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.