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)

“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.

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.

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

ICE Memo on Deportations Provides Guidance on Use of Prosecutorial Discretion Which Will Help Binational Couples

Read the complete text of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Memo here and this related story, “US Pledges to Raise Deportation Threshhold,” New York Times, June 18, 2011 by Julia Preston.

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 stopthedeportations.com or email stopthedeportations [at] gmail.com.

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.

Across from the White House, Brian & Anton Get Married

The happily married couple in Lafayette Park Sunday afternoon

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.

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This is a pro-bono project of the law firm of Masliah & Soloway, PC. Posts on this website are offered for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. The law firm of Masliah & Soloway, PC has offices in New York and Los Angeles. Our practice is limited to U.S. Immigration & Nationality Law.