Wednesday, June 29, 2011

HISTORIC VICTORY: Immigration & Customs Enforcement Closes Deportation Proceedings Against Henry Velandia

Josh and Henry have led the fight to stop the deportations of spouses of lesbian and gay American citizens

Read our press release here.

Link to this article here.

(Photo: Jonathan Ystad)

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

"Don’t Deport My Stepfather," 26-Year-Old Kenneth Gentry Fights to Keep His Family from Being Torn Apart by DOMA

Alex, Kenneth and Doug recently participated in the NOH8 campaign

In my short 26 years of life I don’t think I ever imagined I’d be writing to my elected officials and to the President of the United States to beg them to stop a deportation that will tear apart my family. I’m a Californian, born and raised, originally from Santa Monica but now living in the desert near Palm Springs. I am extraordinarily lucky to have the most loving and caring mother and father (who despite being divorced are close friends) and, now that my father has re-married, an incredible stepfather, Alex Benshimol. Although my dad and Alex married last year, Alex has been an indispensible part of my life and our family ever since he and my dad started dating six years ago.

You might say that we are the typical American family: we stick together in hard times, we celebrate our holidays and life’s milestones together. The love that we share for each other is boundless. Most of all, everyone in my family loves Alex unconditionally. My mom loves him as though he was her sibling; my aunt Cecily loves him and treated him as a brother-in-law even in the years before my Dad and Alex traveled to Connecticut to “tie the knot.” My sister, of course, also loves Alex; for both of us it is a blessing to have a mom and two dads who love and care for us in a way that is inspiring.

It never occurred to me that anything could come along that would be so strong, so powerful and so cruel that it would destroy our family. And yet that is what is about to happen to us. (Read more about the July 13 Deportation Hearing and sign our petition here.)

The extended Gentry-Benshimol family is now faced with something we were never prepared for—a family member is being ripped away from us. And what’s more, it is my own government that is pursuing this deportation because it refuses to recognize the marriage between my father and Alex.

If you asked me how special Alex is to me, I’m a little speechless: after all, how can I describe in simple words how much I love a person who is an immediate family member? Perhaps not every stepfather is as close to his step children as Alex is to me and my sister. But I would not hesitate for a moment to consider Alex not only to be part of my nuclear family, but also one of the most important people in my life.

For more than half a decade he has been the everyday stepfather that I can come to for literally anything. I've lived with Alex and my father, in their home, and I have seen their incredible bond, the love they share. I have seen the relationship they have built and the life they have created. I have seen them share that love with our extended family and become an integral part of our lives as a couple. I can’t even imagine what life would be like if they are torn apart.

Ever since the first day we met five years ago, Alex has treated me as though I was his son and has helped me in every circumstance to get through life’s challenges with love and guidance. Shortly after they started dating, Alex saw that my girlfriend and I were struggling financially and he offered us a job to help us make ends meet. It was the first time in a very long time that both my girlfriend and I had been employed simultaneously. By both of us had steady employment, our relationship blossomed, and we are both extraordinarily thankful even now because of the positive impact this had on our lives.

Kenneth and Alex install a new kitchen sink
Alex has helped me in countless, and priceless ways. How did I meet the woman I have loved for the past three years? Alex introduced us. The reason my girlfriend and I have a steady income together? Because of Alex. How I found an awesome roommate to live with? Alex. The reason my father, Doug, is happy and healthy? Alex. And when I was evicted from my home, guess who took me in? Alex.

I’ve worked in pet grooming with Alex for a few years and I have seen him become a respected business man. Pet grooming might not sound immediately important to anyone, but Alex has clients from all around the world. The week after a local news station covered Alex’s deportation case, he was flooded with hundreds of people expressing their support to him, and their anger that he was facing deportation. Most of all, they expressed their support for the love that Alex shares with my Dad. Alex has truly made his mark on not only me and my Dad, but my family, the neighborhood, and the entire community that has known him for many years.

I’m not the only one who has benefited Alex’s tremendous capacity to improve the lot of others. Our entire family simply hasn't been the same since Alex stepped into our lives. For years, during the holiday season, the talk of the family was all about Alex and his elaborately decorated house—almost identical to Santa’s Village. I couldn’t even begin to imagine how our family would go about facing a holiday if Alex is deported.

I could easily speak highly of Alex for hours and I invite anyone to ask me anything about my stepfather. I love Alex, and I will fight by his side until I know that he will remain safe in my country. I won’t stop fighting for Alex until the Defense of Marriage Act is gone forever, and full marriage equality reigns throughout the United States for all couples.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Doug & Alex Face DOMA Deportation Hearing on July 13! Help Us Save Their Marriage and Stop the Deportation

In June, Alex and Doug celebrated six years together as a couple

On July 13 in San Francisco, Doug Gentry and Alex Benshimol, a married California couple who have been together for six years, will face every same-sex binational couple’s worst nightmare: a deportation hearing. As anyone following this issue knows, for years there has been little hope for same-sex binational couples seeking to reside together in the United States. Many binational couples are legally married like Alex and Doug, but they are still treated as legal strangers in the eyes of the federal government.  There is only one reason Doug and Alex are facing deportation proceedings at all. That reason is DOMA, a law that the President of the United States himself has determined to be indefensible and unconstitutional.

Doug and Alex are one of the founding couples of the Stop The Deportations-DOMA Project campaign. Doug, a U.S. citizen, filed a marriage-based "green card" petition for Alex in July 2010. It was denied in March in a one page letter citing DOMA as the only reason.  The couple re-filed the petition in June, citing changes in the administration position on DOMA that took place in February, and the Attorney General's intervention in a Board of Immigration Appeals case in April involving a gay binational couple facing deportation which was made public on May 5.  [Please see note below regarding the filing of marriage-based green card petitions by married same-sex binational couples.]

