Sign Our Petition to President Obama: Stop Denying Our Green Card Petitions, Stop Tearing Apart LGBT Families




In San Francisco on March 22, Brian Willingham and Alfonso Garcia will face the worst nightmare of any gay or lesbian binational couple: a deportation hearing in a federal Immigration Court. Brian and Alfonso are legally married, but their relationship will not be recognized because of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Brian and Alfonso are taking a brave stand for their love and for all binational couples by demanding that their marriage be treated like any other married couple’s marriage!  Brian has filed a green card petition for Alfonso based on their marriage.  We call on the Obama administration not to deny this green card petition but to hold a final determination in abeyance until DOMA has been defeated.

An opposite-sex couple in this situation would easily win a postponement or even termination of deportation proceedings altogether to allow them to pursue the green card case based on their marriage, which Brian and Alfonso are hoping for this Thursday. If Alfonso is deported he will be barred from returning to the U.S. for ten years.

Alfonso has lived in the United States for almost 21 years, and Brian and Alfonso have been together for over 10 years.  If the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) agrees to hold Brian and Alfonso’s marriage-based green card petition in abeyance, Alfonso will be allowed to remain in the U.S. in lawful status.  Abeyance simply means that DHS would neither deny or approve this petition, or any other marriage based petitions filed by lesbian or gay American citizens for their spouses until DOMA is no longer in effect.

President Obama has said that he believes DOMA is unconstitutional and has endorsed its repeal. The President must immediately direct DHS and its agency, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), to hold green card petitions of same-sex spouses in abeyance.


March 23, 2012: Alfonso & Brian’s petition has received close to 1,300 signatures!  The DOMA Project thanks every signor for helping lift the message that all married couples should be treated the same.   There is still time to sign the petition, and we will update this post again before we send it to President Obama and members of his administration.



Sign below to tell President Obama, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, and Attorney General Eric Holder that you care about Brian and Alfonso and all same-sex couples hurt by DOMA. The Government needs to respect the marriages of same-sex couples, stop deporting the spouses of LGBT American citizens, and keep Brian and Alfonso together!


You can help by:

  • Signing this petition (scroll down) urging the officials to halt DOMA deportations.
  • Calling Brian & Alfonso’s elected officials in California and Washington, D.C. and urge them to help the couple before Alfonso’s hearing on March 22.
  • Sharing this post with your Facebook friends and Twitter followers to get out the message.  Our goal is 1,000 signatures before Alfonso’s hearing.
  • Reading updates on this couple and many others on the blog for STOP THE DEPORTATIONS: The DOMA Project.


U.S. Representative John Garamendi D.C.: (202) 225-1880 CA: (925) 932-8899
U.S. Senator Diane Feinstein D.C.: (202) 224-3841
 CA: (415) 393-0707
U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer D.C.: (202) 224-3553 CA: (510) 286-8537


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Brian & Alfonso Fight DOMA Deportation in San Francisco Immigration Court on March 22, After More Than A Decade Together

Photo by Steven Underhill

October 31, 2001

When I went into San Francisco that night I wasn’t planning on meeting my soul mate. My plan was to hang out with friends and enjoy watching all the party goers in their Halloween costumes. That all changed when I noticed a handsome man sitting in the corner. He had a gorgeous heart shaped face, puppy dog eyes, a brilliant smile and a laugh that cut through the tumult of the crowd. It took me about an hour to work up the courage to go talk to him, and when I finally offered to buy him a drink, he shot me down. Dejected, but not defeated, I retreated to the comfort of my friends. Later I noticed him again, he noticed me noticing him, and we traded smiles. So I offered him a drink, and he refused a second time but we did strike up a conversation. By the end of the night I had learned his name, Alfonso, we had exchanged phone numbers and then gone our separate ways.

A week later we met at a coffee shop for our first date and man was it ever awkward. I showed up excited to get to know him better. He showed up, but not alone – he had brought along his straight friend who did not know that he was gay and who had no clue that she was the third-wheel on our first date. We sat there chatting for hours until we were so full of coffee and cake that we couldn’t take anymore. So I walked them to their car and we again went our separate ways.

At that time I was living in the San Francisco East Bay, but working in Monterey. So I was only home on the weekends, which turned out to be an ideal framework for our relationship to take hold. We would chat by phone every night while I was away. And then we would see each other on Friday or Saturday for a date night. Soon that one date per week wasn’t enough, so we would spend Saturday and Sunday together. Then that wasn’t enough, so I gave Alfonso a key to my place and he would get to my house before me on Fridays when I came back home and wouldn’t leave until after I left for work on Mondays. And then we moved-in together and have been inseparable ever since.

From then on we have been living our lives together as any couple would. We adopted our wonderful dog, Maggie, from the local Animal Rescue Foundation. We go on vacations together. We host fabulous parties together. We support charities together. We’ve been back and forth to Missouri numerous times to spend Christmas with my family and friends. My family members frequently come to California to stay with us for a week at a time. Alfonso is an integral part of our family and is there for every joyous celebration. He was with me in Tennessee to celebrate Gramps’ 80th birthday with four generations of my relatives. He was with me when we took family photos to give to my parents in celebration of their 40th wedding anniversary. Last year we went on a family vacation to Disney World and all stayed together in a house for a week.

