Monday, May 2, 2011

Frontiers: Binational Couples Face Heartbreak of DOMA - Deportation Hearing Looms for Doug & Alex

This comprehensive article by veteran journalist, Karen Ocamb, focuses on the crisis facing married binational couples because of DOMA. It is well worth reading in its entirety here.

Excerpt below:

And then there are Doug Gentry and Alex Benshimol from Palm Springs. Their deportation hearing is in July.

“Alex and I met when I was traveling to Palm Springs for work. We hit it off immediately and I invited him out to dinner,” Gentry tells Frontiers. “We had a lot in common, but were from completely different backgrounds. I was attracted to him not just for his good looks, but because he was interesting, intelligent and someone I wanted to get to know better. For our second date he offered me a home-cooked Venezuelan dinner, so of course I said, yes. That was just the beginning of what would turn out to be a long, loving relationship.

“In the next year and a half I moved to Palm Springs, we purchased a house and opened a business together, Alex’s Pet Grooming. Now we’re celebrating six years together,” Gentry continues. “We’ve been through good times and some very difficult times, including the death of my father. We love each other very much. My two children consider him to be another father, and they share a great relationship. We knew that we wanted to get married and to spend the rest of our lives together.

“Since, at the time, we couldn’t get married in our home state of California, we decided to go to Connecticut. We were married at the Lockwood-Mathews Mansion by State Senator Bob Duff on July 21, 2010.

“I submitted an I-130 Petition for Alien Relative form for Alex as my husband. We weren’t sure how it would be handled, but were very happy when we heard the news that the Obama administration would no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act. We were happy again when we heard that USCIS [Citizenship and Immigration Service] had decided to hold approval/denial decisions on I-130s. Sadly, just a few days later they changed course and announced that they were going to deny them again.

“All of this has, of course, taken a terrible toll on Alex and me, on many levels. Because his visa expired, Alex has been put in removal proceedings. It’s difficult to live with the threat of deportation hanging over your head every day of your life. And it’s made worse by knowing that we wouldn’t be in this position but for DOMA, which is so obviously discriminatory and unconstitutional. There is so much frustration in knowing that it affects tens of thousands of binational couples who seem to be ignored. And the ups and downs from positive announcements, then negative announcements, are emotionally exhausting. You don’t know what to expect from one day to the next. You can’t plan for the future. You feel like you can’t ever relax.

“Honestly, Alex and I don’t have a firm plan B. It’s so hard to get your head around the thought of leaving your home, your business and your children. We just know that we can’t live apart and we know we couldn’t live in Venezuela. With its record of intolerance to the LGBT community and its unstable government, it’s just not an option.”

Lavi Soloway, who launched Stop The Deportations last year, has been the most prominent attorney/activist in the field for almost two decades. He notes that for a lesbian or gay American married to a foreign-born spouse, deportation is catastrophic. “Few policymakers realize how far reaching the impact of DOMA is in this context. These are spouses of American citizens, but once they are ordered deported, they will be banished from the United States for at least 10 years. In most cases there is no country in which same-sex binational couples can then seek refuge together. For these couples, DOMA is actually the Destruction of Our Marriages Act.”

And yet, as Soloway notes, it doesn’t have to be this way. “Since its first day in office, the Obama administration has had the discretion and authority to take immediate action to protect all lesbian and gay binational couples from deportation. After the president determined that DOMA was unconstitutional, his obligation to act using the power of the executive branch became that much clearer. As Homeland Security Secretary, Janet Napolitano has a responsibility to develop policy that values family unity and responds to humanitarian circumstances. Despite urgent requests from over 60 members of the House and Senate, she has remained conspicuously silent. Meanwhile, the brave couples who have stood up and told their stories and participated in the “Stop the Deportations” advocacy campaign continue to hold this administration accountable. President Obama, perhaps more than others, should realize how devastating it is to tear apart a family by deporting a foreign-born spouse. He is himself, after all, the son of a binational couple.”

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