Gay Binational Couple Challenges the Obama Administration: End DOMA Exile, Let us Come Home for the Holidays

VIDEO: Gay Couple Challenges Hillary Clinton’s Pledge to Protect Human Rights of LGBT Persons Around the Globe

LGBT Organizations Call on Secretary Napolitano
to Bring Exiled Lesbian and Gay Couples Home
Thousands of Binational Lesbian and Gay Couples
Remain Exiled or Separated Due to DOMA

NEW YORK, NY — This holiday season, while millions of families across the country come together to celebrate, some Americans will once again watch from afar while living in exile. For binational couples —- lesbian and gay Americans with spouses or partners from other countries —- this holiday season is a reminder of the discriminatory U.S. law that tears families apart, and results in the forced exile of thousands of American citizens.

Join the fight to bring Jesse & Max home!

Because of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) lesbian and gay Americans cannot sponsor their partners or spouses for fiancé visas or green cards like all other Americans, and are instead forced to live apart from the person they love, or forced to expatriate themselves and live thousands of miles away from their families. The Obama administration has said that DOMA is unconstitutional and has refused to defend the law in federal court, yet it has failed to take action to protect LGBT Americans from its most devastating effect in the immigration context.

In an effort to bring national attention to the horrifying choice between love and country forced upon these binational gay and lesbian couples, LGBT organizations including GetEQUAL, Stop the Deportations, and Out4Immigration are calling on Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano to immediately reunite these couples with their families in the United States. The Obama administration could easily bring these couples home for the holidays by simply granting temporary “humanitarian parole” to the foreign spouses or partners of U.S. citizens, allowing them to enter the United States with that temporary status until a permanent solution can be achieved.

Earlier this month, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivered a powerful and historic speech to the United Nations, calling on the international community to respect the human rights of all LGBT people, and instructing U.S. embassies across the globe to do everything in their power to assist all LGBT persons abroad. While the unprecedented, electrifying speech was watched around the world, LGBT Americans who have become refugees from their own country were hopeful that changes would come that would allow them to return home or bring their spouses or partners home for the holidays. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano now has the opportunity to fulfill the core promise of that speech for all LGBT Americans.

Watch the video of Jesse and Max.

Sign the petition at GetEqual

The video campaign features Jesse Goodman, an American citizen from New York, and Max, his partner of more than 10 years who is a citizen of Argentina. Jesse and Max are currently living in exile in London due to Jesse’s inability to sponsor Max for a green card because of the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Jesse has been forced to live thousands of miles from his parents and sister year after year, missing every holiday and family celebration. There are thousands of binational LGBT couples who are dealing with similar situations — forced to live in separate countries and see each other once or twice a year, or forced to find a home in another country that allows them to live together, that recognizes their relationship but leaves them far from the family they have left behind in the United States.

In a follow-up statement to the White House’s LGBT Pride Reception over the summer, the Obama Administration said that the President 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.” Lesbian and gay Americans across the globe rejoiced at this statement of support, but have not yet seen changes to laws or policies that would reunite lesbian and gay Americans with their families and provide a means for same-sex binational couples to be together in this country.

“Couples like Jesse and Max are forced to make the choice between love and country — to leave their extended families behind in order to stay together and preserve their relationship,” said Lavi Soloway, co-founder of Stop the Deportations-The DOMA Project. “It’s a horrifying choice that no American should be forced to make —- and one that could be solved tomorrow if Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano chooses to take action. Exiled lesbian and gay binational couples have spent many holiday seasons away from their families and friends, only because of U.S. laws that discriminate against them and refuse to recognize their relationships. We urge the administration to put its words into action, to end this forced exile immediately so that these lesbian and gay Americans are able to celebrate the holidays reunited with their families.”

“Secretary Clinton’s speech to the U.N. was incredible — and the Obama Administration has an opportunity right now to give shape to those words by proving to the LGBT community that it values and supports our relationships,” said Robin McGehee, director of GetEQUAL. “We’ve heard a lot of nice words from this Administration — now it’s time to move beyond words to action, and to bring these couples home for the holidays.”

Background on Jesse and Max’s story can be found here.

Permission is granted to use all photos found at www.stopthedeportations.com, only if properly credited “courtesy Stop The Deportations”


IMMEDIATE RELEASE- DECEMBER 19, 2011
Jesse and Max, and other binational gay and lesbian couples involved in the “Home for the Holidays” campaign are available for comment.

Press Inquiries to attorney Lavi Soloway,
or Project Associate, Derek Tripp.
Phone 323-599-6915
[email protected]
[email protected]


Founded in 2010, GetEQUAL is a national grassroots organization whose mission is to empower the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) community and our allies to take bold action to demand full legal and social equality, and to hold accountable those who stand in the way. For more information, go to www.getequal.org, www.facebook.com/getequal, or www.twitter.com/getequal.

Stop the Deportations, Separations and Exile – The DOMA Project is a campaign launched in October 2010 by a group of married binational couples working with attorneys Lavi Soloway and Noemi Masliah, who are founders of Immigration Equality and partners in the law firm Masliah & Soloway. The campaign’s purpose is to raise awareness of the cruel impact of the “Defense of Marriage Act” on married gay and lesbian binational couples and bring an end to that discrimination.