He has also been here to see me through the tough times in my life as I have been here for him. He was here to give me encouragement when I transitioned careers in 2003. His was the shoulder that I cried on when my best friend’s father died in an accident way before his time. He was here to console me when my grandmother passed away. I was at the hospital with him every day while his grandmother was in the Intensive Care Unit. When she passed, I was here for him at the funeral home to help him mourn the loss. Our lives are meant to be together – to be here for each other, like any couple.

Our life was on a happy, albeit somewhat boringly ordinary, trajectory until one fateful night last summer. That night and the events that followed have brought me to a whole new level of understanding about how precarious Alfonso’s life had been up to this point. That night we were pulled over for a routine traffic stop. The local law enforcement did their regular background checks and that is when the train went off of the proverbial rails. You see, the local authorities have been conscripted by the federal government in a weird, Orwellian, 1984, Big-Brother sort of way so that now the local authorities are forced to send information directly to federal agencies. Within a few hours I learned that something called an “immigration hold” had been placed on Alfonso’s file, so even though he was not charged with any crime by the local authorities and had no criminal record they were not allowed to release him. They took my husband away in chains and put him in a county jail. The day before I was going to have my first visitation they moved him to a different jail. Then the day before I was going to be allowed to visit him at the 2nd jail they transferred him to a 3rd facility, a federal immigration facility. It was there in San Francisco, a week after this nightmare began, that I was finally allowed to visit my husband for the first time since the nightmare began. Even though he is not a criminal, they brought him in to a tiny visitation booth in handcuffs and we sat there talking and crying until they took him away 10 minutes later.

I had retained an attorney in San Francisco who filed a request that Alfonso be released on bond, so I left that day thinking he would be home soon. That is when the train jumped even further off the tracks. For some reason, the immigration officials decided the smartest thing to do would be to spend tax payer dollars to put my husband on a prison jet that night and fly him to a facility out in the desert somewhere in Arizona. I had to start all over again with a new attorney in Arizona who finally was able to schedule a bond hearing that ultimately resulted in Alfonso being released two weeks after he was taken to Arizona. I flew to Arizona on the very first flight I could catch the day I heard that the bond had been approved. I had no idea where he would be dropped off. I only knew that he would be alone and that I had to get to him.  Finally, Immigration and Customs Enforcement allowed him to return home, but not before initiating formal “removal” proceedings to deport Alfonso to Mexico, a country has not lived in for more than 20 years. If the government succeeds in deporting him, Alfonso will be barred from returning for 10 years.

March 2012

So now we are reunited, living together in our home with our dog, surrounded by our friends and family. But for us the nightmare is far from over. Because of an archaic law called DOMA, the federal government will not recognize our marriage. We are Registered Domestic Partners in the state of California and we were lawfully married in New York, yet the federal government refuses to treat us all like any other married couple. As a gay American citizen the federal government offers me zero, zilch, nada, null access to the federal rights that all married couples have. This is not an issue of separate but equal. There are no separate federal rights for married gay couples. There are no rights at all. This is not a front of the bus, back of the bus issue. This is the federal government telling us to get the hell off of the bus. They called it the “Defense of Marriage Act” when they made it law in 1996 when I was only 22 years old. But now that I am 37 and I am being persecuted by the federal government, I can tell you that DOMA is more like “Destroy Our Marriage Aggressively.”  There is no other way to describe how I feel when my government puts my husband in chains, whisks him away to a remote detention facility, and tries to deport him.

Of the estimated 1,138 federal benefits that are granted to all married straight couples and denied to all married gay couples, there is one in particular that affects me and Alfonso. I am denied the right to sponsor my husband for a green card because of DOMA. So Mr. President I need your help. I am calling on you to stop the deportation of my husband. Not with vague references to a deportation policy that has been reformed to keep families together, but with explicit written directives to stop deportations of couples like, who but for DOMA, would have access to a green card.  I deserve to see that in writing. It is an outrage that the administration hides behind general language, and leaves it up to local ICE officials to implement “prosecutorial discretion” guidelines. I have filed a green card petition for Alfonso on the basis of our marriage. I understand that DOMA, though it is unconstitutional, may prevent my petition from being immediately approved. But Mr. President, there is no law on the books that says my petition must be rejected. I implore you to hold my marriage-based petition in abeyance until the day when true justice can be served and the petition can be approved. Please instruct Attorney General, Eric Holder, and Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, to hold in abeyance my petition for Alfonso and all green card petitions by married gay, bi-national couples. Alfonso and I have spent the last 10 years of our lives together in a loving, committed relationship. Please don’t force us to spend the next 10 years torn apart.

Portrait of an American Family: Brian's Parents' 40th Wedding Anniversary (Freedom Photography)

VIDEO: Satyam and Tonja, Lesbian Couple in Atlanta, Share Their Story, and Devastating Consequences of DOMA

Satyam and Tonja shared their video and this story with us recently.
It is cross-posted here with their permission.

In 2001, Satyam came to the United States from Nepal as an international student to attend the University of Maine. Ultimately, she graduated with a Masters in International Development from American University. Satyam has been a strong advocate for women; helping refugee women start and strengthen small businesses in metropolitan Atlanta, help victims of violence gain control of their lives and stand on their feet financially, help immigrant and refugees bridge cultural and linguistic barriers and achieve their educational, business and social goals, and help establish an organization to support the survivors of violence from the gay and lesbian community.