On July 13 we will ask the Immigration Judge and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement attorney prosecuting the case to put these deportation proceedings on hold pending the outcome of efforts to repeal DOMA or a final definitive ruling on DOMA's constitutionality by the federal courts. No American citizen, straight or gay, should see the love of their life torn away from them by deportation. Our laws provide for a clear path to a green card for married opposite-sex binational couples, including those already in deportation proceedings. Doug and Alex should be treated equally and fairly. They should not be forced to live under this extraordinary stress one minute longer.

[Doug's 26-year-old son, Kenneth Gentry, has written to both Senators Feinstein and Boxer asking them to contact DHS and stop the deportation of his stepfather that is tearing apart his family.]

Doug and Alex have waged a public campaign to focus attention on the impact of DOMA on binational couples facing the imminent, irreversible harm of deportation. Doug and Alex are fighting to be together and save their marriage.  They they are also fighting for their family: Doug's two children from a previous marriage consider Alex to be their stepfather and are heartbroken at the idea that he may be deported to his native country, Venezuela. Clearly, there is no option for Doug and his children to move to Venezuela, where life is not only dangerous for LGBT people but where Doug and his children would be unable to obtain any legal status, since Doug's marriage to Alex is not recognized in that country for immigration purposes.  DOMA will tear apart this California family unless we stop this deportation.

As part of their campaign, Doug and Alex were featured recently in articles by the Associated Press and Frontiers magazine.  Earlier this year, they were the subject of this campaign by Freedom to Marry, the pre-eminent national organization fighting for full marriage equality. Doug and Alex have also shared their story with their local CBS television affiliate, in this very touching report that aired on February 10.  The southern California newspaper, the Press-Enterprise, profiled Doug and Alex in this story on February 8.

Alex came into the U.S. 12 years ago from Venezuela and overstayed a tourist visa, an immigration violation that straight binational couples can easily remedy once married; as a gay married couple, Doug and Alex do not have that option. We believe the political will of our elected leaders must be directed at this issue so that DOMA is repealed quickly. All American citizens deserve the right to pursue life and happiness with the liberty and equality guaranteed us all by our Constitution. We need our elected officials to show leadership and resolve on this issue. The Obama administration has the power to protect couples like Doug and Alex so they are not torn apart by deportation. Join us in declaring that the cruel discrimination that has been inflicted on couples like Doug and Alex MUST finally come to an end.

As readers of this site know, for decades, and certainly since DOMA became law, LGBT binational couples have fought discrimination in US immigration law. At best, our foreign partners and spouses have managed to stay in the US with temporary visas related to work or study. But even those lucky few are, like all others, deprived of access to a “green card” on the basis of their relationship with their life partner, no matter how long or how committed that relationship is. Binational couples cannot build a future together and live with tremendous insecurity, even though many are raising U.S.-born children together. Far more often couples are forced to live apart in different countries or they are exiled to one of the more than 20 countries in the world that respect our families. Perhaps the greatest number are those forced to live in the United States in the shadows with constant uncertainty; fear of deportation and ruin hanging over their heads. This destroys marriages, and tears apart our families. It is a humanitarian crisis that must come to an end.

Please join Out4Immigration, Stop the Deportations, GetEQUAL, Marriage Equality USA, and your fellow citizens in urging President Obama and Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano to take action to recognize Doug and Alex’s marriage and prevent another family from being torn apart!

Sign the petition here. Help us save this marriage and stop the deportation of Alex Benshimol. Fight back against DOMA and protect all lesbian and gay binational families.

Alex and Doug on their wedding day in July 2010

NOTE: Stop the Deportations - The DOMA Project warns that filing of marriage-based immigration petitions should not be undertaken without the guidance of an attorney with expertise in LGBT-specific immigration law and DOMA. In most cases, filing such petitions can put the foreign national spouse in danger of deportation or complicate eligibility for a non-immigrant visa. Please contact us here. if you have any questions about this issue.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Victory for Sveta & Andi in Chicago! Lesbian Couple Stops DOMA Deportation by Bravely Fighting For Their Marriage and Their Married Name, Alongside Asylum Claim

Readers of this site will recall this earlier post, "Sveta & Andi: Together for 11 Years, Married Lesbian Couple in Illinois Faces June Deportation Hearing." Sveta had been legally in the U.S. for almost  all of the last 15 years.  The government of Kazakhstan stripped her of her citizenship in 2009 when consular officials found out she was a lesbian, married to her American wife, Andi. Sveta fought deportation to Kazakhstan because of her fear of persecution. She also pressed the court for consideration of the marriage-based green card petition filed by Andi.  Sveta and Andi were emboldened to take this action after high-profile victories by other couples in the Stop The Deportations campaign. A combination of these strategies brought victory to this couple last week.

What's in a name? I've asked myself that question, comparing civil unions in our state, Illinois, to full equal marriage just across the river in Iowa. We know the answer. We are living it.

When my wife and I crossed that river to marry in Iowa, I took her last name. How could I not? It was an act of self-affirmation and it was one action of many to show to the world that we belonged together. That one shared name, meant that we were a family.

 Sveta and Andi the day after the ruling

On the day we married, I thought back to the moment when I applied for asylum. I was asked by the Asylum Officer to strike my wife's name from my asylum application. That instruction was followed by a brief explanation that the Defense of Marriage Act would prevent her from being recognized as my spouse, even for the purpose of simply recording her existence as a fact on the application. While the asylum process exists to provide safe haven to the persecuted, at that moment it was distracted with the distracting business of erasing the existence of a U.S. citizen because of DOMA.

I thought of our first vows exchanged along with rings, many years before, an occasion which went unacknowledged by any state or federal law. That has improved though: for Iowa, for Illinois, and for us, as, surrounded by our friends and family, I wrote Andi's last name as my new name on the marriage license form. I claimed it in my new signature, and from that moment on we shared a name.