Out4Immigration is a volunteer grassroots organization that addresses the widespread discriminatory impact of U.S. immigration laws on the lives of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and HIV+ people and their families through education, outreach, advocacy and the maintenance of a resource and support network.

Chicago Congressman Speaks Out Against DOMA, Submits Testimony of Binational Couples into the Congressional Record

On Wednesday December 7, U.S. Representative Mike Quigley (D-IL) spoke on the floor of the House of Representatives against the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), citing testimony received from prominent speakers and community organizations during a field hearing held in Chicago. Among the organizations that submitted testimony were three binational couples who have been working with The DOMA Project this year. Rep. Quigley asked “that the Clerk enter all of their testimony into the record, to formally document this collection of unfairness and inequity, burdens that are imposed on normal Americans just trying to live a normal life. It is incomprehensible that today we are still dealing with such injustice. Congress created this injustice and Congress should correct it.”

Rep. Quigley’s speech can be seen here. Read “Testimony from the Congressional Field Forum on the Defense of Marriage Act” here.  Stop the Deportations – The DOMA Project worked closely with three binational couples whose testimony appears at pages 34 – 38.  Thank you to Sveta, Brad and Ryan for their hard work.

Download (PDF, 493KB)

6 YEARS TOGETHER, 5,000 MILES APART: DOMA Keeps Two Women From The Life They Dream Of

 Laws. Laws are what make people behave (supposedly) in a good way, what make them what we call good citizens of a country. They rule our lives and most of the time we do not think about them; they are just what they are and we have learned to live with them.  But sometimes, laws are what can make our life very difficult.

This is what my girlfriend and I have been living for the past six years. Never knowing when and if we would see each other again, not because we were not sure of our feelings, but because of immigration laws.  Every time I come to the United States, I have to leave within ninety days, so I have been living my life between two different countries. Because of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, I cannot have the life I wish I had.  I cannot be with the person I love or work in her country. When I am back in France, I go back living with my family and doing uninteresting jobs so I can save money to pay for my next trip. Is it how life is supposed to be? Torn between two countries?


Our story started in 2005.

I guess we could call it destiny. Tammy was engaged to a man when I met her and I was single, and nineteen years old at the time and not looking for anyone and especially not for a woman.

We met on the internet, on a TV show board that we both used to watch, her in the United States and I, in France. I have always loved speaking and reading English, it felt natural to me and we did not have any problem communicating with each other. My level of English improved considerably though thanks to Tammy. On this board, we would talk every day about the TV show and sometimes about more personal matters. Maybe five months after being in contact we started using messenger to talk to each other, our conversation were finally live!

We would spend hours online, literally, talking to each other about our lives, our families, passions and such.  The connection was obvious, the attraction present in both our mind but we never said anything about it for a long time. I knew I was attracted to her, I had seen pictures of Tammy when she had never seen any of me. And she did not for a long time. I guess I can say I was lacking self-esteem and was scared of what she would think about me once knowing what I looked like.

But we kept talking and talking, about anything. We just needed to spend time together despite the distance and the time difference… Seven hours.  Every night I would stay up late until 2 or 3 a.m., sometimes  even later. Just so I could be with her as much as possible. She became my daily dose of happiness. I had never felt that way for anyone before, and never have to this day.

In July 2005, I went on a vacation for two weeks up in the mountains. I had no internet, we had never spoken on the phone to each other so I did not have her cell number. For the first time in months, I was not in touch with her and it was really hard for both of us to deal with. We knew this was going to be hard, the day before leaving on vacation; I did not want to turn off my computer because this meant I would not hear from her for fifteen days. A terrible thought. I started to realize then how important Tammy had become for me, my feelings were growing stronger each day and I needed her in my life. If this is how a junkie feels for his drug, then I had become an addict. Two weeks later I finally came back home, as you can imagine the first thing I did was to get on the internet to talk to her, tell her that I had missed her and that I was happy to be back at home. She felt the same way. So we resumed our daily discussions, sometimes we would spend eight hours straight talking together. Or at least, typing to each other.

Months went by, I eventually showed Tammy a picture of myself, anxious behind my computer screen that she would be disappointed. I guess she was not, lucky me!  Things started to heat up a little between us, desire was obvious, the allusions to intimacy became evident. I was mentally and physically attracted to her. And for the first time in my life, I really had to admit that I might be attracted to women. This was a little hard to accept at first. I thought I was not normal, this was not good, this was not how things were supposed to be. More questions raised in my young head.

One day we finally admitted our love to each other, I cannot help but smile and feel like crying as I write this. I remember I was about to go to bed, and Tammy asked me a question:

“What do you think is going on between us?”

“I don’t know… I think it’s love”

I thought my chest was going to explode as my heart was beating so fast, I had never experienced such a strong emotion in my life before.

All she said was, “I think so too.”

For the first time we told each other, “I love you.”

Needless to say I did not sleep much that night. So many questions were present in my mind. What was I doing? How could I be in love with someone I had never seen but only on pictures? I had never spoken to her on the phone or on a webcam, I did not even know what she sounded like. I knew, I was crazy… But it felt good!

And now here we are, six years later, still in love, wanting nothing more than to be able to commit to each other and get married. Not a day goes by without us wanting to live together and feel the frustration to be separated with no solution for a future together. I think we can say we have proved our love to each other, both our families know about our relationship, accept it and supports it.