Her experience of the United States has been sharply defined and limited by the immigration laws. As so many foreign students learn to their dismay, after graduation Satyam experienced the loss of growth opportunities in her professional career, financial hardship and homelessness that is directly related to the restrictions under immigration law. Even though she attended American University with full tuition scholarship, her career options have been limited to finding employers willing to petition for her visa. Employers on average have to spend between $2,000- $10,000 in immigration fees and lawyer fees to petition for their immigrant employee for the employment visa.

Tonja was born in Lincoln, Nebraska and has called Atlanta home for more than 20 years. She is an experienced fundraising and development professional. She has raised funds for various causes like early childhood education, domestic and sexual violence, immigrant and refugee communities and communities of color. She is a strong advocate for equality and justice, access to education and opportunities for all. She has worked for various community-based organizations in Atlanta. She has also worked as union organizer, taught political science to college students in LaGrange, Georgia, and currently works as the Annual Fund Manager for an early childhood education center that serves low income families in metro Atlanta. She graduated with a Masters degree in Political Science from the University of Nebraska – Lincoln. Tonja gained a deep understanding of the challenges immigrants face when she worked for the South Asian community based organization, Raksha, which serves domestic violence survivors. It became personal for her when Satyam lost her job.

As an American citizen, Tonja could not sponsor her Satyam. Denied legal recognition of their marriage by the federal government, Tonja petitioned for Satyam to work for the company she ran. This presented a temporary solution in the form of a short-term work visa.  Unfortunately, the couple hit a brick wall when the small but profitable company’s green card petition for Satyam was denied by the Immigration Service because they deemed it to be “not a viable business.” Tonja’s business remains successful and profitable to this day, though immigration guidelines on viability are so vague as to offer little hope for this employment-based immigration route.

Since Tonja and Satyam met in August of 2008 they have been a source of love and support for each other ever since. They have a community of chosen family and friends in Atlanta who value them deeply. When their video was posted, one friend wrote, “I want you to know how deeply saddened I am that you are going through this. I thank you for all you have done for our organization, but also, the community in your tireless work and commitment to the domestic violence movement, gay rights, the refugee and immigrant community, and animal welfare. You are both truly an inspiration and I want you to know how much you will be missed and the impact you have made. We will continue to fight for justice and equality because this is an outrage and cannot be tolerated. I am heartbroken and just wanted to express how sad, upset, and angry I am and to let you know what an impact you have had on this community.”

Satyam and Tonja were joined together in a commitment ceremony in Georgia in May 2011 among friends and family members.  They would like to marry in one of states where same-sex couples are permitted to marry, but even if they did so their marriage, despite being legal but it would not be not recognized by the federal government for immigration purposes. They share a home, 3 dogs, a cat and love for folk art, ethnic food and a strong desire to remain together in the community of their friends and family. They are one of 36,000 binational couples in the United States whose lives are thrown into turmoil because of the Defense of Marriage Act.  They encourage readers to contact their elected officials and the Obama administration and demand that the Department of Homeland Security stop denying green card petitions filed by married lesbian and gay couples.

The DOMA Project Teams Up with the DeVote Campaign to Create a Series of Video Vignettes of Married Binational Couples Fighting DOMA

Cross posted from The Devote Campaign:

“The DeVote Campaign is excited and honored to join forces with Lavi Soloway and The DOMA Project to personalize and publicize the plight of binational same-sex couples struggling to remain together in the U.S. as a result of the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). When opposite-sex binational couples get married, the American spouse can sponsor the foreign born spouse for a green card to legally remain and work in the U.S. Married same-sex couples do not have this option, since DOMA defines ‘marriage’ as a union between one man and one woman in all areas governed by federal law including immigration. While the Obama administration declared that it would no longer defend DOMA in February 2011, no blanket measures have been taken to stop the deportations and green card denials that thousands of committed couples continue to endure.

There are an estimated 36,000 same-sex binational couples currently living in America. Countless others have been forced into exile, live apart, or exist “under the radar” in constant fear of being discovered and torn apart. Nobody should have to choose between attending a parent’s funeral or staying in the U.S. with his/her spouse for fear of being denied re-entry, but one real example of the unbearable reality faced by same-sex binational couples under the dark cloud that is the Defense of Marriage Act.

Please consider donating to our joint efforts to record and publicize these personal stories far and wide. Help us not only inspire change now, but archive these stories of true love and commitment for future generations.

DeVote is fiscally sponsored by the Independent Feature Project. You can make a tax-deductible contribution by visiting”

Since February, DeVote Campaign’s founder, Brynn Gelbard, and her crew have been shooting videos of binational couples as part of the The DOMA Project’s campaign to stop the denial of green card petitions filed by lesbian and gay Americans for their spouses.

For more information about The DOMA Project’s campaign to stop “DOMA denials” of green card petitions, contact us by email here.

American Dream Interrupted: 18 Years After Arriving in the US, Jaime Marries Walid, But Now Fears They May Become DOMA Refugees

I came to the United States as a teenager escaping political persecution. My family and I escaped Cuba in the middle of the night by boat. My brother had also escaped Cuba in a boat a year earlier. We knew the trip was not going to be easy. My parents were very scared of what could happen to his teenage kids, my twin sister and I, in a small boat in the middle of the ocean. But staying in Cuba was out of the question. Luckily, we made it to land in the United States. We made it to the “Land of Opportunities.” And once again the family rejoiced in us all being together.

