|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
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.