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.

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