congressmen asking them to recognize the difficulties of couples like Vandiver and Velandia.

In an interview after the panel, Vandiver and Velandia expressed their frustration at the DHS’ lack of response to last week’s letter from 12 senators. The movement, led by John Kerry, urged U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Napolitano to stop defending DOMA in federal courts.

With Velandia’s hearing less than four weeks away, “they need to make a decision very soon,” Vandiver explained.

Velandia noted that leaving the United States was not an option for the couple, explaining that moving to his native Venezuela would be very dangerous for them as a same-sex couple and that the move could have a destructive effect on Vandiver’s career.

“Josh is aiming to be a professor in the States. That’s where he was born, and that’s where he deserves to stay,” Velandia said.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Jennifer & Elizabeth Struggle to Build Future Together

My name is Jennifer and I am a Canadian citizen. I first moved to the States in 2005 to start my undergrad at the University of Houston and I am currently working to finish my Master’s at the University of North Texas by August of this year. I met my now fiancée, Elizabeth, at GLOBAL, the LGBT group at the University of Houston almost 4 years ago. When we first met it was clear to us that we had a strong connection as friends and after a year we started dating. We have now been together for over two years and we are inseparable. She makes me incredibly happy and we are always laughing together. In March of 2011, Elizabeth asked me to marry her and I said YES! Elizabeth is American and has lived in the United States her entire life. This is the country that she calls home, and the country in which I would love to build my life with her. Unfortunately, because we are unable to have our relationship legally recognized by marriage in the United States, things have been rather difficult for us.

When I finished my Bachelor’s degree, there was a lot of uncertainty as to whether or not I would be able to remain in the United States with Elizabeth. I applied for something called OPT, which allows you to work within the United States within your field for a year after graduation, and I also applied to graduate school, which would also allow me to stay. I had to return to Canada to renew my health insurance and visit my family and I was unsure when I would be allowed to return to be with Elizabeth again, as I was told that processing could take up to three months. I was accepted into my grad program at the University of North Texas after only a month away from her, which we considered to be very lucky. Although it might not seem like a long time to wait, it is agony when you do not know exactly when you will be able to see the person you love again.

Although I absolutely love my Master’s program, a big factor in deciding to get this degree is that a job requiring a Master’s in Library Sciences is on the North American Free Trade Agreement list and it will allow me to apply each year to continue working in the United States. Unfortunately this is only a temporary solution, as this type of work authorization is given “without the intent to immigrate.” This means that at any point they can decide that you have been working in the U.S. for too long, and they can choose to not let you through the border. Although we have some temporary solutions, which is more than a lot of our fellow binational couples, it is still not a permanent answer. If Elizabeth and I could be recognized as legally married by the United States government for immigration purposes, we could both continue to live in the country that we both consider to be our home. Until that is possible we can’t purchase a home or settle down completely because we know that at any point we might have to leave.

I know that Elizabeth is the one I want to spend the rest of my life with. She makes me so happy and I do not know what I would do without her. We have both discussed the possibility of moving to Canada if things do not work out here, as we both know without a doubt that we will do whatever it takes to remain together. Please help us repeal DOMA and work towards the passage of the Uniting American Families Act.  It is abhorrent that binational couples have to choose between their country and the person they love. We should be able to live in the United States together legally without the fear and uncertainty of the future.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Rep. Zoe Lofgren Letter to the Administration Urges DHS & DOJ to Halt Deportations and Restore Abeyance

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and 98 co-sponsors re-introduced the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA), a bill that he has championed in each successive Congress since 2000, which would provide relief for most binational couples by expanding family-based immigration to include same-sex partners of American citizens and permanent residents.  A companion bill was introduced in the Senate by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) with a record 18 co-sponsors.

The day's other big news was that California Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren, who had not previously co-sponsored UAFA, now not only joined her Democratic colleagues in support of the bill, but also took a leadership role in the call for executive branch action in light of the administration's changed position on DOMA. With 48 House members co-signing, Rep. Lofgren today sent a strongly worded letter to Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano and Attorney General Holder urging them to halt deportations of spouses of gay and lesbian Americans and put all green card applications filed by married, same-sex couples into "abeyance," restoring the policy that was announced and then retracted just two weeks ago. Lofgren, who is the ranking minority member on the House Subcommittee on Immigration, joins Senator Kerry (D-Mass) who last week, together with a dozen U.S. Senators, wrote to DHS and DOJ to do the same.