This country welcomed us with open arms, and I embraced my newly acquired freedom. I learned the language and the traditions of my new homeland. I worked two jobs and went to school. I excelled in college, obtained a Masters Degree from an Ivy League school, and attended a top-ten law school. I became an American citizen with much pride because I had made it; I was the American Dream. Later I learned that the American Dream was just that: a dream. I learned that we are not all free in the Land of the Free. We are not all equal.

Eighteen years after arriving to the U.S., and ten years a citizen, I begin to prepare mentally and physically to go into exile once again. The country that once welcomed me, now forces me out. Because of the Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”), I am not free to sponsor my husband after his work visa expires. So I, an American Citizen, have to choose between the man I love and the country I love. Because of DOMA, I, an American Citizen, have to choose between being separated from my husband or being separated from my family.

My husband, Walid, and I met at a friend’s party. He was spinning records and was wearing the most colorful shoes I have ever seen, so I had to talk to him. We chatted briefly and exchanged emails. A week later, I met a friend for drinks at a Brooklyn bar, and Walid was there too. One of our common friends recalls thinking at the bar that night that Walid and I were going to be together for a long time, even though we hardly knew each other at the moment. He recalls how the world seemed to have disappeared around Walid and me. We talked to each other all night, ignoring everyone else, not dancing, and not taking our eyes away from the other for a second. That night we discovered our common love for music and literature. A brief reference to Ulysses turned into an hour-plus discussion of James Joyce. We talked Genet and Proust, punk and classical composers.

We started dating right away. At first, we tried to find every possible excuse to not become “too serious too soon.” But as we got to know each other better, and we discovered our many common passions, it became obvious that we were a perfect match. To me, the most exhilarating aspect of our early relationship was to discover that we were so similar and shared so many passions, but at the same time we were different enough as to allow plenty of opportunities to learn from each other. For example, we discovered we both love literature, but I prefer modern literature, while Walid prefers post-modern. So we started reading and discussing books that we gave to each other, and in that way we learned a great deal about the other. Similarly, we discovered that we share a passion for Art Deco design and architecture, mid-century Scandinavian furniture, pre-prohibition era cocktails, gardening, cats (each of us have one, same age, same breed), little-known music from the 80’s (we both collect vinyl records), and countless other things.

So, in spite of our “holding back,” our relationship evolved quickly, and we moved in together. The only one thing that could have gotten in between us at the time was whether our respective cats got along. And they liked each other at first sight (a sign?)!  Now Walid and I, and the two cats, live in our quiet and beautiful apartment in Brooklyn with a beautiful backyard that we love gardening in the spring. Shortly after moving in together, however, the moment came for the big test: Walid was to meet my family.

My family and I were meeting in Orlando that summer for a family reunion, since we had not taken a vacation together in a few years, and Walid flew down to Florida with me to meet them. I swear that an hour had not gone by before my mother approached me to tell me how delightful a person, how sweet, and how funny Walid was. My twin sister also loved him at once. Now they talk almost as often as she and I talk. My brother found in Walid a match to his silly sense of humor; they alone laugh at each other’s jokes. And my father commented to my siblings that he had never seen me so happy. Walid passed the test. He is now a part of our family.

Later in the year, we spent Christmas with my family in Miami. Everyone was very happy that Walid came with me. I could not be happier, especially after Walid fell in love with Miami and agreed with me that we should move there. I told him that I would like to be closer to my parents, who are nearing 70 years of age. I want to be able to be there if they need me. I know that, in their old age, they want to see me more than a handful of times a year. I also want to see them often. And God forbid, in case of a medical emergency, I want to be there right away. Walid did not hesitate to agree. We decided that we would continue to develop our careers for three to five years in New York, and then move to Miami.

While discussing the possibility of moving to Miami, I confessed to Walid that he was a part in every dream I had for my future; I was ready to be with him for the rest of my life. In return, Walid confessed to me that he was also ready to be with me forever. I had equally become an essential part of his future.

Since then on, we dream together. We dream of an Art Deco house in Miami. It must have a large backyard for all the plants and eatables that we want to garden. We dream of getting a dog, one that loves cats, of course. And Walid laughs helplessly when I start numbering all the animals that I want to get—a pig, a goat, a cow.

The difference between dreaming and planning for the future is how likely it is that the plans will actually materialize if one works hard enough. If plans are too fantastic, they are dreams. The reason we dream and not plan about our beautiful Art Deco house with flowers and a dog is because DOMA makes it very unlikely, nearing the fantastic, that our dreams may come. We have discussed the possibility of opening an Art Deco-themed bar in Miami to serve the pre-prohibition era cocktails that we love, but DOMA has reduced this plan to a mere dream. Or perhaps opening a plant and flower shop, in that way my parents can get involved since they too love gardening, but this is also a near-impossible dream. But there are some dreams that DOMA cannot frustrate. And despite DOMA, one of our dreams came true the night that New York State legalized gay marriage. That very same night, Walid and I decided to go for it.