How much longer are we going to have to wait? Our life together is passing by, year after year. We want to build something together, live in the same house, have a kid, to have our family, Tammy, her son and I. Every day we see that things are moving slowly concerning gay rights and immigration laws, but this is not changing fast enough for us.  That is why we are sharing our story.  We want to help bring about change. We should not have to sit behind our computer monitors waiting for things to change, we should already be living together, just like any other opposite-sex couple who do not have to go through what we go through on a daily basis.

The unfairness of this situation is really tough on us.

This is a very stressful situation, when every time I go to the U.S., I never know if I will be let in, as immigration officers do not like me to stay for 90 days in the U.S. so often, even though technically it is allowed on the “visa waiver” program. Needless to say that every time I visit, I do not volunteer a word about being in a relationship with another woman, so as not to raise suspicions of me wanting to stay illegally, which is not the case. Because Tammy has a son, she cannot leave the U.S. so we can live together in another country, I respect this. It just makes it harder for us to be together.

Couples like us who live in separate continents because of unfair laws keep speaking up and organizing and fighting for change we will all finally have the life we want and deserve. We have to keep fighting so all of us can achieve nothing more than what all other couples have: The right to be a family!

Anne & Tammy

“I’m So Proud of My Two Sons,” A California Mother Speaks Out Against DOMA

Brandon with his mother, Gailya

When my son, Brandon, told me he was gay, I thought it was just a phase! He was about to begin his final semester of college and had been through some brief relationships with some (in my opinion) unsuitable girlfriends. I believed that when he got better about choosing girlfriends, he’d happily settle into his true, straight self.

But an odd thing happened. As Brandon became more comfortable with the idea of being gay, he became more comfortable in his own skin. He was happy – even exuberant, sometimes. He became more open with people, more reflective, more confident, and more spiritual. He developed a circle of friends who were unconditional in their support and he found that almost all of his old friends accepted and loved him, as well.

To see my son happy, truly happy in his new life was all I had ever wanted for him. That, and a happy, fulfilling relationship.

I remember the day he told me about Luke. He was almost giddy, describing their close friendship and how that friendship had blossomed into love. I had never seen him like this. Such joy. Such hope for the future.

I met Luke a few months after they started dating and liked him instantly. His personality has a brightness that complements my son’s intensity. He laughs easily and has a dry sense of humor that matches Brandon’s. They are easy with one another, and kind. They share a zest for life, a love of Manhattan and an artistic sensibility. Brandon had found a good match. Luke was soon like a son to me.

Luke is from South Africa. It soon began to dawn on me what that would mean for their future as the harsh reality of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act became bitterly clear. Luke’s immigration status in America was in jeopardy. And, even if he and Brandon were to marry, because of DOMA, there would be no legal protections afforded to him that would be available to Brandon’s sister and her husband, if they had been in a similar situation.   That parallel kept coming back to mind. Why should my children be treated differently by our government?

A little over a year ago, Brandon called me to tell me that he and Luke had decided to get married. My mind instantly went to “What will I wear?” But there was no time to linger on that thought because Brandon said they planned to marry that Saturday. It would be just the two of them – and their dog, Andrew. They wanted to save the big wedding with family and friends for a time when they could afford to do it in the style they both dreamed of. I would fly to New York from California. His sister would fly up from Georgia and his father from Texas and they would surround themselves with family and friends.

But they didn’t want to wait that long to get married. They went to Connecticut, one of the few states that recognizes gay marriage, for their wedding. It was clear to me that Brandon and Luke were deliriously happy, with one exception: they had this immigration thing hanging over their heads. Luke is even afraid to travel domestically, so Brandon splits his holidays – trying to make it to Georgia for a family Christmas a few days late or early so he can be with Luke on the actual holiday. If Brandon comes to California to see me, Luke stays back home in New York. I visit New York when I can. As a result, it has not been possible to all be together like a family, to fully integrate Luke into our lives as we would like to do. It is hard to understand why our government would continue to tear away at the fabric of American families like this. After all, this is not only about Brandon and Luke but about all of us who are treated like our families don’t count.

Luke has become very involved in raising awareness and fighting for equal rights for binational gay and lesbian couples. This has empowered Luke in such a way that he and Brandon have decided to go public with their story. Brandon has filed a green card petition for Luke on the basis of their marriage. Just taking this action has lifted their spirits. He and Brandon are hopeful that the time is right for this nation to face the cruel discrimination of DOMA and make it possible for any loving couple that chooses to marry to receive equal treatment under the law. I am so proud of my two sons.

I fully support Brandon and Luke in this fight, but I worry that they will be separated, or that, in order to stay together, Brandon will be forced to leave this country to be with his husband. That would break my heart because it would tear them away from us.

There is such ignorance and fear driving this terrible prejudice. In this difficult world, we find ourselves torn apart by small differences instead of embracing the common bonds we all share. Love is the supreme bond. We need it for our spiritual survival. We crave it for our happiness and fulfillment. And when any adult couple is lucky enough to find love together and they are willing to make a lifelong commitment, I believe that courageous act should be encouraged. They should not be treated as second-class citizens or ostracized because they happen to be of the same sex.