See also, "Immigration Battle Heats Up, The Advocate, April 14, 2011, excerpted here:

"At least one binational gay couple, Henry Velandia and Josh Vandiver, currently face imminent deportation proceedings. Velandia, a Venezuelan citizen, married his American spouse in 2009 in Connecticut, and has a deportation hearing scheduled May 6.

“The administration has both an opportunity and responsibility to complement legislative efforts now by ensuring that all binational couples are protected from deportation or separation until we have achieved inclusion and equality in family-based immigration,” said Lavi Soloway, the couple’s attorney and cofounder of Stop the Deportations. “If the administration fails to act, irreversible legal consequences of deportation will mean that many binational couples and their families will be torn apart permanently and will unable to access the family unification immigration process even after DOMA is repealed or struck down by the Supreme Court."

Both Nadler and Lofgren pushed early for halting deportations in such cases after the administration’s February announcement that it would no longer defend DOMA in pending legal challenges."

Uniting American Families Act Re-Introduced in Congress

Full Huffington Post story here
Full Bay Area Reporter story here.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Doug & Alex Featured in Freedom To Marry Campaign

The Seattle Lesbian: International LGBT Families

"The harsh reality of immigration discrimination is even more consequential. Attorney Lavi Soloway, a founder of Immigration Equality and "Stop the Deportations - The DOMA Project,” reported that tens of thousands of Americans who live and even marry same-sex partners from other countries are currently forbidden from sponsoring their spouses for U.S. residency. His clients Fred and Mark, French-American parents of four who spoke on the panel, described how their family may be torn apart as early as June this year. After being together for over 20 years and adopting four children in the U.S., the French dad cannot remain in country due to immigration discrimination, while the family cannot move to France because the two dads' joint parenting is not recognized there due to discriminatory adoption laws. This case illustrates that, especially for same-sex couples raising children, immigration inequality can tear families apart, leaving them with no acceptable options at all."

Full story here.

EDGE: Binational Couples Fight to Keep Families Intact

Full story here.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Two Women in Love, Kept Apart By DOMA

"DOMA defends no one's marriage. But it is crushing us."
T writes:  I first met CJ online and, very quickly, I found myself interested in knowing more about her. From our first conversations I could see that she was intelligent, funny, and very passionate about the things that are important to her. The first time I heard her voice I melted; and now, after a year, it still has that same effect on me. We grew closer with each conversation and soon we were talking through Skype on our cell phones at least three times a day; morning, noon and night. We found that we are alike in many ways, enjoy most of the same things, yet we are different in ways that complement each other.  Finding each other makes us two of the luckiest people in the world.

CJ made the long journey to North Carolina from the UK to visit for the first time last year. It was after that visit that I knew without a doubt that she is the woman of my dreams. When we are together, everything feels so right. When we are apart, it is, quite honestly, very painful. I suffer from migraines and when CJ isn’t here, I get them weekly; sometimes twice a week. When we are together I rarely get one. Every day that we are apart feels like a day wasted; a day that I should have been able to spend with the one I love; a day that I can’t get back.

Right now we should be happy. We shouldn't be sad and hurt from being forced to live apart. We shouldn't be worrying about how and when we can be together. For as long as I can remember I've had this image in my mind of the perfect woman for me. I had given up hope that she existed. But she does, and we finally found each other. Problem is, she’s not a US citizen and the US government doesn’t recognize our relationship.  And to be with the love of my life, I may be forced to leave my family and a good job I’ve held for 21 years. This is a choice no American should be forced to make. Only because we are a lesbian couple, am I looking at the possibility of being literally pushed out of my own country. This is the reality of America in 2011 for a lesbian binational couple. A heterosexual American in my position would simply complete a fiancée visa petition and the immigration process that is in place to keep loving couples together would work its magic.