It was an easy decision to make since the love and commitment were already there, yet ever growing. We both agreed that the love and commitment had been there since that night at the Brooklyn bar. My family had already taken him in, so I knew I had their blessings. So we got married. And not because it was our own wedding, but the ceremony was one of the most honest and heartfelt ceremonies we have ever attended. When we read our vows to each other, the minister cried.

There were two common reactions among our friends and family when we told them we were getting married. First, they were not surprised at all: “I saw it coming, you guys are perfect together,” most of them said. But most importantly, everyone, no exception, was so genuinely happy that we could get married, that New York had finally embraced marriage equality. Unfortunately, the federal government does not recognize us as equals.

The tremendous happiness we felt at our wedding day is thus tainted with the fear and anxiety of our expected expatriation. Walid’s work visa is coming to an end. Once his visa expires, he must leave, and I am powerless to help him stay with me because my government refuses to recognize our love and commitment. While heterosexual people can sponsor their foreign spouses to stay in the U.S., homosexuals cannot. This is discrimination. While men are allowed to sponsor their foreign wives, women are not. This is discrimination. While women are allowed to sponsor their foreign husbands, men are not. This also is discrimination. Thus, the federal government is discriminating against me by not allowing me to sponsor my husband the same way that women could sponsor their husbands or men could sponsor their wives.

Despite this, we will not go down without a fight. We are exploring other means to help him remain in the country legally. We have also joined The DOMA Project, and we will challenge the immigration service to do the right thing by sharing our love story and our hopes and dreams for the future. I am filing a green card petition for my husband, and I will force my government to be accountable if it chooses to treat us like legal strangers by ignoring our marriage. But the chances of expatriation are becoming more realistic, especially since, last January, the Obama administration pledged to continue denying green card applications filed by gay spouses. But one thing is sure, if he must leave, I will leave with him. One thing his deportation will not do is put an end to our love and to the promise that we made to one another: Until Death Do Us Apart.

But if we must leave, we do not know where to go. We are not welcomed as a couple in Walid’s also homophobic country. Walid is from the Middle East, and like I, he also fled his country. He came to the United States as a student hoping to be sponsored by an employer upon graduation, so he would not have to return to the oppression, discrimination, and violence to which gays are submitted to in his home country. But the financial downturn of the latter years has made it virtually impossible for him to be sponsored by an employer.

In his country, we cannot live as a couple. There, two thirty-something year-old men living together is unheard of, unless they are committing the crime of homosexuality. In which case, the neighbors will take care of keeping their community clean and safe by calling the police on us. We cannot admit to be married to one another in his country, or we would be confessing to a crime. So we would have to lie to the government every time we are asked for marital status. We will have to lie to our employers in their forms. We will be trapped in a situation where we either commit the crime of fraud and risk persecution or admit to the crime of homosexuality and risk persecution. Another difficulty in moving back to his country is that I am not guaranteed an entrance visa. Yes, I can go on a tourist visa, but I cannot stay long. I cannot work. And obviously, I cannot ask for a more permanent entrance so I can be with my husband. Thus, his country is out of the question.

What saddens me the most about our potential expatriation is that our plans to move to Miami to be close to my aging parents are likely over.  About the time we were thinking to move to Miami, we could be moving elsewhere, farther away from my parents and country.  My siblings are also devastated about this, especially my twin sister.  And I have not yet told my parents.  I know the longer I wait, the worst it would be for my parents to deal with the separation.  But I do not know how to bring it up; it breaks my heart.  My father lost his mother in Cuba while he was exiled in Miami.  He could not be next to her in her last moments or at her funeral.  I pray the same does not happen to me with my parents.

VIDEO: Brian & Anton: One Year After Stopping Valentine’s Day Deportation, the Couple Attends Green Card Interview Based on Their Marriage

Watch the video.  

Filmmakers, Gregory and Guillermo, traveled to Philadelphia last month to meet with Brian and Anton, a married binational couple, on the eve of a very important interview. Last year, Anton was scheduled to be deported on Valentine’s Day. After a last-minute decision from the Immigration & Customs Enforcement temporarily saved them from separation hours before his flight was scheduled to depart, the couple has continued to fight to stay together in the United States. This effort culminated with a green card interview on February 13, 2012 at the Immigration Service in Philadelphia where the couple was required to prove the legitimacy of their marriage. It was exactly one year since Anton’s deportation had been stopped, and again Valentine’s Day would be a celebration heavy with significance for this couple.  We are grateful to Brian and Anton for sharing their thoughts and feelings about this roller coaster ride. And we extend our thanks to the filmmakers for traveling to Philadelphia to create this moving video.

Filmmakers Gregory and Guillermo are a binational couple who shared their story with Stop The Deportations – The DOMA Project. See more of their work at The Other Half of the Orange.

President Obama: “Don’t Let DOMA Destroy Our Marriage.” Gay Veteran Files Green Card Case For His British Husband After 11 Years Together, Fighting for Their Future

By the time I reached my mid 50s, I had begun to let go the hope of finding a life partner. Maybe it was a combination of society’s views of gays, combined with the scars of a Catholic upbringing, that left me feeling I did not deserve what most people had. All that changed when Shaun entered my life.