Thank you, Iowa.
On their wedding day

My Illinois state ID card was the only identification I had left as an asylum seeker, one that let me travel within US, if not outside it. As a stateless person, stripped of my citizenship by my own government, I was lucky to hold any identification to begin with. I frequently worried about what might happen if enough time had passed and the only identification that I held expired while my immigration case was still on hold. What happens if I ever lose it? I had no clear answer. The unlucky timing of my first hearings scheduled by the court landed me in a frozen state: just a few days short of eligibility to receive a temporary work authorization card. I was in limbo for an indeterminate time onward. This limitation came with the bonus of not being able to initiate a name change on a social security record, and, consequently, my only ID card. An irreplaceable, precious card, alas, with my maiden name on it.

What's in a name? It was just a word printed on a piece of plastic, an identity card but not an identity that should matter. Considering other vital priorities - survival, safety, staying together - this particular uncorrected matter could be delayed. Despite the last name my only ID held, we were married. I introduced myself and signed paperwork using our shared last name. We informed the immigration court of our marriage and submitted a copy of marriage certificate to be examined at the next hearing.

Coincidentally, this hearing fell on the date of our first anniversary: June 15th was when Andi and I exchanged our rings and vows. Now, six years later, half of that day was to be taken by the immigration proceedings and the other half... I could not plan that far. It was not up to me.

As the proceedings began, I was required to state my name. And so, I leaned toward the microphone, and said it.

My judge looked at me and explained that for the purposes of the court, the proceedings would have to use my maiden name. Oh, I thought. Well, I tried. And then the judge continued, taking the time to add that it had to be done because my asylum application was originally filed using that name. I realized what he was saying. That was the only reason the judge had to use my maiden name.

It was a minor remark, but it came as a welcome surprise and thus was memorable.

The judge surprised the couple with his handwritten notation "Svetlana Apodaca" at the top of his decision, accepting that Sveta and Andi were married and permitting Sveta the dignity of sharing the name of her spouse

During the hearing, I listened to others discuss the undecided issue of DOMA within the immigration context, they spoke of many unknowns, of undetermined dates and lack of scheduled solutions. I did not expect this to be easy; I was prepared for a long day in court and no clear or good ways out. Determined to pursue every possibility available to us, my lawyer spoke of the plans to appeal in the future, of many reasons to wait, to postpone the deportation proceedings, to leave my case unresolved until either the legislature or the higher courts decide on the issue of DOMA, and marriages, for good. In sort, we pursued every avenue to impress upon the court and the government attorney that we would fight for our marriage to be treated equally. We learned from the success of other married binational couples who had gone before us, and whose stories you have read here. We were fortunate to be able to consult with Lavi Soloway about those cases. In the end, the judge, having given consideration to the issues and challenges surrounding the marriage-based green card petition, pressed on with my asylum claim. He chose to continue listening to the remaining witnesses and to render a final decision that would determine the fate of our marriage and our future together.

When, hours later, a decision was made, my asylum was granted.


At that long, stunned second, I remember staring at the courtroom through a sudden glassy wall. I put all of my hopes toward what I perceived to be the best case scenario: several years of unresolved, undefined limbo status contested and fought over in courts, but... Is this over? Now?

I don't cry often. I did, as I continued listening to the verdict.

It sunk in, gradual and striking: I am safe. I am allowed to stay. I would not be separated from my wife.

As the judge signed the final order, he took the extra step of adding my married name onto the document.

I was stunned and numb as I took that paper with my name - my actual name - on it. Outside the courtroom, my wife stared in question and listened and rushed to hold me. Days later I was still trying to comprehend my new reality. The fact might hit me someday soon with its sheer impact and I'd be stunned and amazed all over again.

With one judgement, with one document, and within one day, I, once again, had permission to work, a possibility of travelling the world freely, and a chance of someday being able to cast a vote. Against the odds, Andi and I, once more, could live together without the fear of separation and had a future we could plan for. And I had my name back.

Getting a new ID, with my married name on it, was no longer an impossibility.

It was a long road, one that many couples like us have faced before us and will face again. Immigration Court is a fate which both of us would have been spared from, had we been a heterosexual couple, acknowledged and protected by many aspects of US immigration law. But we are not there - not yet. We are a married binational same-sex couple and our green card application submitted for me by my US citizen wife before our hearing date, in defiance of DOMA, is pending without resolution. We are so proud to be standing with other married binational couples: those who stood up to DOMA first by filing marriage-based petitions and impressed with their simple humanity our resolve to be treated equally. We derived courage and support from the leadership of others who, in the last year, forcefully paved the way by filing marriage-based petitions and fighting to halt deportations.

To all the other couples like us who are fighting to remain together in this country, I wish them only the best and I admire their actions. We must keep up the pressure on the system. Even tiny incremental victories like reclaiming our married name from a system that would exclude us become victories for every couple that comes after.

Our first anniversary date now holds a double meaning. Andi and I keep track of many such personal anniversaries. I would guess that other couples in our situation also end up with multiple anniversaries instead of a single wedding date: there are days of trading and re-trading vows, rings, “I Do's", until such act is acknowledged, counted, recognized one piece at a time. Recognition, and piecemeal rights to commitment, to existence, are won and will continue to be won, in the course of many days, months, and years, by activism and by stories like ours, in court or in legislature.

One day, looking back free of the burden of DOMA, we'll have many more occasions to celebrate. But until then, we must keep telling our stories.

Submitted by Sveta Apodaca

Monday, June 20, 2011

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Making History: Married, Gay Binational Couple Goes to Their Green Card Interview in San Francisco

Jon Carr and Sergio Suhett after their green card interview Tuesday at
the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services building in downtown San Francisco
Jon Anthony Carr and Sergio Suhett met in 1995 when Jon spotted Sergio across a crowded reservations center at United Airlines and offered him assistance; they’ve been learning from one another ever since. They were first married in 2004 when then-Mayor Gavin Newsom directed his clerks to perform marriages for lesbian and gay couples. After those marriages were voided, the couple re-married in 2008 during the brief window of legal marriage in California that lasted until Proposition 8 was passed amending that state’s constitution to once again bar lesbian and gay couples from marriage.