CJ writes: T and I felt like soul mates from the start. We just clicked. I think I realized about a month or so into our friendship that I was falling in love with her. Early last spring, we had planned for me to go over to the US in November for a month. But by May, November seemed so far away that we brought it forward to August. I spent a little over four weeks in NC and during that time I knew I was in love and never wanted to leave her. But I had to. On some nights, while she slept, I would lay awake crying knowing that the visit would have to end. Being there, with her, felt so right, so perfect. The parting at the airport is the most unbearable heartache; it feels like someone is standing on you crushing your chest. I blame the American legislators who passed the law that so cruelly suppresses our freedom to love. DOMA defends no one’s marriage. It is, however, crushing us.

I returned for a visit to North Carolina for three weeks over Christmas and New Year and T will be back in the UK in April for two weeks. The travel is exhausting and expensive, but that is the price we pay. We refuse to be kept apart because of discriminatory laws.

I was planning on waiting until April to see her, but in February I was injured in a cycling accident and had to take time off work. I was hurting, and I just needed to be with my girl; so I flew out to North Carolina for a week and a half. Everything was fine except the interrogation by the immigration officer that I had to endure because I'd only just left the US seven weeks earlier. It was so demoralizing. I wanted to scream at her, “I'm in pain. I just want to be with my partner. Is that too much to ask?” but I couldn't. Why do we have to feel like criminals just because we are binational couples? The U.S. government punishes its own law-abiding, hard working gay and lesbian citizens for having fallen in love with someone from another country. The government is actively undermining our attempt to build a future together. It is a clear case of the government saying who its citizens can and cannot love. It is inhumane.

T is the most loving, caring, kind hearted, generous person I have ever met. She makes me feel invincible. If I'm stressed, angry or upset, just talking to her calms me down and puts me back in my happy place. This relationship should not have to be lived, as it is, primarily over Skype. I get stressed if I have to go a whole work day, for whatever reason, without hearing her voice. I miss her so, so much. We should be able to wake up together and help each other start the day, which in turn would make us more productive members of the workforce. I want to be there in the evening of the day for each other, to moan about the crap life throws at us, and to enjoy the good times. I want to be supportive in the build up to job interviews and celebrate promotions and to be together at such times when extended family needs us. It hurts to know that many couples take having a beer on the deck in the yard on a Friday night or arguing about what to watch on TV for granted. We do not even have those luxuries. To be separated by law is a crime, pure and simple.

T could move here to the UK, because my country recognizes same-sex partners/spouses, and I could sponsor her without any problems. However; unlike me, she has an elderly mother and very close family ties. How could I ask her to leave? That is not an option. We may relocate to Canada, which has become a haven for stateless binational lesbian and gay couples; at least Canada would be closer to NC, so she could visit her family on a regular basis. But forcing her to become a refugee would be another loss to the US. She's a highly skilled IT worker. How many skilled workers does the US want to lose? As for me, I have a Masters degree; I am self employed and have no criminal record.

I know our relationship is a new one compared to many others who have suffered this injustice for years and even decades. I hope President Obama’s refusal to defend DOMA and his administration’s determination that it is unconstitutional marks the dawn of a new era and that soon all loving couples can be together.

I am certain there is only one woman with whom I want to spend the rest of my life; she is 4,000 miles away in one of the most powerful, but frustrating, democracies in the world. Don't let it become the most backward looking. Please, help us by joining the effort to repeal DOMA and working to pass the Uniting American Families Act as the best temporary solution in the meantime.

Monday, April 11, 2011

NY Community Center Panel: Binational LGBT Families

Lavi Soloway with Kelli Carpenter speaking at NYC Community Center
about LGBT Binational and International Families on April 10, 2011
Panel participants, Mark and Fred, pictured above with Lavi Soloway.  Mark and Fred are a married binational couple living in Pennsylvania. They celebrated their 21st anniversary on April 7 and are raising four children together and fighting to stay in the country for more than two decades.

Josh and Henry Take Their Fight to Harvard University

AP: Doug & Alex Fighting Deportation and DOMA

Doug and Alex celebrating after their marriage in 2010
 Associated Press, April 10, 2011 (full story here):

"Last month, there was a flurry of excitement among binational gay couples when a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services spokesman indicated that cases would be "held in abeyance" while broader legal issues were reviewed. Hopes soared that this would mean a halt in deportations of foreigners married to gay Americans, but within two days the federal agency said there would be no policy change.