So, my dream for my son and his husband is that the discrimination of DOMA will end soon. My dream for them is that they will be free to build the kind of life together that is every couple’s dream. There will always be people who do not understand them. But lack of understanding is not justification for taking away basic human rights. I believe the law often has to step in before human understanding can be accomplished. The Civil Rights movement proved that. We are in a new era of civil rights struggles. It is my dream that equal marriage rights are just around the corner for Brandon and Luke. I will do what I can to help them achieve that dream by making sure that those who represent us and work for us in government know how American families are impacted every day by DOMA. They will all hear from me. I hope you will join us in this effort.

See Brandon’s post: “Can The U.S. Government Recognize True Love?” November 28, 2011.

Victory for Monica & Cristina! Government Closes Deportation Case Against Married Lesbian Couple in New York

Immigration & Customs Enforcement Closes Deportation Case Against Argentinean Lesbian, Monica Alcota, Based on Ties to Community Including Marriage to her Spouse, Cristina Ojeda

First Case of a Married Gay Couple Closed Since New DHS’ November 17 Announcement That “Working Group” Would Begin to Implement Prosecutorial Guidelines Nationwide

For the first time since the Department of Homeland Security’s  (DHS) November 17 announcement that a national “working group” had begun reviewing all cases currently pending in immigration courts, Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) has closed a deportation case involving a married same-sex couple.

Although the latest DHS “prosecutorial discretion” guidance still did not explicitly include LGBT families, advocates at Stop the Deportations say that the decision by ICE demonstrates that existing criteria can be properly applied to keep married gay and lesbian couples safe from deportation.

Immigration Judge Terry Bain granted a Joint Motion to Administratively Close Removal Proceedings against Argentinean born lesbian, Monica Alcota, because “good cause has been established.”  Judge Bain’s decision was dated November 30, and was received yesterday, just one day before Monica Alcota was due back in court for a final deportation hearing.  Monica Alcota’s lawyer, Lavi Soloway, submitted the request for Administrative Closure to ICE Chief Counsel in Manhattan on November 14.  The request was based on her marriage to her U.S. citizen spouse, Cristina Ojeda; her deep roots in the community in which she lives and works; her activism against DOMA; and the absence of any adverse factors, i.e. that Monica Alcota is a hard-working, law-abiding person who is not a danger to the public safety or national security.

For most lesbian and gay Americans with foreign-born spouses the only obstacle to a “green card” is the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act,” (DOMA) the law that prevents the federal government from recognizing the legal marriages of lesbian and gay couples.

The “DOMA deportation” that threatened to tear apart Monica Alcota and Cristina Ojeda, a married lesbian binational couple who live in Queens, New York was stopped after ICE attorneys agreed to Alcota’s request and submitted a Joint Motion for Administrative Closure to the presiding Immigration Judge on November 29.

This is the first time the government has asked an immigation court to close removal proceedings against the gay or lesbian spouse of an American citizen since the formation of an inter-agency prosecutorial discretion working group began its work on November 17 with the goal of finding and closing all “low-priority” deportation cases.

Statement from attorney Lavi Soloway, Founder, Stop The Deportations:

“We are thankful to Immigration & Customs Enforcement and to Immigration Judge Terry Bain for closing this case and stopping the deportation of Monica Alcota. Although the Department of Homeland Security has declined numerous requests in recent months for specific, LGBT-inclusive guidance on deportation cases, this action demonstrates that existing guidelines that weigh “family relationships” and “ties to the community” can be properly applied to protect married lesbian and gay binational couples.  After a courageous battle, Monica and Cristina have arrived at the end of a long journey that began when Monica was pulled off a Greyhound bus in July 2009 and held in an ICE detention facility for three months while we fought for her release. That nightmare ends today.  Monica and Cristina can now turn to the business of building a future together without living in constant fear of deportation.

Importantly, this shows married lesbian and gay binational couples can be protected from deportation when ICE fairly applies its own guidelines. By halting this deportation, ICE prevents a marriage from being torn part by DOMA, a law that the President and the Attorney General have determined to be unconstitutional and have refused to defend in Federal Court.”

Statement from Monica Alcota and Cristina Ojeda:

“We are grateful that the government lawyers and the judge saw the humanity of our situation and respected our marriage.  We have learned through this process how important it is to stand up for ourselves and how much we can all achieve when we demand to be treated equally.  This battle is not over. Our green card case is on appeal, and of course we will not have full equality until DOMA is gone. We must all continue to work to make sure no lesbian or gay couples are separated by deportation. We thank all those who have supported the Stop The Deportations campaign and all those who have given us encouragement and strength to keep up the fight.”


BACKGROUND

Cristina and Monica have fought a high-profile battle against the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and deportation proceedings since joining the Stop The Deportations campaign last summer.

In March, New York Immigration Judge Terry Bain, acting with the agreement of the Immigration & Customs Enforcement prosecuting attorney, temporarily postponed Monica’s deportation hearing on the basis that Cristina had filed a marriage-based “green card” petition for her Argentinean wife. At the time, Monica and Cristina were the first married same-sex couple to have their deportation case postponed on the basis of their marriage. The couple was scheduled to return to court on December 6, 2011 for a deportation hearing to review the status of that petition.

