Dana and Donna Are Happily Married, But an Expiring Work Visa Propels Them to Fight DOMA For a Green Card

I, Dana, am your typical California girl.  I grew up on the Central Coast, went to college in San Francisco and Los Angeles for Film Production and ended up working in Animation after graduating. I’ve been in the Animation Industry ever since, and I’m now proudly working at Disney Feature Animation in Burbank, California.

On the other side of the globe, Donna grew up in the small town of Perth in Western Australia. Like many young Australians, she ventured off to Europe for backpacking adventures when she was in her early twenties. As a citizen of the commonwealth, she enjoyed certain privileges that allowed her to remain for a time in the U.K. She settled in London to live, work and study for several years. On returning in Australia, she established a successful design business and her interest in animation led her to a 2D animation traineeship with Disney Australia, just before the studio closed its doors in 2006.  Disappointing as that was, life had more adventures in store for Donna. With one door closed, another opened. In this case, that door led Donna to Los Angeles.

In 2009, Donna came to Los Angeles as an employee of the Australian company where she worked as Design & Marketing Director.  She secured an E-3 visa (a professional work visas for Australians) which gave her two years in the country.  As she settled in to this new chapter in her life, our dire economic conditions in the U.S. made it very difficult for her company to bring its product to market.  Slowly, that employment opportunity melted away.  Donna realized that to stay in the U.S. meant she must find other employment-based sponsorship, and with the economic downturn it was extremely difficult.

But as a result of Donna’s move to L.A. both of our lives changed irrevocably.  We met one night at a popular Hollywood nightclub in 2010. We were immediately drawn to each other on multiple levels, dated for a while and soon became a committed couple. Our friends started referring to us as “the Double D’s” which we both thought was pretty funny.

We have found over these past three years that we have many other things in common, besides our sense of humor: values, morals and tastes. We enjoy each other’s company like any couple; falling in love and embarking on a journey together as a couple is so precious and we knew early on that we wanted to be together.

Again and again, we kept stumbling on ways in which we were uncannily similar. For instance, we are particularly stuck up when it comes to good coffee – we don’t go for just any bean on the shelf! We love good movies, mostly independent films and strong character stories. We both love to eat healthy home cooked food. Donna is a vegetarian and I am not, but I love vegetables (especially kale). We also share a love for animation. Donna has more of the artistic appreciation and eye for it, and I work on the production side of things. I was actually considering moving into another industry until I met Donna. Her love of the art inspired me to stay in animation. We also love lazy Sundays – lying around and reading, watching movies, just hanging with our “kids” (we have two cats: Dante and Simba).

Over time, it became clear that we wanted to spend our lives together and that meant, for us, that we wanted to get married.  No longer able to do so in California, and unwilling to wait for the freedom to marry to return to our homestate, we flew to New York and tied the knot. We didn’t have a lot of time off from work, so it was a whirlwind trip. It coincided with some good friends being there at the same time, so they were able to be a part of our small ceremony, which made the day very special. We had such a wonderful and memorable time, shopping for our wedding rings the day after we arrived, having fun with our friends while waiting for our number to be called at the county clerk’s office. When we came back to LA, we had a luncheon celebration with the family and friends here that couldn’t be part of our special day in New York.  Afterwards, something had changed for the better. We felt the strength of the commitment that we had made to each other and we felt supported by our family and friends. And yet, the reality was slowly descending on us, that our love, our commitment and our marriage meant nothing in the eyes of my own government.

Donna and I have a wonderful life together, but it is tainted with uncertainty and fear. Because of DOMA, which defines marriage as only that between a man and a woman, the federal government does not recognize our marriage. Even though we are considered lawfully married in the state of New York (and thankfully eight other states which now allow same-sex marriage) we are still not considered a legitimate couple by the U.S. government.  We are in fact nothing more than room mates or even strangers to each other under DOMA.  And this is not just about the insult and outrage of being treated like your love does not exist, that you are a second class citizen, while of course paying the same taxes and following the same rules as all other Americans. This is also about some very practical needs that we have which are denied to us because the federal government refuses to recognize our marriage.  Paramount among these needs, is the need for us to be able to remain together in the United States, i.e. for me to be able to sponsor Donna for a green card.  Why is this so important?  With Donna’s expiring visa and no green card, she faced the choice between remaining illegally or leaving.

"I got married in New York City"

We could not allow our marriage to be destroyed by an anti-gay law from 1996 called, perversely, “The Defense of Marriage Act.”  We decided to fight back.  I filed a green card petition for Donna and we joined The DOMA Project where Donna had been volunteering some of her design talents in the past year.

Unfortunately, sooner than expected, our green card application was denied with a rude and anachronistic letter stating that it could not be approved because we are both women. It means that Donna does not have a legal status in the US: she cannot apply for jobs, she cannot get her drivers license renewed, we cannot travel, she could get deported if she does not leave voluntarily.

Why is this happening?

The President, the Attorney General and eight federal courts have said this law is unconstitutional. Why not simply hold off on denying our green card petition at least until all the processing is done, an interview takes place and the Supreme Court issues its final ruling on DOMA? Why rush to slam us with a denial letter?  Nothing could have reminded me of my status as a second-class citizen than a letter in black and white telling me for the first time in my life “Lesbians need not apply.” It was one of the most disturbing experiences of my life. And it made us both more determined than ever to continue to fight for what is right.