Sergio, who was born in Brazil, is in the United States in a non-permanent lawful status that does not provide a path to a green card or citizenship. This status allows him to live and work in the US legally indefinitely but if he ever leaves the country -- even for a week-long vacation -- he can never return. As the years went by and they began to look ahead to their future, they realized they needed greater security for Sergio. And they wanted to be able to see the world together. For that they would have to get Sergio a green card on the basis of their marriage which is impossible, of course, because the federal government is still barred by DOMA from recognizing their legal marriage. The basic unfairness of this and their awareness of the plight of many LGBT binational couples led them to join the fight for same-sex immigration rights. In fact, they were the first couple to participate in The DOMA Project’s Stop the Deportations campaign.

After consulting with their attorney, Lavi Soloway, Jon filed an I-130 Petition for Alien Relative for Sergio in July 2010. All they wanted was for Sergio to be given the same recognition as any other foreign-born spouse of an American citizen. Even though they knew that DOMA made this impossible for the present, with Suhett temporarily allowed to stay in the US, they decided to become part of an effort to challenge DOMA.

A few weeks ago, to their surprise and delight, they received a notice that they had been scheduled for an interview. “We were excited when Lavi called to tell us that we would be going to a green card interview just like any other married couple. The prospect of having an Immigration Officer sitting down with us, asking questions about our relationship and our marriage… it feels like a door is beginning to open.”

In the weeks leading up to the interview, Jon and Sergio put together a large photo album illustrating their 15 years together as a couple. They collected proof that they owned their car together, that both their names were on their apartment’s lease, and that they used money from their joint bank accounts to buy everyday domestic necessities. Lastly, they asked friends and family to write letters attesting to the truth of their relationship as a loving couple. They crossed every T and dotted every I. They didn’t want to give the government any reason to deny them on a technicality or for lack of evidence of their relationship. They wanted to demonstrate to the government that their case was approvable on the evidence. If there was to be a denial, Jon and Sergio wanted it to be clear that DOMA was solely to blame.

Finally, the day of the interview arrived: Tuesday June 14. Joined by their attorney, the couple made their way with some anticipation to the Citizenship and Immigration Service building in downtown San Francisco. Though they were confident that Sergio was safe, they couldn’t help but be a little anxious as they entered uncharted territory. To our knowledge, Jon and Sergio were attending the first ever green card marriage interview for a same-sex couple since the Obama administration announced it would no longer defend DOMA because it believed that law was unconstitutional.

Yesterday, the day of the interview, an op-ed that the couple wrote telling their story appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle (‘No Green Card for My Spouse’). They hesitated before writing the piece for, suddenly, thousands of strangers would know all about them. But they understood that even in San Francisco there were people who had no idea of how few protections gay and lesbian Americans have for their legal spouses.

Jon and Sergio attended their interview at a time when public opinion has moved decisively and consistently against DOMA and toward marriage equality. Not only has the Obama administration’s changed stance indicated that DOMA is indefensible, but Congress has taken up its repeal in both the House and Senate, and federal courts (including a stunning Bankruptcy Court decision in California this week) have rejected DOMA as unconstitutional. This is the context in which Jon and Sergio sat down for their interview and perhaps for that reason it should not be surprising that they received a warm and cordial reception.

The Immigration Officer who conducted the interview noted at the outset that some of her colleagues had seen their op-ed and that the office was eagerly anticipating their arrival. She went on to ask them several of the questions they had expected: Where and when had they met? Had they ever purchased property together? When had they married? She was surprised and, it seemed, dismayed to hear that they’d actually had to marry a second time after their first marriage was invalidated along with thousands of others by the state. She asked where they’d gone on vacations and the guys happily supplied the details of a fifth anniversary at Walt Disney World, a tenth in Hawaii, and so on. Without thinking, Sergio grasped Jon’s hand and then found himself feeling self-conscious about it, wondering, after years of having strangers question the validity of his marriage, if the Officer might react negatively; her accepting smile suggested that she recognized real affection when she saw it. As expected, she indicated to Jon and Sergio that current law prevented her from approving their petition. But, she added personally, she wished she could approve it and was sorry she could not. Again the officer’s expression reflected that she knew how much it meant to both Jon and Sergio to have someone in her position recognize their humanity and their love for each other.

As they parted, Jon and Sergio thanked the officer and noted that they would keep up the fight against DOMA so that the petition could be approved one day soon. In the meantime, they will await a final decision on their petition which will come at a future date by mail after further review.

San Francisco Chronicle: Jon and Sergio's Story

Sergio and Jon were the first binational couple to join Stop The Deportations. Jon filed a green card petition for Sergio in July 2010 and almost 11 months later they were interviewed USCIS in San Francisco

No Green Card For My Spouse
Op-Ed published by the San Francisco Chronicle on June 14, 2011

Today my husband, Sergio, and I will report to the U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services to be interviewed for the purpose of determining the legitimacy of our marriage in connection with my petition for his "green card" as my spouse. Unfortunately, despite the historic nature of this interview - the first, to our knowledge, to be conducted for a same-sex couple - it will only be a formality, for we stand no chance of having our case approved.

Once the immigration officer determines that our marital relationship is genuine, our case will be tossed out with a perfunctory denial because our marriage cannot be recognized by the federal government.

The interview occurs 15 years and seven months after we met, moved in together and made a permanent commitment to each other, seven years and four months after our first marriage ceremony was conducted at San Francisco's City Hall, six years and 10 months after that marriage was invalidated by the California Supreme Court, four years and seven months after we decided to settle temporarily for registering as domestic partners, and two years and nine months after being allowed by the state of California to marry yet again.