We met online, and at first it was just the occasional chat.  He was in England and I was in California, so we had something of a geographical and time zone challenge. After a while, I found myself looking forward to coming home from work to see if he was online. A strong bond of friendship quickly formed. Shaun talked to me in a way I had not known with others. He was honest and very direct with his observations. Sometimes his words seemed too direct, later I understood that everything he said, came from his caring about me and wanting me to have a better life. I began to have feelings for him that I had never felt for another person. What makes this even more unique is that these feelings developed even before I ever saw his face, as this was before webcams or online photos where as commonplace as they are now. When Shaun sent me the first photo and I saw the image that went with the words, I was blown away! 

Six months after chatting, I learned that Shaun would be coming to Los Angeles to visit friends, who would go around the United States riding roller coasters.  Little did we know that we were going to set out on a decade long roller coaster ride of our own.

John and Shaun’s First Photo Together, January 11, 2001

I was excited that Shaun was coming to Los Angeles, but my heart sank immediately when I learned that he would be so close, but that his itinerary did not leave time for us to meet. Then one evening the phone rang.  It was Shaun asking if I would like to join him and friends for lunch the next day. Before I knew it, I said YES! That day was one neither of us can forget. It was January 11, 2001. Shaun tells the story of how when he first saw me he was a little afraid, as I was bouncing up and down with excitement. If I was, it was nerves. In person he looked even better than his photos. As we ate lunch my hand began to tremble with joy. He reached over, took my hand and looking directly into my eyes, he whispering in his British accent, “It is OK, just relax”.

Our lunch went so well, that Shaun altered his plans and spent his final week with me. It was then that we knew that this was more than just friendship. We spent one of the best weeks of our lives together. Then we faced what would become a constant source of agony for us – the airport good-bye.

A few months later Shaun retuned for a month. We then committed as a couple and began to look for ways to stay together. I had no idea that would be near impossible.

 We tried everything from student visas to business visas. All required an investment of money neither of us had. We contacted our elected officials. Most just sent a standard reply, saying they could not help. I pushed harder and went to the office of my member of congress. One of her staff suggested that Shaun “find a woman to marry”, in order to get a green card. Groups like the Human Rights Campaign and even the American Civil Liberties Union just replied saying, “The time is not right for cases like yours.” Then for a year between 2002-2003 we opened our life to a documentary maker, who was making a film about binational couples. After completion they could not find a distributor. It was not seen as marketable. Our plight seemed hopeless.

For the next decade we lived what we called two half lives: one half together, and the other half alone. Shaun has always been employed by his family, so with their help and support he would spend three months in the U.S. and three months in the U.K. In 2002 Shaun was stopped on entry to the U.S. and detained. They questioned him for hours. They opened his case and just threw his clothes onto the floor as they searched it. One officer held up toiletries and other personal items, while a second laughed and made comments on what was in his case. Eventually he was allowed to stay for six weeks but told he would no longer be able to use a “visa waiver program” to visit. He was told that he must apply for an actual visitor’s visa at the U.S. Embassy in London. Shaun did as told, and he received the visa; but several more times he was detained – some times for as long as five hours. During the times he was questioned, I would be left waiting at arrivals, with no idea what was going on.

One time I was told by an airline representative that Shaun was going to be handcuffed, taken to a detention center and flown back to the U.K. the next day.

 Each time he was detained, Shaun cut back the time he would spend in the US. He would ask immigration, how long he could visit without it being a problem. He was told, “You are just coming here too often,” or “visit here less than expected.” He was never given a clear rule to follow. All the trauma of this had a serious affect on his health. He would sink into deep depressions as his time to leave me came closer. Then before he returned to the US, his fear of immigration would consume him to the point of not being able to eat or sleep. Each time he became convinced that he would be denied entry and banned from returning to the US for ten years. Twice a year, for ten years, he repeated this grueling routine. He would stand in a line, hoping that we would be allowed to continue our lives together. We were both all too aware that at any time, a U.S. Customs and Border Protections officer could destroy what we had worked so hard to build together.

We have had to hold our relationship together using webcams and phone calls. When we were apart, Shaun would wait up until past midnight his time, so we could chat for an hour or two when I got home from work. One of the hardest parts for us, has been when one of us is sick. During the times I was too sick to go to work, Shaun would spend all day on the phone with me. Then at night I would put the webcam on while I slept, and he would watch over me.

Shaun and John on their Wedding Day, January 11, 2012

As I have grown older, the health issues have become more serious. Just before Shaun was to return to the U.K. a year ago, I was given the news that I might have had prostate cancer – my PSA level was high. There was no way Shaun could stay with me. His visa was to expire and he had to leave. I once again took him to the airport and returned alone to our home, to our things, to the place we shared together for the last eleven years. Then I got a call saying the doctor had done a second PSA test and it was even higher than the first. I was facing cancer alone. I was facing possible surgery alone. I was facing a life crisis without my partner. There was no way Shaun could re-enter the US for a few months, or he would run the risk of being denied entry. I got so scared and angry I had a meltdown. I raged that this treatment was inhuman! I have worked all my life. I paid the same taxes as straight couples. I served four years in the military for my country. Why did I not deserve the right to have my partner at my side when I was sick? If not him, then who would be there to nurse me if I was ill? I sat down in the middle of the living room floor, with tears in my eyes. I was scared and my fright turned to anger, then my anger turned to determination. It was at that moment, the feelings I once had about not deserving what straight couples had, vanished. I deserve the same rights as they have!

