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.


  1. Our hearts and support are with you Arthur and Christopher!
    Your "GayBiN" brothers,
    Max and Francisco

  2. Christopher, I'm up in the Central Coast an hour and a half north of Sydney. I'm here with my partner from Egypt who's a perm resident here, but I'm actually from Boston. I have to stay here but I want to go home and be with my family too and my world is in Boston. I miss it. Anyways, I read your story and feel for you, and I'd love to connect- it'd be nice to even commiserate with someone else in a binational couple, facing the effects of discriminatory laws in the US. All my best to you and Arthur.

  3. Christopher, I was so moved by your story. I am here in the US to be with my girlfriend on a student's visa. I have to enroll and spend thousands of family-earned dollars just to be able to be with her. But since I'm about to graduate this year, I am now considering getting a Master's degree, which I'm not really upto, just to be with her. With the current cases involving the constitutionality of gay marriage, I am hoping that you and Arthur will be together soon. My prayers are with you... Let's all fight these laws banning immigration benefits to same-sex couples!!! Take care.

  4. I am sorry so to hear this new. We are a bi-national coulple, I am British and my parner an American and we live in the UK. My partner misses his family and we live in hope that one day we can live as a family in the US when DOMA is dead and buried. We watch out for "DOMA" news each passing day and this website is a lifeline, we wish you guys all the luck in the world. ! m and m

  5. Christopher, I was just denied the "tourist" visa. I ran out of the embassy crying... couldn't help it, it was just too much of a shock. I had a B1 visa for 10 years, and now spent the last year in my country of origin working on a big project, and wanted to finally get a new visa so I can go to the USA and be with my same-sex partner of almost 11 years. At the time of entering USA the last time I was advised by an immigration officer that when I apply for a new visa, I should ask for an annotation to be put on it that would state that I'm in a committed relationship with an american citizen... Based on that, when I was asked by the consular officer what is my purpose for applying for the visa, I truthfully said that I would like to be able to spend some time with my partner of 10 years again. He said that it's obvious that my ties with the USA are stronger than my ties with my country of origin and that is a reason for denial. He did not care that I have employers here, that I have an elderly mother here, that I had always returned back to my country of origin because I wanted to abide the law. He didn't care that when I'm in the USA, my partner and I travel a lot (and they call the visa a "tourist" one). He said he was sympathetic, but he denied me anyway, and I just got a standard print out stating what the reason for refusal to grant me the visa was. He didn't want to see the affidavit of support my partner sent me, and even said that an affidavit is only helpful when applying for an immigrant visa, which is not what the site about visas says. The "conversation" lasted no more than 10 minutes, half of it consisted of the guy staring at his computer's monitor screen. When I asked if I could reapply, he said I may, but all the officers have the same guidelines, so as long as my circumstances haven't changed, I would most likely be denied again. In disbelief I asked: "so as long as I'm in a relationship with her, I cannot go there?" He mumbled something about any "significant change". I got so emotional... I don't know if the next time I try to get a visa I should just tell a story about wanting to travel across the USA with my "american friend"? The guy typed up some report about our conversation, and I'm pretty sure he stated in it what I told him about having a life partner there. If I go to a visa interview again, would they see the previous reports and ask me if I have a partner in the USA by any chance? I just don't even know what to expect :((((

    The long distance relationships are so difficult... It's SO unfair. I hope our stories get more exposure and the politicians finally see the light...

  6. One way of looking at all of this (apart from the rank injustice afflicting binational couples specifically) is that when dealing with officers of the U.S. government, it would be wise not to engage in any interaction without first consulting an expert attorney in the field. To do otherwise, is to render oneself completely vulnerable to a system that is not designed for lay persons to navigate successfully, as simple and straightforward as that system may seem.

    Like so many other couples who experience the same problem as the writer above (not Christopher's dilemma which concerns the 10-year bar and not country ties) few would be applicants for visitor visas appreciate that those visas are most often denied, and that any hint of intention toward/ties to the U.S. can doom the application. And in some cases, where the case is weak, there are times where avenues of advance advocacy may increase the chance of having such a visa approved.
    Most Americans, to say nothing of non-Americans, mistakenly believe that information/instructions provided by an employee of the U.S. government is necessarily correct. It is not. (The only way to obtain proper advice about law and procedure is to consult an expert attorney who has experience in the exact issue you are concerned about... but of course the advice that officer gave suggested that you did not need to get any other advice, so understandably you thought you knew exactly what to do in the visa application process. Replying on the State Department's instructions on the website is a similar problem; it gives you no sense of what the discretion of the officer is... they can toss that affidavit aside, and there is a reason needed to do so, despite the website directions.) That immigration officer who told you to note the reason as visiting your partner was probably trying to be helpful. But Customs and Border Protection officer works for DHS and has his/her own rules and discretion from which to make decisions about "admissions" to the US at a port of entry. The Consular officer who makes decisions on visitor visa applications is an employee of the State Department, using different rules in a different context, the most relevant one is that all applicants for visitor visas are deemed to be intending immigrants unless they rebut that presumption with overwhelming evidence. (And the consular officer, it would seem should take the time to review that evidence, but they usually do not if there is a hint of anything that can suggest "immigrant intent".) One piece of evidence of a tie to the U.S. will often be fatal not only to that application but will also make it difficult for future applications. That is why we worked for months to achieve success for this couple ( before achieving success. And that is why immigration lawyers are constantly helping men and women throughout the world prepare their visa applications anticipating almost certain denial and trying to elevate the chances of success. If you have more questions please email us at StopTheDeportations [at]