Unlike many others preceding us, we experience no trepidation about this interview, for Sergio and I are not merely married, we're super-married. If we keep going at this rate, we will catch up with Zsa Zsa Gabor, only without all the added fuss of having to repeatedly change partners.

Just one thing impedes my right as an American to sponsor my Brazilian spouse for citizenship, the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, which essentially forces the federal government to discriminate against all legally married lesbian and gay couples in this country. When DOMA was signed into law in 1996, Sergio and I had settled into our first apartment, opened our first joint bank account and were going about the business of establishing a life together. Though Sergio's legal status was up in the air, we didn't dwell upon it. Who wants to think about depressing things when there are matters of shared closet space and adopting pets to consider? It would never have occurred to us then that we would one day be legally married and that we would be fighting the federal government for recognition of our marriage so that we could finally resolve Sergio's immigration status.

A lot has changed over the years. Some people have always objected to the legal recognition of my marriage and, while some still do, I won't debate it with them because my mind's pretty well closed on the subject.

I'm from Rhode Island, see, and I stand with the 17th century theologian and founder of the Rhode Island colony, Roger Williams, on this one:

"Enforced uniformity confounds civil and religious liberty and denies the principles of Christianity and civility."

Nowadays, more people are seeing things Williams' way than aren't. Which leads me to wonder: If the purpose of enshrining discrimination in federal law was to defend society's definition of marriage at a time when only 25 percent of Americans favored marriage equality for same-sex couples, then why, when polls now consistently indicate that the majority of Americans support it, is DOMA still the law of the land?

[See this Op-Ed as published here on the Chronicle's website.]

Jon Anthony Carr is a writer, film historian and part-time student at City College of San Francisco. He encourages readers to contact their congressional representatives and ask them to support the Respect for Marriage Act. To learn more, go to or email stopthedeportations [at]

After Marrying, Brian & Anton File Spousal Green Card Petition and Continue Their Fight Against Deportation

Getting Married in DC
by Brian Andersen

In February, we were saved from a Valentine's Day deportation by the tremendous, non-stop, round the clock efforts of Lavi Soloway and the Stop the Deportations campaign.

At the time Anton and I were not married, but we had been dating for seven months and we felt that we had a very strong connection. We were in love and we knew that we wanted to spend our lives together.

Some people may have wondered why we fought so hard for something that was relatively new? For us there was never a question that we had to fight for our love.

We were interviewed at the time by many journalists, and CNN and many other news outlets reported our fight to stop Anton's deportation. While we won a temporary victory but we still live in constant fear that Anton could be deported. In the meantime, our relationship has progressed. We moved in together and started to make plans to marry on June 12 in Washington, DC and then to celebrate with family in friends in August.

The decision to marry was not one that we took lightly. Despite knowing each other for just ten months, we knew that this was a commitment we wanted to make to each other. In the past ten months we have been inseparable, spending at least five days a week together and often more.

From the time we met, we knew there was something special between us.  Naturally conversation led to what we wanted and expected out of our futures, both individually and together. Of course the topic of marriage came up, and was always something we repeatedly returned to as something we wanted for ourselves down the road. Neither of us wanted to take that leap without careful consideration, and with time we just knew it was the right move for us. We were living together, spending all of our time together, sharing expenses, laughs, meals, and nights at home watching movies.

Philadelphia Weekly reports on Brian and Anton's wedding plans
We chose to have a small ceremony in Washington, DC for a few reasons. First, unlike Pennsylvania where we lived, Washington was one of the six jurisdictions in the United States where we could have a legally recognized marriage.    As a binational gay couple, our relationship faces blatant discrimination by federal law, specifically the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which precludes the federal government from recognizing our marriage. We specifically chose Lafayette Park across from the White House for our ceremony because we wanted to make a statement to the Obama administration with the most personal moments---our marriage---while standing in a pleasant and aesthetically appealing environment. Our feeling is that the Obama administration is our ally, and so we celebrate that a champion of LGBT rights occupies the White House. At the same time, while Obama administration has come out and publicly stated it believes DOMA is unconstitutional, we need him to do more to ensure that we are not torn apart.  Our message: "President Obama, Defend Our Marriage."  

To our surprise, two other binational couples –complete strangers to us who heard about our plans to marry– showed up unexpectedly to show their support for our marriage and celebrate the day with us. It warmed our hearts to know we weren’t alone, and to meet others who were facing these challenges.

Last night I filed a marriage-based green card petition to sponsor Anton to remain in the United States. I filed this petition to keep my husband and life partner here and to keep my family together. That should be the automatic result, but because of DOMA we embark on the next chapter in a fight that none of us should have to fight.  Anton and I will continue to fight for ourselves and for the thousands of binational couples out there.

We hope that those who come after us can follow the path of any other American citizen who can sponsor his or her spouse for a green card. We can only hope that day comes sooner rather than later.

For more background on this case see Breaking News From Philadelphia Weekly.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Obama Will Not " Win The Future" In Time For Spouses of Lesbian & Gay Americans Facing DOMA Deportations

This comprehensive report on the crisis of DOMA deportations demands that the Obama administration act immediately (it was cross posted at Pam's House Blend).  It is a must-read for anyone following the progress of our Stop The Deportations campaign.

We started this work in 1993, just three years after U.S. immigration law was amended to remove the bar on admissibility of gay and lesbian non-citizens.  In the intervening 18 years we have helped to build a diverse movement of binational couples, organizations and advocates.  We have raised the profile of this issue for the general public,  elected officials and major LGBT and immigration reform organizations.

Last July, we launched a new strategy called The DOMA Project. Beginning with the Stop The Deportations campaign our effort was designed to highlight what we believe is the core issue for binational couples: marriage (in)equality. We did this by challenging DOMA in Immigration Court. The message could not be simpler: married same-sex binational couples should be protected by the family unification provisions of our existing immigration laws just like all other married binational couples. The only obstacle that remains is DOMA.  For that reason we have argued that until DOMA's fate is determined by Congress or the courts this administration must stop deportations that separate lesbian and gay couples, destroying marriages and families. Fighting to halt deportations is a vital part of winning full equality for all binational couples.