John in the Navy in 1966

I was fortunate that my treatment did not involve surgery, but during that time one image kept coming into my mind. During the brief window in 2008 when California allowed gay couples to marry, Shaun and I had watched a wedding at the beach near our home. As the sunset touched the ocean, two young women with a small circle of friends, walked to the edge of the water. They stood there quietly exchanging vows as the light faded. When the darkness fell they walked hand in hand back to their house. It was simple and beautiful and I wanted that too! I wanted to have that right. I wanted to have all that Shaun and I have fought to keep together, sealed by marriage. I promised myself that if marriage returned to California, then finally we would have that too.

Sadly, by the end of 2011, marriage equality had not yet been restored to California and we were growing impatient.  In January 2012, Shaun and I would celebrate our 11th anniversary together as a couple, and I would retire after 50 years in the workforce. We wanted to celebrate these life milestones with something special. So on January 11 we flew to New York and were married. It meant more to both of us than we ever imagined. We are as proud of our marriage license, as if it were a diploma from an Ivy League college, because it was not something that came to us easily. It was all so special for us, that we did not think too much about the consequences that could result for us as married binational gay couple. We were soon to be reminded of that, however.

As we flew through Detroit on our way back to Los Angeles, we were sent as a couple to a TSA agent.  Sure, it was just a domestic flight but the TSA has broad power to question travelers and somehow they picked on us, two newlyweds heading home. What followed were a series of personal questions including, how long had we known each other? What was the nature of our relationship? How did we first meet? What were our plans together? As an American citizen, I have NEVER been questioned in that manner. It was intrusive and spoken with an intimidating tone. For the first time I saw a little of what Shaun has faced each time he entered the US.  Although we were not technically being interrogated by immigration officers, the worst fears ran through our mind. We both panicked, fearing that if they found our marriage license in our possessions Shaun may be sent to a detention center for displaying intent to remain in the United States while he was a visitor; we had read that had happened to others. The fear in Shaun’s eyes was so intense, that I made up my mind that this had to stop! We could no longer live this way.

As a married, gay binational couple, Shaun faced not only questions, but a strong chance of being denied entry when he was next to have to return to the US. That was the turning point. 

We joined Stop The Deportations-The DOMA Project so that we could join the fight to end deportations, separations and exile caused by the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act.”  We recently filed a marriage-based green card petition and will now fight to convince my own government not to deny our case, but to put a final decision on hold until DOMA is struck down by the courts.

I am proud to have lived to see my own President send out a public message to the isolated and vulnerable LGBT youth of America, assuring them that they are not alone and encouraging them that “it gets better.” Still, I wonder, Mr. President: what about me, what about the seniors, the vets, the married gay binational couples? And what about this veteran who proudly served his country during the Vietnam War?  How can it possibly be that I enlisted to do my duty and prepared to sacrifice everything for my country to defend the freedoms we so often take for granted, but my country now wants to destroy my marriage and tear my husband away from me?  If, Mr. President, you deport my partner, if you take away all that I have worked for my entire life, when I AM ALONE – what is your message for me? You can take action now to save us from this disaster. You, Mr. President, understand that years are precious for the gay seniors America?  You have spoken about “the fierce urgency of now.” I know you understand.  I need my President to take action. Your words are of tremendous inspiration, your decision not to defend DOMA in court is historical, but we need this administration’s direct intervention to prevent disaster from befalling our family.   The President has that power. I know my President believes this is wrong. He must act now to stop DOMA from destroying our families by directing the Immigration Service to stop denying our green card petitions.

Seven Years and Three Countries Later, Rob & Julian Are Forced Apart Because of DOMA

Florida, May 2005

I was 20 years old, working as a food server in South Florida, when I met the man who became my boyfriend, my best friend, my life partner, and finally my lawfully wedded spouse.

It was March 8, 2005. As members of a local LGBT support group arrived to be seated, it was my turn for a new table. While I was helping to set it up, I met this really nice guy, Julian. While the group ate, we spoke and got to know each other a bit.

A week later, he returned and worked up the courage to ask me to go on a date. We went out, and the rest became a whirlwind of laughter, kindness, and love. Within six months, we moved in with each other. After a year, we held a ceremony in Fort Lauderdale and vowed before our friends and family that we would love each other and promise to better each other for the rest of our lives. My family embraced Julian as another son and brother. We’ve now been together for almost seven years, through the best and worst of times. Looking back, not a day goes by when Julian doesn’t make my life richer or more fulfilling in countless ways.

There is, however, one major complication in this otherwise seamless romantic narrative: When we met, Julian was on a student visa in the United States. Born in Spain, he had been living continuously in the country since he was 11 years old, completing middle school, high school, and now, college in the US. He was always a bit fearful that his days could be numbered, but we believed love, logic, and common sense would triumph. We were naïve.

In 2008, we moved from Fort Lauderdale to Philadelphia, my home. We had always had a bit of an entrepreneurial spirit and, with jobs dissipating and the financial market looking bleak, we knew we wanted our own business. Julian transferred schools and we opened our own theatre company.
We worked tirelessly to get it all together for our opening night that August. Everything was set in motion, money had been paid out, the press had responded positively… things were on track.

At that moment the other shoe dropped. In mid-July, Julian received a letter from Homeland Security, ordering him to leave the US. We were confused and scared. Due to the onslaught of the recession, his father was no longer in a position to be able to pay his expensive tuition and as a result, he had fallen out of status on his student visa. We knew the souring economy was affecting him but did not know to what level. We quickly found that there is very little leniency with foreign students. You pay to stay, or you’re out.

