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