Participant couples include those who are separated, those who are exiled, those facing imminent deportation and those who are together in this country but who are living in fear of an uncertain future.

As the architects of this new DOMA-focused campaign we have catapulted the issue of binational couples into the media and brought the crisis of "DOMA deportations" to the White House itself.  You can help us continue this momentum.

To achieve full equality we need your participation and support. Our own personal stories remain our most valuable tool. We have developed a unique blend of legal strategy and advocacy for every couple involved in the Stop The Deportations campaign---strategies that protect them and advance the broader goal of defeating DOMA. Contact us here to find out how you can get involved. It can be as simple as sharing your story and does not require revealing any identifying information. We are also accepting donations to help us expand this effort, in partnership with the Love, Honor, Cherish Foundation.

As part of this pro bono project we have provided free legal advice to binational couples who are separated, exiled or facing deportation. We have collaborated with other attorneys, activists and organizations providing strategic support as binational couples face deportations hearings in Immigration Courts around the country.

And most importantly, we are winning.

We have stopped four deportations in four months. In each case, the government has agreed to allow the couple to remain together for now. In doing so, the government demonstrates that it can respect their relationship, even while DOMA still prevents recognition of their marriage.

(Read about these victories: Anton & Brian, Rodrigo & Edwin, Monica & Cristina, and Henry & Josh.)

The weeks and months ahead will be extremely busy here at Stop The Deportations.  We are confident that we will get our message through and that we will win interim protection for all couples until the day that DOMA is finally repealed or struck down by the Supreme Court. This fight is a part of a larger battle to win full equality.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Breaking News from Philadelphia Weekly: Brian & Anton to Marry This Weekend, DOMA Deportation Still Looms

Anton Tanumihardja fought a Valentine's Day deportation and won a temporary reprieve,
but their legal battle against DOMA has just begun.  (Photo by Jeff Fusco)

Readers of this site will remember the victory achieved by The DOMA Project's Stop The Deportations campaign in the case of Anton Tanumihadja earlier this year.  (See "Deportation Delayed For Philly Couple," Philadelphia Gay News and media coverage of Anton and Brian's fight against deportation on CNN and NPRMetroWeeky, and Queerty).

Anton was scheduled for deportation on Valentine's Day when he reached out to us at the beginning of February for help. His partner, Brian Andersen, and the staff at the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) worked hard diligently with Stop The Deportations to bring their plight to national attention.  After successfully winning a reprieve from deportation, Brian and Anton have continued to plan their future together. In an extensive interview with  the Philadelphia Weekly, they disclosed for the first time that they will marry this weekend in Washington, D.C. We congratulate Brian and Anton on their marriage and assure them that we will continue to fight to keep them together in this country.

Here's the full article from today's Philadelphia Weekly.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

White House Refuses to Consider Halt to Deportations, Comprehensive Immigration Reform Must Come First

Our full response to the White House statement appears below.
Watch clip of White House press briefing addressing DOMA deportations here.

See complete Metro Weekly article by Chris Geidner here.

Response by Stop The Deportations to today's statement by White House Press Secretary Jay Carney:

TOWLEROAD: White House Pushes Immigration Reform When Asked About Halting DOMA Deportations

See original post here.

Andrew Sullivan: DOMA Tearing a Marriage Apart

AmericaBlog: DOMA Rips Apart Married Binational Couples

QUEERTY: Cristina & Monica Face DOMA Deportation Hearing in December, They Need Repeal Now!

Cristina & Monica Featured in Video Highlighting DOMA's Harm on Married Binational Couple Fighting Deportation

Today Freedom to Marry released a video produced in partnership with In The Life Media telling the moving story of Cristina Alcota and Monica Ojeda, who, though legally married, face deportation or separation because the so-called Defense of Marriage Act denies married same-sex couples immigration protections. (Scroll down to view the video in Spanish, or to view in Spanish with English subtitles, click here.)

“Cristina and Monica fell in love, made a lifetime commitment to one another, and got married. Now they spend every day worrying about whether they will be ripped apart or forced into exile in order to stay together because the so-called Defense of Marriage Act keeps the U.S. government from honoring their marriage,” said Evan Wolfson, Founder and President of Freedom to Marry. “If not for DOMA, Cristina would be able to petition for Monica as her spouse without any difficulty. It is time to overturn DOMA and ensure that all Americans are treated fairly and equally under the law.”

Married lesbian and gay binational couples have moved to the forefront of the fight against DOMA since the launch of The DOMA Project's Stop The Deportations Campaign last summer.

"We recognized that support for Marriage Equality in the United States had shifted dramatically in our favor, said Lavi Soloway, attorney for Cristina and Monica and co-founder of the Stop The Deportations campaign.  "Increasingly, binational couples were marrying in the five states and the District of Colombia where marriage equality had been achieved. We decided to take on DOMA with a group of married binational couples leading the charge, something that had not been done before. We focused specifically on married couples facing deportation to illustrate DOMA's cruelest impact: tearing apart our families and destroying marriages.  As a result of our work, the plight of binational couples is now more accurately understood as harm caused by DOMA. It is a simple matter of equality. Without DOMA, gay and lesbian Americans would be able to petition for their spouses under the existing provisions of U.S. immigration law. It is, therefore, imperative that DOMA be repealed and that a moratorium on deportations of spouses of lesbian and gay American be implemented by the administration immediately so that all families are protected."