"It's gut-wrenching to go through the ups and downs," said Doug Gentry, whose Venezuelan spouse, Alex Benshimol, faces a deportation hearing in July.

They briefly hoped the case would be put on hold — but now have been notified that an application for permanent residency for Benshimol has been denied.
"I've had the rug pulled out from under me so many times," Gentry said. "You're so used to getting your hopes up, only to get them dashed, that you almost don't want to hope."

The couple, who married last year in Connecticut after six years as partners, run a pet grooming business in Palm Springs, Calif.

"I don't feel we're different from any other family," said Gentry, 53. "I don't want to be forced to stay with my husband by going into exile, and leaving my home, my business and my country behind."

Read more "Gay California Couple Joins Challenge to Defense of Marriage Act, Fight Deportation," October 24, 2010, Stop The Deportations - The DOMA Project.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Arthur and Christopher Celebrate 14 Years Together, 10,000 Miles Apart, Now Separated by a 10-Year Ban

One of the last times this couple was together. DOMA is now keeping them apart.

Editor's note: This story is extraordinarily important because it serves as a reminder of the cruel realities that befall many binational couples, not only because of the discrimination against LGBT families in our immigration law, but because of the lack of access to good immigration lawyers and the complexity and lack of flexibility of our laws. As you will learn below, Arthur and Chris have been forced apart because Chris has been barred from the United States for 10 years after overstaying his status as a visitor by 13 months.  There is a waiver of the overstay ban built into our laws for individuals who can show hardship to their American citizen spouse, but as long as Arthur and Chris cannot be recognized under federal law as spouses, Chris will be forced to live in Australia He will continue to be banished 10,000 miles away from his life-partner and soul mate of 14 years until the year 2019 simply because he took the wrong advice and departed the U.S. believing that he would be allowed to return again as a visitor.  Christopher sent us this story.

Arthur is an American citizen. He is 51 years old and lives in Connecticut.  I am a 47 year old Australian citizen, and as will be come clear from our story, I am stuck in Australia. On April 21st Arthur and I will celebrate our 14 anniversary together although we will not physically be in the same place. It will not be much of a celebration. I have been back in Australia and have a 10 year entry ban placed against me.

Our troubles began after our immigration attorney advised me that I could stay in the USA with out penalty as long as I didn't work. (He now denies this.) After finding out his advice was incorrect, I returned to Australia as I didn't want to be "illegal." This proved to be the worst decision I have ever made.  How did I ever come to make such a calculated mistake? Probably like most binational gay couples we struggled with the goals (often competing) of having as much precious time as possible together, but also avoiding staying illegally and putting me, the foreign partner, at risk of deportation.  The idea that my illegal status could become known to the authorities loomed large for us, and caused significant anxiety and stress. I was scared of being deported.  At that time, the town of New Haven, CT started implementing policies to discover illegal immigrants and turn them over to the Immigration Service.  Near to our home in New Milford CT, the police in Danbury were also engaged in a similar effort. Everywhere we turned it seemed that we faced no good choices. No one could give us any direction so we had to decide for ourselves what came down to a choice between all bad options, and pick one. Of course, in departing I thought I was doing the right thing, preserving my ability to come back again as a visitor in the future. I had never heard of the 10-year bar for individuals who had overstayed their permitted period of entry.

Arthur &Christopher with Christopher's 96-year old
grandmother on Arthur's last trip to Australia
Since my return to Australia, Arthur and I have both suffered through bouts of depression and despair. At this moment, as our anniversary nears, Arthur is having an extremely hard time which in turn is killing me as I cannot be there to comfort him. We have made numerous attempts to gain assistance from elected officials but have had zero luck. In fact, out of thirty-one 6-page letters I wrote from here only a single reply was ever received. That reply came from Senator Gillibrand in NY who said she was unable to do anything to help in the situation but forwarded the letter to Senator Lieberman (since Arthur is a Connecticut resident). I had already written his office, and had received no response. The rest have been ignored. I contacted Immigration Equality and the attorney there kindly suggested that Arthur send the letters seeking assistance from the perspective of the U.S. citizen. We did this; we also asked family and friends to write support letters attesting to my good moral character. We sent out Arthur's 3-page letter along with those from our family and friends but so far, no reply.