In April, USCIS denied Cristina Ojeda’s “green card” petition for Monica, citing DOMA and also relying on a 1982 decision known as Adams v. Howerton from California’s Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Ojeda appealed the denial of her petition to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA). The lawyers for the couple, Stop The Deportations co-founders, Lavi Soloway and Noemi Masliah, filed a brief arguing that the BIA should not affirm the denial considering that the Department of Justice, of which the BIA is a part, has itself determined that DOMA is unconstitutional.  The brief argued that the BIA should hold the case in abeyance, given the rapidly evolving legal context, specifically the DOJ’s filing of a 31-page brief against DOMA and in support of the plaintiff in the Golinski case on July 1; the DOJ’s decision to allow married same-sex couples to be recognized as married in U.S. Bankruptcy Court proceedings on July 7; and the Attorney General’s historic intervention in a BIA decision on May 5 that suggested the DOJ was considering whether “partners” in civil unions could be recognized as spouses for immigration law purposes.

In the memo requesting ICE attorneys join the motion to close proceedings, Soloway argued that Monica Alcota met numerous prosecutorial discretion criteria laid out in the June 17th Morton Memo  (original memo text italicized):

  • Whether the person has a U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse, child, or parent.
    Soloway argued that Monica has a U.S. citizen spouse, Cristina, and they were lawfully married in Connecticut in 2010.
  • The person’s ties and contributions to the community, including family relationships.
    Soloway argued that Monica has formed strong community ties in the 11 years she has lived in the US: she has a successful antique furniture business, is a well-respected member of her community, and received a number of very heartfelt letters from long-time friends and associates detailing her connection to her community.
  • Particular attention should be paid to plaintiffs in non-frivolous lawsuits involving civil rights.
    Soloway argued that Monica and Cristina were part of an advocacy campaign, namely, Stop the Deportations, that had filed I-130 marriage-based “green card” petitions in order to challenge the Defense of Marriage Act in pursuit of (equal) civil rights.
  • The person’s criminal history, including arrests, prior convictions, or outstanding arrest warrants.
    Soloway noted that Monica has no criminal history, no arrests, convictions, outstanding arrests or charges.
  • The person’s ties to the home country and conditions in the country.
    Soloway argued that Monica has no ties to her home country of Argentina and has not lived there for 11 years. Additionally, Monica had no intention of ever returning to live in Argentina and feared for her safety as an openly gay woman were she forced to live there.

In response, ICE agreed to close the case and submitted a Joint Motion to Administratively Close proceedings directly to Immigration Judge Terry Bain on November 29.

For Monica and Cristina, the move by the government means that they will no longer have a cloud hanging over their future. They will continue to fight for full equality, including a “green card” for Monica based on her legal marriage to a U.S. citizen, but without worrying that the government will destroy their marriage, or tear apart the life they have built over the past three and a half years.


STOP THE DEPORTATIONS – THE DOMA PROJECT,  a campaign co-founded by attorney, Lavi Soloway in July 2010 along with his law partner, Noemi Masliah, has contributed to the trend of recent victories for lesbian and gay couples who are faced with deportation, separation or exile because of the Defense of Marriage Act. For nearly two decades, Soloway has been the most prominent attorney and advocate on LGBT immigration law and policy in the United States. He has worked exclusively in this field since co-founding the non-profit organization, Immigration Equality, in 1993.


IMMEDIATE RELEASE- DECEMBER 6, 2011
Press Inquiries to attorney, Lavi Soloway, or
Project Associate, Derek Tripp, at Stop The Deportations-The DOMA Project
Phone 323-599-6915
Email [email protected]


A Look Back At Monica & Cristina In the News

Uniting American Love: Binational Couples Press For End to Deportations,” Gay City News, October 30, 2010

Monica and Cristina: Binational Lesbian Couple in Queens Fights DOMA and Deportation,” Stop The Deportations, October 26, 2010

Hope for Queens Couples’ Immigration Rights After Obama’s Abandoning of Defense of Marriage Act,” NY Daily News, February 26, 2011

DOMA Offers Slim Hope For Same-Sex Bi-National Couples,” UpTown Radio, March 11, 2011

Advocates Urge Delays In Same-Sex Binational Deportation Cases Based On DOMA’s Uncertain Future,” Equality Matters, March 21, 2011

Bi-National Lesbian Couple Can Press US Marriage Claim: In unprecedented move, Immigration Judge adjourns deportation proceeding amidst DOMA litigation,” Gay City News, March 22, 2011

New York Couple Fighting to Stay Together,” Freedom To Marry, March 22, 2011

Monica & Cristina Will Ask Immigration Judge Tuesday to Terminate Deportation Proceedings,” Stop The Deportations, March 21, 2011

Immigration judge suspends deportation of foreign-born gay spouse,” GayAmericaBlog, March 22, 2011

Queens Woman Won’t Be Deported, Judge Says, Until Legal Status Of Same-Sex Marriage Is Clear, Huffington Post, March 23, 2011

Gay woman gets stay of deportation in the midst of DOMA upheaval,” Nerve.com, March 23, 2011

Lesbian U.S. Citizen First to File for her Spouse’s Green Card,” Journal.Us, March 24, 2011

Hope for Binational Lesbian and Gay Couples,” SheWired.com, March 28, 2011

DOMA And Immigration: What’s Next?” WNYC, April 4, 2011

Gay woman in same-sex Queens marriage won’t be deported, judge says ruling depends on pending law,” Daily News, March 23, 2011

Lesbian Couple Fight Deportation Effort,” Passport Magazine, March 24, 2011

US lesbian couple have deportation suspended: A lesbian couple in the US the first couple to successfully halt pending deportation proceedings based upon their marital status,” Pink Paper, March 24, 2011