Cristina and Monica were among the founding couples of the Stop The Deportations campaign. For the past eight months they have shared their story and bravely fought against DOMA in immigration court and the media, winning a reprieve from deportation earlier this year on the basis of their marriage. Christina and Monica have been in the forefront of the campaign urging the Obama Administration to halt deportations of law-abiding spouses of lesbian and gay American citizens pending the outcome of legal challenges to DOMA.

Cristina and Monica met several years ago when Cristina was in school for social work. They married in a ceremony in Connecticut. An American citizen, Cristina petitioned for her wife Monica, an Argentinean national, to obtain a "green card."  Because they are a same-sex couple, the so-called Defense of Marriage Act bars the federal government from honoring their marriage for the purposes of immigration, and Cristina's petition for Monica cannot be approved. Still they continue their fight to build a future together in this country. In March, an immigration judge delayed their case in light of court challenges finding DOMA unconstitutional, and the Department of Justice’s determination that DOMA is indefensible under the Constitution.  They return to immigration court on December 6 to once again fight for the right to be together.

Of marriage, Cristina Alcota says in the video “You’re doing this to be with the person you love for the rest of your life… marriage is a bond that cannot be broken that easily.” She goes on to say “The government doesn’t recognize that our marriage is valid for purposes of immigration because of DOMA and we are facing being either torn apart or being removed from this country.”

Cristina is a social worker and Monica is an antique furniture restorer. The two women currently live in Queens, New York.

Cristina and Monica have appeared numerous times in the media as activists for the DOMA Project's Stop The Deportations campaign, including:  CNN, New York Daily News (twice), Gay City News (twice) and NY1 Pura Politica.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The DOMA Project Welcomes Legal Intern, Jesus Torres

Jesus Torres
Jesus Torres joins The DOMA Project this month as a legal intern where he will be involved in legal research and advocacy for our growing docket of cases involving lesbian and gay binational couples who are facing deportation, separation or exile because of DOMA.  Jesus immigrated from Mexico with his family to the United States as a child. He graduated from the University of Dallas in 2005 with a degree in Psychology. He is currently attending the William H. Bowen School of Law at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock where he is vice-president of Bowen Lambda, the LGBT law students organization and a member of the Hispanic Law Student Association.

Last summer, Jesus worked at the National Hispanic Bar Foundation in Washington DC where he was a mentor in the Future Latino Leaders Law Camp. Before going to law school, Jesus worked in the Dallas office of the the large national law firm, Akin Gump Straus Hauer & Feld, and as an immigration paralegal at the Dallas law firm of Reina & Associates working primarily on family-based immigration cases.  We are please to welcome Jesus to The DOMA Project.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Binational Couples Forced to Choose: Love or Country?

Los Angeles Times: Same-Sex Couples In Exile Find Rough Road to Immigration, Featuring DOMA Project Participants

Los Angeles Times reporter Paloma Esquivel worked for months interviewing binational couples in exile who are participants in our project to fight back against DOMA. She has featured the stories of Jesse and Max in London and Linas and Jan in Stockholm. The full article is here. Read latest update on Jesse and Max here.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Associated Press Highlights Doug and Alex: The Fight To Save Their Marriage and Stop Deportation

Alex and Doug recently participated in the NOH8 photo project
They must appear for a deportation hearing in Immigration Court on July 13

Friday, June 3, 2011

Married Binational Lesbian Couple, Together for Ten Years and Raising Three Children, Live in Fear of Deportation

Pictured here with their oldest child when he was five years old, the couple also has two daughters
My wife is from England and we have been in a committed life partner relationship for 10 years. When California allowed lesbian and gay couples to marry we knew immediately that we wanted to get married. We knew we wanted that legal document to secure our future together not only for us, but for our family. My wife and I have been living in California for the past 10 years raising my son. Recently, we adopted two girls to expand our family.

It doesn’t make any sense to me that my wife can become a parent to American children through adoption and be legally married to me, an American citizen, but still has no "legal" status. She does not even have the right to get a driver’s license or a lawful employment. All we want is to have the right to be able to make our life together in this country and raise our children. But for the past decade we have lived with great uncertainty. My wife's immigration status lapsed, and she stayed. What choice did we have? We could not leave because of our son. And so, we have created a family life for ourselves under tremendous disadvantages and hardships imposed on us by my government. My wife has had no life and no legal identity in this country for the past 10 years because the “government” declares through the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that our marriage is not real. It feels very real to me. I have been supporting our family this whole time and we have had a lot of ups and downs financially. This situation has almost torn us apart too, but we love each other so much and we just want to live a happy life.  That determination keeps us moving forward day by day with a small hope in our hearts.

I keep saying to my wife that it will happen, that one day my own government will stop this insanity. One day the American government will recognize her as my wife and that we will have all the same rights as other married couples. I reassure her, but it's hard to keep the faith. I know in my heart that one day I will have the same right as all other Americans, to sponsor my spouse and to keep my family intact.  My wife, however, has doubts. Because it’s been so long, she gets stressed out when we leave the house.  Her fear is palpable.  She feels like she has to constantly look over her shoulder and is terrified when she sees a police officer drive by us. She panics that a police officer might pull us over for some routine traffic issue and that may lead to her being discovered and turned over to ICE. She imagines that day coming when she will be taken away.  This constant fear she feels is overwhelming and just not fair. She is a human being and should be treated like one. She is a good wife and mother, why can nobody see what these discriminatory laws are doing to LGBT families like us? We live through so much anxiety, our future is uncertain, we have extreme financial hardship and we are trying to make all of this work and bring up our children to be productive and happy members of society. But our government undermines us by making us all second-class citizens.