We have come to realize that we are trying to move a mountain. All we are asking for is the penalty of a ten year ban to be removed so I can travel as a tourist and at least visit Arthur and those I consider my family.  However, the 10-year bar is a almost immovable barrier. If I were applying for a green card on the basis of my marriage to Arthur I could seek a hardship waiver, but of course DOMA is standing in our way.  The ten year bar kicked in as soon as I left because I had overstayed my last entry as a visitor by 13 months. Had I overstayed for a period between 180 and 365 days the penalty would only be three years.  So we are now asking that given that I exceeded the 365 day limit by only a month, if perhaps the penalty could be reduced to 3 years. That would in theory make me eligible to return and see Arthur again in 2012. Again we realize that these laws have not been written with any flexibility. We have been reduced to begging.

While I have been in Australia I have written to the U.S. Ambassador in Sydney asking for the removal of the 10-year bar,  but that was denied by one of his staff. My father also made a second attempt on my behalf but again, it was no use.  After arriving back here I sought out some advice from the US Consulate in Sydney. After telling them what had happened in the USA and that I only "overstayed" because of the mistaken advice given to me by my attorney, I was told to apply for a visitor visa.  The information officer was overly optimistic; he felt that I wouldn't have a problem because I departed the USA on my own accord and only overstayed because of the advice given.  This was dead wrong. Unfortunately, I got my hopes up. I made the appointment as per the instructions, traveled 5 hours to attend the interview only to be denied because of the 10-year bar in less than 2 minutes. Absolutely devastated I had to drive another 5 hours home.

I am sure all who are reading this understand that my life is with Arthur and his life is with me. I belong with him and his family who treat me as they would any member of the family. We are a family. My friends are there, it is home to me.

There is only one way for this to end. The federal government has to stop tearing apart gay couples. This situation is pure madness. There would never have been any overstay at all if Arthur and I could have married and obtained a green card for me on the basis of that marriage. The Defense of Marriage Act has been in existence almost the entire duration of our relationship. We have waited and hoped that a day would come when couples like us would be treated equally.  We have been forced apart and it is destroying our lives and breaking our hearts. All our future hopes and dreams have been put on hold. I cannot imagine that I will not be able to see Arthur again until he is almost 60.  How can this government allow us to lose 10 years of our lives. Everyone reading this can do something to bring an end to this. What has happened to us should never happen to any other couple.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Together For Nine Years, Minnesota Gay Couple Lives in Fear of Deportation Because of DOMA

I no longer remember exactly when it happened.  One day, while I was in college in the late 1990s I first heard about the inability of American citizens to sponsor their partners for green cards. recall exactly what my reaction was: “Well, I’ll never have to worry about that!” 

I grew up in rural North Dakota. The thought of meeting and falling in love with anyone who was not a citizen did not even cross my mind at the time, it was such a remote possibility. I moved to the “big city” of Minneapolis in 2001 with the intention of finding a place that was more comfortable for me as a gay man. I didn’t want to live my whole life in North Dakota.

I met José in 2002 at a friend’s birthday party. I remember seeing him sitting on the couch, all by himself, a flurry of activity around him. He was cute, but obviously shy, so I sat down next to him and we just talked. I think we both felt out of place. He was the quiet type and I was new to the gay scene in the big city. We met by chance again soon after at a nightclub in St. Paul. I say we met, but really I just saw him from across the room and remembered how cute he was. I didn’t even say hello. My roommate and I left for another club in Minneapolis after about an hour. And sure enough, after a few hours I ran into José again. We danced all night and I jokingly accused him of following us. I didn’t know at the time that he’d become the love of my life, and that we’d spend the next 9 years together. We dated for a year, and moved in together in 2003. We have lived in the same townhouse the whole time, our cute little townhouse in the suburbs.