NY Court Considers Marriage Of Argentine Gay Woman For Citizenship,” On Top Magazine, March 28, 2011

Love May Conquer All in DOMA Challenge Case: In October 2010, A Group of Married, Binational LGBT Couples Came Together to Form Stop the Deportation,” GO MAGAZINE, April 7, 2011

Obama’s Future Win Will Come Too Late,” VIDEO, Pam’s House Blend/FireDogLake, June 9, 2011

Lambda Legal to Immigration: Stop using DOMA to discriminate against married same-sex couples,” The Windy City Times, July 13, 2011

For Queens Lesbian Couple, A New Curve Ball,” Gay City News, July 22, 2011

Queens Gay Couple Fear New Law Will Not Stop Deportation,” Queenslyfe, July 23, 2011


Young Love, Determined to Fight for the Right to Build A Future Together, Despite DOMA

It will be two years this December since I first met my husband.

I am a 22 year-old American citizen. My husband came to this country from Mexico in search of a better, safer life. For the last year and a half we have been living together as a couple with my grandparents, who are in their eighties. During this time we became very close and decided that we wanted to spend our lives together. A few weeks ago we got married in New York, making my husband now legally a part of my family.

My husband came to the United States alone from a small town in Mexico when he was only 16. He was ridiculed and threatened all his life for being effeminate. Even his own family chided him to act more like a man, like his brothers. He felt tremendous pain and confusion because everywhere he turned he was always treated like there was something wrong with him, something that he couldn’t even control. He felt desperate and had no one to turn to for support. He had no way to survive in Mexico. He was rejected by his family and had no choice but to flee. He could see no future. These were extremely dark days for him.

In December 2009 we met at a restaurant where he was working. We hit it off immediately and began seeing each other every few days. We soon became very close and were spending all our free time together. After just a few weeks though, his brother and cousin, with whom he was living, got suspicious. They asked him why he was spending so much time with another man. He tried to pass me off as nothing more than a friend. They didn’t believe it. He woke up one morning to find all of his clothes and belongings thrown in a heap on the living room floor. It was at that time that he was forced to come out to them. That night he was kicked out of his house, put on the street, and disowned by his entire family. His parents told him never to return to Mexico for he was no longer wanted there. They told him that he was the shame of the family and that he should never expect anything from them again.

After hearing of what had happened, my grandparents took him into our home to live with us. We have been living with them ever since. He has become a member of our family. My grandparents love him and treat him like another grandchild. With us he finally knows what it means to feel loved and to be a part of a family. With us he finally gets the love and tenderness he deserves.

And yet, despite the blessings we have and the love we share, I live with the constant fear that one day he could be taken into custody for being an undocumented immigrant. I am filled with disgust and horror when I imagine my husband thrown into a jail or detention center like an animal with nobody there to care for him, nobody there to give him love, nobody there to cook for him and protect him.

We pray that our being legally married will help to protect us and keep us from being separated based on ICE’s new prosecutorial discretion guidelines. He, like so many other immigrants, is a loving human being, contributes to his community, works hard, and poses no risk to public safety. However, we know that there are no guarantees. We put great hope in the administration’s view that all marriages should be treated equally under the law. We hope that in that context, the government will leave us alone and allow us to live our lives in peace until the day comes when the laws have changed and I can sponsor my husband for a green card. There is no home for him in Mexico. There is no life for him there. His life is here. Those who love him are here. With the support of my wonderful grandparents and our extended network of friends and family we will continue to do fight for what is right to make sure that we are not torn apart. Together we can achieve the protection that we deserve.

What You Can Do To Help: One Binational Couple Speaks Out

The DOMA Project’s Stop The Deportations, Separations and Exile campaign needs your help!

If you are in a same sex bi-national relationship, are living in exile, separated, or are in deportation proceedings or living with the risk of deportation due to an expired or expiring visa, we need your story.

For many, we understand that this may seem a lot to ask due to the fear of being identified. However, you do not have to use your full names or provide pictures; your stories will be just as valid without these. Many couples have shared their stories here anonymously.

In order to achieve full equality for all bi-national couples we need a collective voice. The stories already shared on this site are real, powerful and have gained much support but we need to keep up the momentum. Education is needed to raise awareness with the public and the media to show the sheer volume of couples and families living in heartbreaking circumstances. Please consider sharing your story with us.

To couples who have already contributed, please stay in touch, send updates on your situation and, where applicable, any links to stories in the media in which you have been involved that increases awareness of this issue. For many of us, updates will show little to no change in our circumstances, but this in itself is a powerful statement that needs to be made.

Please remember we are not a large organization. We are a small team of volunteers headed by LGBT immigration lawyers who rely on your participation to create awareness and change. Without real stories, building support for our plight and bringing an end to the impact of DOMA on our lives will continue to be a difficult challenge. Together, united, we can bring about positive change.

Meet Our Team: Sveta, Brianna, Justin and Derek

Since the launch of The DOMA Project’s Stop the Deportations, Separations and Exile campaign in July 2010, we have successfully raised the profile of the impact of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) on lesbian and gay binational couples.  Along the way, we have provided directly legal services on a pro bono basis to scores of binational couples who are coping with heartbreaking and financially catastrophic separation, nightmare deportation scenarios, and forced exile.