At that point, we had no idea what to do. In those next few weeks, we realized that if we wanted to stay together, it would mean leaving our home, our friend, our family and our business and moving abroad. It looked like the best option would be in Spain, where Julian was a citizen. Luckily, Spain allowed gay couples to marry, and embraced us. By contrast, everything in the US quickly fell apart. Over those weeks, we were forced to rehome our pets, leave behind the majority of our possessions, give up a company which had yet to open, and finally, leave our home. Surely there had to be someone to call, someone to help. We learned the hard way: there’s no help available with the “Defense of Marriage Act” or DOMA intact. I had been born and raised with the belief that in the US, I was no different than any other person under the law. The truth was different. My own government treats me differently from other American citizens, solely because I’m gay. I could not access the family-based immigration system to sponsor Julian for a green card only because we are both men.

I was lost for a very long time, and it didn’t help that most of my friends and colleagues had no idea that this discrimination could happen to us. People suggested we move to Massachusetts. I explained that it was a federal issue and that being married gave us no protection or immigration rights as long as the federal government refused to recognize our marriage due to DOMA. We remained together. In a world that’s already very difficult to connect in, we had found each other. Law or no law, we were determined that this wouldn’t be the end of us.

We moved and lived in Spain for almost three years. Having been hit hard by the global recession, Spain’s unemployment rate ranks the worst in the EU, at 22%. For those under 26, the unemployment rate soars to near 48%. It’s not an exaggeration to say that work is nearly impossible to find there. We managed to scrape by on friends, family, and odd jobs. While we loved Spain, the economic crisis proved too hard to bear.

Spain, 2010

In December 2010, we made the decision to move to London. We gathered money and I applied for an EU family member visa. I sent photos of us through the years, our wedding DVD, and various documents that intertwined our lives. I was denied, on the basis of Julian having no job in England, and because the British authorities did not believe we had been together as a couple for a sufficient period of time, despite a five-year history together. Time was now running out. We had enough money to move and keep us afloat in London until we both found jobs, but not enough to keep living in Madrid. We knew that the only way Julian could establish work was by living there. I would appeal my decision in England and give them more photos and whatever I could muster to prove our union. I was now pleading with a second government for the simple request of living with the man I love. It was maddening, but we knew we had no choice but to continue trying. All the while, I never forgot that this was happening only because we had been forced out of the United States by DOMA.

As we arrived in the UK in late March, I was stopped and questioned by the British border patrol. I tried to explain our situation, but they wouldn’t allow me to enter the country. Despite all of the proof we had, they did not believe Julian and I were together as a couple. At that point, I was detained for over 15 hours, treated like a criminal, and flown back to Madrid, where I was met with armed guards. The Spanish guards listened, looked at the evidence, and apologized, refusing to believe this could happen in the modern world.

With Spain no longer an option due to its financial chaos, we made the choice for Julian to remain in the UK and begin a life there. I returned to the US, where I immediately began working, trying to figure out what our next move was. Six years after we met, we had endured a whirlwind of globetrotting to find a place where we could build a home together. It was hard to describe to our friends and family that after all that effort, we ended up separated by an ocean. Our bond, however, was never stronger. Julian and I knew we would spend the rest of our lives together. No law can diminish one iota the deep and enduring love we feel for each other.

And as happens for so many other couples, we progressed to the next stage in our relationship, deciding to marry. We were married in New York City on August 30, 2011, with Julian “visiting” the United States so we could share this life milestone with our friends and family, before he promptly left and disappeared again. Julian returned to England after we married. As it stands, we have no idea where the future will take us. We miss our lives together. We now see each other only when work and financials permit, with Julian visiting the US whenever we’re able. Before this past summer’s reunion and marriage, we had not seen each other since April 2010. How can anyone claiming to “defend” marriages want this result?

I write this so that people may know the hardships suffered due to DOMA. By contrast, my father married a woman from Costa Rica in 2009. She is now a permanent resident in the United States, working towards citizenship. Julian and I have demonstrated our love and our commitment for each other through many difficult challenges over the past six years that most couples will never be forced to endure, and yet we are treated as legal strangers and kept thousands of miles apart because of one law.

This administration has the power to immediately end this crisis of families torn apart. The White House website includes the following statement, confirming that the President agrees that what Julian and I are forced to endure should not be happening:

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

These words are encouraging, and certainly to have the President’s statement on this issue is historic and encouraging. But words without deeds leave us nowhere. We need action now. The Obama administration could end our separation by allowing Julian to return to the United States under existing “humanitarian parole” provisions until DOMA has been struck down by the Supreme Court or repealed by Congress.

Thousands of binational couples are exiled or separated right now because of DOMA, and the President knows that this is the cruel result of an unconstitutional law. If he really believes that, he should end our suffering now with a short-term solution that will allow us to be together. Every member of my immediate family feels the pain of his absence and they all know it has been forced on us because of DOMA.

We will continue to be a part of this fight for full equality, and ask you to join us by supporting this effort by urging your elected officials and the administration to apply existing “humanitarian parole” provisions as a temporarily solution that would end the separation of lesbian and gay binational couples.

© 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.