We are like any other couple. We have good times and bad. We fight and make up. One of the hardest times in our relationship was when I went back to school for my master’s degree in 2005. It’s a very intense 2.5-year program. I’d spend 6 hours a day in class and come home only to lock my self in the spare bedroom to study for 8 more hours. We’ve made it though some tough times. Everything we’ve gone through together is like what any other couple experiences, but we’ve also endured an extra burden in addition to the normal couple experience.

I found out that José was in the U.S. without lawful status shortly before we moved in together. I’m not sure if I knew at the time the entirety of what that meant. I told him  that I loved him no matter what, and that it didn't matter to me. On the outside, he looked like any other person. He is Latino, and in some ways he fit right in to the diversity of the Twin Cities. He had a driver’s license. He had a steady job. I didn’t understand what it really meant to be "undocumented."  Thinking back now, I was so young and ignorant.  I truly believed that our love was all we needed.

Nine years later, I see the impact legal status has on José and on us as a couple. There are many things we’d both like to do that we can’t. The scariest thing is the fear we live with everyday. If we are stopped, or have to deal with the authorities for any reason, it can cause panic. All it would take is for someone to ask for proof of his immigration status and our biggest nightmare would be upon us: our life as a couple could be over.

José has a job, but it isn’t the best. He is constantly ridiculed and put down there. He has been robbed at gunpoint, twice.  Because of his status he is vulnerable to those who want to take advantage of him and he is afraid to report anything to the authorities.  Every time something happens, I tell him to leave and find a different job, but it really isn’t that easy. So he stays and plods along in the same mediocre job. No health insurance. No sick time. No vacation time. Low pay. No respect. Constant insults from customers. Unrealistic managers. José is intelligent, educated and highly resourceful.  He has a business degree from Mexico, but none of that matters.  He has no opportunity for a better job because of his legal status.  Any heterosexual American in our situation would not be writing this story, or sharing photos of themselves with their faces concealed by masks.  Any heterosexual American would have simply married and sponsored their spouse. If we were heterosexual, José would have long ago had a "green card" and even U.S. citizenship.  But instead we live in a prison forced upon us by discriminatory laws.

We’ve talked about all of our options to remedy our situation. I told him that I would move to Mexico with him if he was deported.  But that option is not a good one for us. I don't know how we would survive there, how I would work, and while Mexico City does now allow gay couples to marry, the reality is that gays are not treated well in Mexico, there is still a lot of homophobia and machismo.  As an American, I'm not convinced I could live safely there. Mexico isn’t getting any safer with the drug wars either. So we thought about Canada. That would be a better option, but not great. If José leaves the country, he is barred from returning for 10 years. And so we are trapped. His whole life is here. So immigration to Canada (if we could qualify to immigrate there!) is only an emergency option to be kept on the back burner.

As much as we live with constant anxiety and fear, we are also frustrated about our inability to plan for our future.  We are being robbed of the hopes and dreams that most couples take for granted.  As we are both getting older we would like very much like to start a family. That too is out of our grasp. We’ve thought about surrogacy, but the costs involved are staggering. Even though I have a good paying job, we’d have to use all of our savings for one round with no guarantees.  And José has no opportunity to pursue the career for which he has been educated, so he is chronically underemployed.  We have also considered adoption. We haven’t gone down that road because we were afraid we would not be approved after home visits revealed José's immigration status.  Home studies for an adoption are understandable, but they would seal the fate of our plans to start a family. Obviously when you spend nine years as a binational couple in hiding, you aren’t going to invite someone into your home to investigate your partner's immigration status. So we wait to start our lives as we watch our friends, straight and gay, get married and have children. It is heartbreaking. We know that years are being robbed from us by the U.S. government and the cruel discrimination imposed on me as a U.S. citizen just because I am gay.

We watched with hope in 2004 when Massachusetts became the first state to allow gay couples to marry.  We thought that perhaps it would change something in our lives. I didn’t realize the full impact of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) at the time, but I sure found out. It meant that to the federal government, that even if we married, our relationship was worth less than others—nothing in fact— because we are gay. So we waited again.  We didn't marry because like so many binational couples we were probably more scared and uninformed than anything else; we were afraid if we married this could somehow lead to José being deported. We didn't realize that there were actually attorneys out there who specialized in LGBT immigration issues so we never got proper advice. We just postponed our plans to marry as we had postponed everything else in our lives.