Our campaign, run entirely by volunteer effort and headed up by attorneys Lavi Soloway and Noemi Masliah, has concentrated with a laser-sharp focus on DOMA and its impact. We have called on the Executive Branch to fulfill its promise, to ensure that the harm of DOMA is mitigated in every way possible. The administration can immediately act to protect all lesbian and gay binational couples. The Department of Homeland Security must institute a moratorium on deportations of spouses/partners of lesbian and gay Americans, accept green card cases filed by married lesbian and gay couples and hold them in abeyance; and extend humanitarian parole to permit all exiled and separated couples to be able to live in the United States legally until the final fate of DOMA is determined by Congress or the Supreme Court.

On November 21 we launched this new website and we now take this opportunity to introduce you to our team.

Sveta Apodaca has been a continuing help to Stop the Deportations, handling the complicated challenge of this project’s web presence (and most recently our blog’s re-launch).  She is also the immigrant half of a binational couple and directly affected by DOMA.  Inspired by dedication, vision, and courage of the DOMA Project’s founders, contributors, and participants, Sveta began volunteering shortly after she and her wife Andi achieved victory in court in summer with the assistance of Lavi Soloway and Stop the Deportations: the DOMA Project.  She is currently lending her talent and skills to help create and maintain this website.

Brianna Howard, after recently interning at Senator Barbara Boxer’s Office and Loyola Law School’s Center for Juvenile Law and Policy, has now joined the project as an intern for Stop the Deportations this fall.  She has been helping the project by initiating correspondence with the couples and gathering their stories to share for the campaign. She finds the experience of working for the project and its attorney, Lavi Soloway, exciting and empowering. As she gets her first taste of the legal world and struggles of the LGBT binational community, she hopes the project and its work can help to eliminate the bitter sting of DOMA.

Justin Ho was born in Chicago and grew up in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. where he was raised on a daily diet of C-SPAN, NPR, and PBS.  He graduated with a B.S. in Chemistry in 2002 from the California Institute of Technology, where he also completed graduate work in Materials Science.  A year living overseas in Denmark served as the inspiration for his policy interest in gay rights, and for a piece he published in theAdvocate. He hopes to leverage nerdy, left-brained tendencies in his capacity as a strategist and consultant for the DOMA Project.

Derek Tripp, started as a legal intern in the spring of 2011, is now working as our project’s dedicated Project Associate.  A graduate and LGBT Rights Fellow of Hofstra University School of Law, he’s been responding to couples who have reached out to get involved and assisting with the work of representing couples who have become part of our campaign. Derek is excited to continue working with the project’s attorneys at Masliah & Soloway to ensure that the injustices of DOMA do not keep any more families apart.

(Read more about Sveta, Brianna, Justin and Derek on the “About Us” page.)

As our team grows, we continue working tirelessly to bring about changes and bring us closer to full equality.  Your continued efforts, participation, and generosity are key to our success. Please get in touch and find out how you can get involved.

Eight Years After First Meeting, Sean and Steven Marry and File Green Card Petition, Joining Fight Against DOMA

I am no stranger to injustice. I am black, gay, I came of age at a time when de-segregation had been fought for, and though not complete, had started changing society. Living through this upheaval and becoming well-adjusted as a double minority is not the sum total of my experience.  Coming to terms with being black and gay, I found myself in my fifth decade of life contending with a new identity as half of a binational gay couple.

This story about the newest realization and hurdle that life has thrown at me, and how my husband and I have chosen to fight back.  After a lifetime of learned self-acceptance and personal growth, I have come to find that my smooth coasting through middle age has hit a bump that has got me more than scratching my head.

My name is Sean Brooks. I am 44-years old and I live in New York with my wonderful husband, Steven. I am a musician and a DJ.  While I’m an American citizen, Steven came to the United States in the 1990s when his whole family moved here from Colombia. Our romance has been a whirlwind. I was never one to be in long-term relationships – much less married – but meeting Steven changed all that.

We met online in 2003, becoming friends at first, and started dating some months later.  By 2004 we were serious – were supportive of one another, it was all exciting, I was in love.  We moved in together in 2006, two years into our relationship, something that would have struck me as crazy (too soon!) before it actually happened. But being with Steven has been the most fulfilling and enriching experience of my life.  Every day we continue to live and grow into something more and more wonderful.  We knew we wanted to spend our lives together, though it was a gradual process of understanding how we would do that given the circumstances.

We were married at City Hall shortly after New York legalized same-sex marriage – about twenty of our friends and family were in attendance. Steven was so afraid of being open about our relationship (of being openly gay at all really) that when we started dating he wouldn’t even hold hands with me at a gay bar.  It was amazing to me that we were able to declare our love to one another with his twin brother at our wedding.  He had only come out to his brother and his mother a few months before our wedding. I am now a happily, legally married, gay man in the state of New York.

And this is where the problems start: Now that I am legally married by the state of New York, I started to wonder – for the first time – what does it mean, legally, for us to be married. I had never thought about the “benefits” of being married as relating to me, since I always knew that same-sex marriage was not an option until recently.  As I looked over a list of state vs. federal benefits, something stuck me as funny. Not funny – haha.  But funny in that – bad taste in your mouth – kind of way.  From what I gathered, as long as we lived (and died) in New York, he (or I) could have divorce rights, inheritance rights, and make medical decisions.