Left with no other choice, I almost decided to leave the United States. Even though I truly love my country I felt on occasion that I had to move to England because at least there my wife would have been able to sponsor me for the equivalent of a "green card." I would have been eligible to work and we would have felt at peace. But, because of my son I had to stay here. I get so angry when I start thinking about our situation and I just want to scream at all those politicians who think they know what the American public wants. We really need something to change, and fast. At this point, it’s not about getting a job and helping out financially. It’s about peace of mind and passing on to our children a life in which their parents are treated with dignity and respect by their own government. For us it is about  knowing you truly belong. We are a family, no matter what anyone else says. We have love, understanding and patience on our side.  Children, however, grow up quickly. They need to know that both their parents will be here for the long term. Can any elected official in Washington look at me in the eye and tell me why it makes sense that this government is not establishing a policy to halt deportations of all spouses of lesbian and gay Americans right now? Can any elected official tell me why our children do not deserve to have the same protections as is provided to all other families under U.S. immigration law?

On behalf of our three beautiful children we ask anyone reading this to join our cause. Help us convince both our U.S. Senators, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, to fight for binational couples and our children.  Yes, DOMA must be repealed or immigration laws must be reformed to include LGBT families. But we must also have protection now.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

President Obama: Americans Should Not Be Forced To Choose Between Their Partners and Their Country

This week there was a hopeful sign from the White House. For the first time since we launched the Stop The Deportations, Separations and Exile campaign, the President has signaled his support for lesbian and gay binational couples. In a document called "The Obama Administration's Commitment to Winning the Future for the LGBT Community," a follow up fact sheet to the President's May 31 LGBT Pride Month Proclamation, one of the progress points mentioned specifically addresses the plight of same-sex binational couples.

"President Obama believes ... that Americans with partners from other countries should not be faced with a painful choice between staying with their partner or staying in their country."

We must remind the President, however, that he has the power to realize this goal and issue an immediate moratorium on the deportations of spouses and partners of lesbian and gay Americans. This would provide protection for tens of thousands of binational LGBT families while Congress works to repeal DOMA. (Photo from MetroWeekly)

Married Houston Couple, David and Marco, Fight Deportation Despite Six Years Together As A Couple

The love of my life, David, is from the beautiful country of Costa Rica; it is a place, where---despite its beauty and popularity for American tourists----lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people have been victimized in many cruel and horrible ways over the years. Some horrible experiences there caused him to leave and come to this country seeking safety and peace.

I met David almost six years ago. When we saw each other for the first time, we could not stop smiling. On August 21, 2005, we decided to be in a committed relationship. Ever since, every 21st of each month, we have dinner, get flowers and get each other anniversary cards. (Yeah, we have a pretty good collection of cards). We strongly believe that doing so will help us to keep our love alive and strong. At the beginning of 2008, I placed our wedding rings at the bottom of the wine bottle cases celebrating one more month and I proposed. You should have seen David’s face. Our rings read “M & D 08-21-2005”. Then, on April 25th 2008, we filed for domestic partnership and on October 2008, got married in California. Oh, those were awesome moments! We had our family and closest friends from Los Angeles, San Diego and Las Vegas with us celebrating this memorable occasion with us. It was a very simple ceremony, yet full of loving details such as a small path of roses, balloons in the pool, the cake with two men facing each other, a candle with the words “And two shall become one.” For our honeymoon, we went with our friends to Catalina Island in California and then later on, we went to the Niagara Falls in New York.

Our dreams are the same as those of any other married couple: to be happy, to travel, have a good job, buy a house, start a family and grow old together. When we see kids playing around, our hearts are moved. So we decided we wanted kids. We contacted an adoption agency and we started the application process to become adopting parents. We moved to Houston, TX where we were able to afford a house. One dream came true. A house just for the two of us. Now we could start our family.

As a couple, we have gone through many personal and family situations that helped us to grow and have brought us together. Beautiful moments such as spending our birthdays, Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays along with our families; or heartbreaking moments such as seeing my father passing away; seeing David losing a job due to his immigration status; or the day when David got detained by immigration officers. During those moments, we were able to examine our own personalities with all the defects and virtues we both have. Yes, we have had our share of ups and downs. We have had to ask for forgiveness and forgiven each other many times. But our love can do miracles and we keep holding hands to make it through all circumstances we may encounter.

We depend on each other emotionally and economically. We need to pay the mortgage, home owners insurance, flood insurance, house maintenance, auto insurance, bills, medical bills, food, entertainment, etc. While one is mowing the lawn, the other is cleaning the house. Not to mention taking care of Cooper, Ruper and Kitty… Like I said, we are just a regular couple.

My husband’s immigration status has taken its toll on us. He has been in deportation proceedings since August 2006. It has been tiring and it has taken a lot of energy and money. We have felt hopeless and we cannot plan our future. We have had to make heartbreaking decisions such discontinuing the adoption process; quitting the idea of starting a business, all just because we do not know what the future is going to be. How are we going to start a business if next year we may have to pack our stuff and be forced to leave the United States? How are we going to sell the house without losing the money it has been invested in it?... if it sells! It has been so stressful, that we had to look for therapy to cope with the uncertainty and anxiety we live with.

But the most frustrating part of all is that it is our government that is causing us all this pain by enforcing DOMA, rather than repealing it. I should not be treated as a second citizen; we should not go through this pain. We have seen heterosexual friends become permanent residents and citizens since the government does recognize their marriage. But, that is not the case for us. And yet we have paid all taxes to the government.

We sincerely hope that with the momentum gained since the President and the Attorney General announced their changed position on DOMA that we may find new ways to keep fighting for our right to be recognized as what we are…a regular married couple. David’s immigration judge will not only be David’s judge, but mine as well. USCIS will not only give or deny status to David, but to me as well. We need the fighting chance to stay together. We need to ultimately, stay together.

I beg everyone who is reading this to help us stop the deportations. No American citizen should be forced to watch his spouse deported because of a discriminatory law that the President and Attorney General have said is unconstitutional. It will take an enormous effort by many people to convince Janet Napolitano and President Obama to stop the deportations of the spouses of gay and lesbian Americans. But we have tremendous hope and we are committed to winning protection, not only for us, but for all gay and lesbian binational couples living in fear of separation or exile.