|Jon Carr and Sergio Suhett after their green card interview Tuesday at |
the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services building in downtown San Francisco
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.