We watched in 2007, when President Bush was pushing for immigration reform. We never thought we’d agree with anything President Bush had to say, but there we were, hoping and praying for reform. José would watch C-Span for hours on end. He was horrified at the hateful things some members of Congress would say on record! We were only more devastated when nothing happened.

We were both overjoyed when President Obama was elected with huge Democrat majorities in both houses. We thought for sure that our prayers had been answered. The things Obama had talked about while campaigning were music to our ears. I spent hours knocking on doors and making phone calls for Obama and Franken. When the economy crashed it seemed certain that immigration reform and gay rights legislation would no longer be a priority. Again, we felt let down.

This year however we had great cause for both excitement and disappointment as a binational couple. First came the news that the President would no longer defend the indefensible, horribly named "Defense of Marriage Act."  We did not expect that this would result in a fast solution for us, but we were hopeful.  Then at the end of March we learned that all green card applications for same sex couples were going to be put on hold; my heart soared!  Perhaps I should have known better than to get so excited. It just mean my crash to reality would be even harder when it turned out that, in fact, they would not be put on hold. But during those few days when everything seemed possible, I started to think about all the possibilities. If José got employment authorization and legal status the constant daily fear would be gone. Maybe he could get a better job. Maybe he could go back to school. We started making plans to get married. One more step closer to equality! The joy was short lived. We were both crushed.

Perhaps one good thing came of all of the excitement and disappointment of the past few weeks; we are definitely planning on getting married. We decided to do it on our anniversary later this month.  We should be feeling happier than we do, but there is an air of caution over our heads. The lingering doubt that practically resides in the back of our minds; a little voice that constantly asks if this is really the right thing to do. Its not that we aren’t committed to each other or in love, but we constantly have to think about the legal aspect of everything we do in our lives.  We have decided that this is the right thing for us to do.

As an American citizen, soon to be married to the love of my life, I am now going to join the many other binational couples and reach out to my U.S. Senator Al Franken to urge him to call on Secretary of Department of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano to put a halt on deportations of spouses of gay Americans. After all, if the President thinks DOMA is unconstitutional it cannot be used to deport José. That minimum security is something we deserve as Americans while Congress works to repeal DOMA or lawsuits bring it to its final day of judgment in the Supreme Court. This administration must protect LGBT families, and stopping all deportations involving married binational couples is a necessary first step.  I am taking a baby step out of our self-imposed prison. I will meet with my elected officials, though José will stay at home, afraid still to "come out" as undocumented.  But I will fight the fight for equality. I hope you will join me in defeating DOMA and stopping the deportations.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The DOMA Project's Newest Research Intern: University of Wisconsin Senior, Dario Rodriguez

Dario Rodriguez is a senior at the University of Wisconsin at Madison where he majors in Political Science (international political relations and economy) and Spanish.  He works on campus for the International Faculty Staff & Services as an assistant J-1 & H-1B visa specialist, focusing on compliance issues, presenting visa trainings and information sessions and processing applications and petitions.  In this work, Dario became familiar with related U.S. immigration regulations and procedures. We are pleased to welcome Dario to The DOMA Project as our newest research intern.

What Happened? The Confusion for Binational Couples

By Karen Ocamb
(cross posted with permission from LGBT POV and Frontiers in LA magazine)

Some good news on the immigration front on Tuesday. AP reports that Rep. Rush Holt (D -NJ) sent a letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on March 31 on behalf of a same sex couple who live in his district to stop Defense of Marriage Act deportation proceedings against the same-sex spouses of American citizens. Immigration attorney Lavi Soloway has more about it on his website, StopTheDeportations.

I asked Soloway to explain the roller coaster of recent events involving bi-national couples and what LGBTs can do to help. Here’s that story, cross-posted from Frontiers In LA:

Immigration Attorney Lavi Soloway Talks About the Confusion for Binational Couples

Lesbian and gay couples got one more blunt force example of how the federal government treats LGBT individuals differently from heterosexuals. This time it’s the impact on 36,000 same-sex couples (47 percent of whom have children) who are seeking the right for the foreign-born partner to legally stay in the country through a green card—a right afforded straight married couples automatically but denied same-sex couples because of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act.

