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.


  1. This is good. This is really good.

  2. The Creator's blessings on you guys!

  3. You are paving the way for me and my partner! Keep it up and keep us posted!

  4. In my experience officials are VERY sympathetic to bi-nationals, they certainly have been to us. Unfortunately legislators haven't evolved yet and still very troubled & conflicted.

  5. On the surface, this is wonderful news, but could someone explain why Immigration granted this couple a green card interview only to inform them they cannot approve their petition due to DOMA? After all, wasn't the end result was a fait accompli given nothing has changed in terms law or policy?

  6. Granting an interview is an important advance and it is something we will advocate for at all USCIS DIstrict Offices: it allows for complete adjudication of I-130 petitions so that they are approvable when DOMA is struck down or repealed. Also, it makes certain that only DOMA stands in the way of approval. Without an interview there is no way to establish the bona fides of the underlying marital relationship. This is vitally important, a significant advance and something we must push for. Not being able to approve these cases today is not the same thing as not being able to approve them one day in the future. But they cannot be approved without interviews. We are fighting for the institution of a nationwide abeyance policy so that final decisions on all green card petitions filed by same-sex couples are put on hold until DOMA's fate is resolved (such petitions should only be filed with proper legal representation). We are fighting for end to deportations for married binational couples. We are using every tactical option available to us to achieve full equality, and that means winning in the court of public opinion as well as in the courts and legislature. The history-making interview that took place this week in San Francisco is not a symbolic win, it is the very essence of how we will change public policy.

  7. I wish i had the 'tanates' to participate in this movement, but my undocumented status and things that I have seen in the past make weary of doing anything to participate. I take this news as good news because whatever that counts as a step - or even half step forward is good. Thank you all and everyone that actively participate in this movement.
    I'm engaged to my boyfriend and we have been four years together. During this time, he has had to adapt to my circumstances; for example, when we go on a trip, he has to drive thousands of miles because I cannot drive without a licence or i just can get on a plane anymore. It isn't easy.That's why I thank you from the bottom of my heart for the work you all are doing.

  8. Very exciting. Can't wait for the day my Irish husband in Dublin becomes my Irish-American Husband in Los Angeles.

  9. Fantastic development and after 15 years very well deserved. We know what it's like to live with such uncertainty for such a long time. We will be crossing our fingers for you guys (and for us, I guess.)

  10. You go Jon and Sergio. What you are doing is wonderful and very needed. For all of us. I wish both of you continued success in your relationship and your efforts to change Marriage Equality. And, this coming from an old friend of Jon's - Scott.