But none of that is as important to me as the right of my spouse to immigrate; and as of this writing our marriage means nothing on the federal level.  This got me thinking.  I cannot petition for Steven to have a green card like any other American can do in my situation, so what good is it to know that we are protected by state laws regarding medical decisions and inheritance rights? It makes a mockery of the victory of marriage equality to know that the most powerful government in this country, the federal government in Washington D.C., refuses to recognize our marriage because of the Defense of Marriage Act. They would just as soon deport Steven even though we have been together as a couple for seven years and we are legally married.

It seems to me that I have spent my whole life trying to not be a second-class citizen, but that effort has been quietly and insidiously trumped by becoming an “other-class citizen.”  While I haven’t felt “second-class” for decades (thanks Europe for opening my eyes that the world is big), but I have come to the unfortunate realization, once again, that I am still not a first-class citizen. I am not equal to all other Americans for the simple reason that I am gay. If I were, I wouldn’t have to type this. My legal husband would be applying for a green card just as if he were a she. Instead, I get to be reduced to the other-class: he could be taken from me and from our home by my own government. We are legally married, but he’s not able to immigrate. We live in a legal limbo. And why? No one can justify the way DOMA has created this insanely cruel reality for couples like us.

As a black, gay American married to man who is a citizen of Colombia I feel we have no choice but to fight for our rights. We live in historic times that present an important opportunity to raise awareness of this issue. Our President has rejected discrimination against gay couples, and refuses to defend DOMA.  He is also a black man whose parents were not only an inter-racial couple, but also a binational couple, something that is not always noticed.  If there was ever a time to persuade Americans how important it is to protect all LGBT families, including married gay binational couples, surely this is the time.

I have filed a green card petition for Steven and I will fight for my right as an American citizen to have it approved.

Married Lesbian Couple Separated by DOMA and an Ocean


Ana and I “met” in 2008 while we were both participating in an on-line book club.  Although Ana is Portuguese, she currently resides in the United Kingdom. We quickly became friends in the book club and in November of that year, I was fortunate enough to have a business meeting scheduled in London.  It was during that trip that Ana and I met face to face for the first time. Although we considered ourselves to be “just friends” for approximately a year after we met in London, we never went more than 2-3 days without corresponding with each other.  At first it was only by email, but we were soon spending hours on the phone together learning more and more about each other.  We quickly realized that our “friendship” was taking a turn and knew we had to meet again. This time it was in New York, where I live. It was clear to both of us that we were falling in love.  In early 2010, Ana flew over and we spent 4 beautiful days together. It was then that we just knew we were meant to be together forever.

For the last two years one of us has made the long flight from New York to London at least once a month.  Although it has been a tremendous financial burden for both of us, we know that we would suffer, being apart any more than we are already.  Two years after we first met in the book club, on May 6, 2011, Ana and I celebrated our love for each other in front of more than 100 friends and family with a formal commitment ceremony on Long Island, New York.  Then last July, we entered into a legal civil partnership in the United Kingdom, celebrating with Ana’s family, who had flown in from Portugal to be with us on that special day. When New York’s legislators passed the marriage equality bill in June we knew we wanted very much to be married. In August we exchanged wedding vows and became legally married.  Finally, just this past November, I went to the Portuguese consulate in NYC to have our marriage officially recognized in Portugal.  In some sense you might say we have now ‘married’ each other four times.  Our relationship is now recognized on two continents and we have the love and support of our friends and family.

However, we are still apart. We are still viewed as nothing more than legal strangers by my own government.  This is cruel and heartbreaking because it forces us to live a life crossing the Atlantic Ocean never knowing when an immigration officer on one side or the other might stop us from visiting.

We are sharing our story because we believe that we must stand up and tell others about the reality that we are living. I am a New Yorker and I am an American. I expect to be treated the same as all other Americans. I have fallen madly in love with the most wonderful woman, and I do not want to spend precious time apart from her.  We should not have to exhaust ourselves or deplete our savings to spend a few days together each month. We should not have to construct a life of “visiting” each other. No other married couple would ever be expected to do what we are forced to do.  It is overwhelmingly obvious to everyone in our extended community of family and friends whether in the US or abroad that this is cruel.  We find ourselves explaining that although we are married, the US treats us as nothing more than strangers to each other. We see the puzzling looks stare back at us when we explain that we have a recognized civil partnership in the United Kingdom that gives us the same rights as opposite-sex couples when it comes to immigration.  But we want to live in the United States, for many reasons it is not possible for me to relocate to the United Kingdom.

We know that one law, the most horribly named “Defense of Marriage Act”, is the only thing standing between us and our future together in the United States. No one who even says those words “Defense of Marriage” believes any marriage is defended or protected by forbidding the American government from recognizing our marriage and giving us the right to be together. DOMA makes a mockery of love and marriages by keeping us apart. I cannot make this more clear: I do not want to be forced to leave my country, but we cannot build a future together separated by 3,600 miles.  My love for Ana cannot wait. Equality for all lesbian and gay couples cannot wait. We must end the tyranny of DOMA now and allow all LGBT families to live in peace.

I hope those reading our story will see how wrong it is that this government continues to enforce DOMA to keep apart two women in love.  We cannot bring an end to DOMA simply by standing on the sidelines and waiting for it to happen. We must call on our leaders to stop enforcing DOMA, and to allow all lesbian and gay Americans to bring their spouses here now.

© The DOMA Project

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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.