On March 22, an immigration judge in New York City granted a legally married lesbian couple a stay of their deportation hearing to allow them to pursue an immigration petition based on the fact that the U.S. Justice Department said they considered DOMA unconstitutional. That first of-its-kind decision was quickly followed by unrelated news that the U.S. Immigration Service was going to hold in “abeyance” green card cases for same-sex couples. But that was rescinded before the champagne bubbles fizzed out, leaving binational same-sex couples confused over what was going to happen next.

Frontiers asked immigration attorney Lavi Soloway to explain what’s going on. Here’s his explanation, and what you can do to help. He started by explaining that the case of the binational couple could have a ripple effect.

“All immigration judges live in the real world; and that is a world where discrimination against married gay and lesbian couples is increasingly rejected. Immigration judges make determinations on a case-by-case basis, but with the Department of Justice rejecting DOMA as unconstitutional and refusing to defend it in current and future federal court challenges, there is every reason for immigration judges to agree to adjourn deportation hearings to allow couples to fight for their marriages.”

How does the constitutionality of DOMA work here?

For the last 18 years, we have built a movement dedicated to ending discrimination against binational couples in our immigration system. … [But] there are now 100,000 same-sex couples married in this country, and polling shows that a majority of Americans oppose discrimination by the federal government against married gay and lesbian couples. Then, last summer DOMA was ruled unconstitutional by Judge Joseph Tauro in Boston in two separate cases.

We felt it was time to change the terms of the discussion. The president stated that DOMA was unfair, discriminatory and should be repealed. Increasingly, binational couples understood that it was DOMA that was preventing the federal government from giving them access to green cards.

This was most clear in deportation cases. Spouses of gay and lesbian Americans were being deported despite their legally valid marriages. These cases were the leading edge of a tremendous injustice, and demonstrated the ultimate and cruelest consequence of DOMA. … We decided to launch The DOMA Project and focus on halting deportations.

What happened with the U.S. Immigration Service holding green card cases in abeyance and then rescinding that?

Various District Offices of the USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services) were receiving alien relative petitions and green card applications from married gay and lesbian couples and, rather than issue denials because of DOMA, they were processing those cases and then holding off on the final decisions. This policy was reviewed by Department of Homeland Security attorneys in recent days and they apparently decided that denials had to go out. Regardless of what happened at USCIS—and it is not entirely clear what actually happened—we are going to continue to file alien relative petitions for spouses of U.S. citizens who are facing deportation and we are going to continue to ask judges to adjourn or postpone deportation hearings until those marriage cases have been pursued fully.

We are also going to file marriage-based petitions and applications for a small group of very carefully selected couples to create a foundation for the fight for an abeyance policy. But no one should be attempting this without expert legal counsel, as the consequences of filing such cases could include facing deportation proceedings if the foreign spouse has no other lawful status.

What can LGBTs do to help?

1. We must get those stories out there, as we have done on our DOMA Project website to educate policymakers, legislators and the general public about the extreme injustice suffered by couples who are separated, exiled or living under threat of being torn apart.

2. We must petition Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano for a moratorium on deportations of spouses of gay and lesbian Americans until DOMA’s fate has been decided. (She has the power to do this, as we saw in 2009 when she halted deportations of widows and widowers of U.S. citizens while a legislative fix was passed by Congress.)

3. We must demand unequivocally that the administration institute an abeyance policy so that all binational gay and lesbian couples can file green card petitions and applications based on their marriages. Despite statements to the contrary, this is possible and consistent with enforcement of DOMA. For almost all couples such an abeyance policy would secure temporary lawful status for the foreign spouse, provide much needed employment authorization and protection from deportation. Final decisions on these petitions and applications would be held until a later date, while Congress works on the repeal of DOMA and various DOMA challenges make their way to the Supreme Court. Right now we must fight for binational couples to survive from day to day and avoid being torn apart by deportation.