Like many other binational couples in the same situation, it is difficult for us to survive financially on just one income. The emotional struggles of not knowing what will happen and the frustration of not being able secure employment for Donna puts extra pressure on us as a couple. Donna has applied for jobs in the U.S.  Prospective employers tend to give her a warm reception (“you’d be a great fit for the job”), only to later tell her that they would not sponsor her for a visa and that they would only hire her if she already had a green card.

Occasionally, we are asked why we bother to stay in the United States when we could move to Australia instead (Australia has more progressive laws that have permitted immigration of same-sex partners since the 1990s). And the truth is that we have considered all possibilities. But this is our home. I am an only child with aging parents and Donna has two brothers to take care of her parents back home. We want to live in America, and it is our right to make this choice based on our personal needs and preferences. We should not be forced into exile because we are a gay couple. I feel a very strong responsibility to be close to my small family here and Donna respects that.  My family is her family, and we are not about to allow DOMA tear us all apart.

Donna & Dana - Rings

We want to keep building our life together. We want to buy a house, to travel the world. To adopt beagles that have been rescued from testing laboratories!  I am an American citizen who deserves the right to have the woman I love and to secure for my wife the same legal status as any other person who immigrates based on marriage.  Why am I being denied that right? Why are we being denied the basic right to love one another and build a life together?  We can stop this by joining forces with each other and demanding that the Obama administration stop denying our green card petitions.

We want our petition to be fully adjudicated, with a green card interview just like opposite sex couples.  We want this government to observe the reality, that the Supreme Court will settle DOMA’s fate once and for all very soon, and in the meantime we should not have to suffer trying to make ends meet on one salary, while Donna remains here without legal status. That is a violation of my constitutional rights as an American citizen, as both the President and the Attorney General have said. But it is not enough to say it. We must take action now: hold all green card cases in “abeyance” until a final judicial resolution by the Supreme Court. Protect couples like us now by granting temporary lawful status as pending green card applicants.

Actions speak louder than words, Mr. President. We need to see you take some action within the broad discretionary powers of the executive branch to help us survive the present and build a future together. We deserve no less.

Together for 23 Years, Linda and Lydia Raised Two Sons and Married, But Fight For Every Day Because of DOMA

On their wedding day in October 2012

Twenty-three years ago, I was unexpectedly re-united with Linda, my life-partner, my soul mate, my wife.

It was meant to be.

Many years before, we knew each other as children back in the Philippines. Distantly related, Linda and I would see each other occasionally at family gatherings. Sometimes her mother would bring “goodies” from her farm and Linda would come to our house to share the bounty. I loved going to Linda’s family’s house; her father was very accommodating and he made the best pancakes. Their home was comfortable, bountiful and almost everything came from America. Those feelings of comfort and security became part of my dream of coming to the United States, of becoming successful and helping my family. Growing up in a developing country where we lived just above subsistence levels, my goal was to come to America, which I viewed as the land of opportunity and the land of the free.

At that point, Linda was no more than a distant relative to me who was lucky enough to have been born in America. As an American, she was raised having everything she wanted. The contrast between our experiences were stark. She attended private school, while I went to public school. We were not close; all her friends were wealthy and they were free to hang out while I had to attend to chores and homework after school. When Linda’s mother sold their business, and Linda returned to America with her family, I assumed she forgot about me, her poor cousin back home.

After graduating from college in the Philippines, I had the opportunity to work for the government. Fresh out of college, I was very idealistic. I was raised in an environment where you treated people how you wanted to be treated yourself and if you had an opportunity to help others, it was your responsibility as a human being to do so. I loved my job because it allowed me to do just that. As an Executive Assistant to the Governor, one of our major projects was to bring local communist insurgents back into the fold. My position was critical to the success of the project. I loved working at the grassroots level. The interaction was incredible and the experience was humbling. I felt I was making a difference in their lives and that of the community. Unfortunately,the insurgent group did not like the outcome of our projects; thus, they began to intimidate and torture my family. They kidnapped two of my uncles and threatened to continue the kidnappings unless we stopped the project.  My optimism turned to fear.

No one could guarantee that my family would be spared. I was afraid for my life. It came to a point where I had no choice but to leave my own country.

At the height of kidnapping, torture, and killing back home, I fled the country without much preparation. I came to San Francisco and stayed with family while preparing to file an asylum application with the U.S. government. In the process, Linda and I were reconnected through a cousin. She was going through hard times and so was I.  We supported each other and grew closer, not knowing yet that it would lead to something else. We fought our feelings thinking that it was not going to be good for anyone involved, especially for our immediate families. We were both miserable.  We knew that we loved each other, but it was a secret we felt we had to keep from others.  The harder we fought our feelings, the more it drew us closer. Twenty-three years later, we are still together. And not only that. With the love and support of our extended families in California, New York, New Jersey, and Rhode Island, we recently traveled to New York and married.  But I am skipping ahead.

Our lives are very simple. I love Linda’s warm smile and her wit. I am the more serious one. She is funny and she has the most beautiful heart. Together, we are two peas in a pod. To this day we know what the other one is thinking and we finish each other’s sentences. We are so blessed to have been reconnected in life.

But as a couple, we have been through a lot.

Linda and I were blessed to have raised her two incredible sons, Bryan and Charlie. Although they were her children when we met, they quickly became my children as well. I cared for these two boys like my own. Our family is just like any other family. When our children were little boys, we woke up in the morning, got them ready for school, fed them, made sure they had their homework, brought them to school, got ready for work, picked them up, helped them with their homework, cooked dinner, played, had conversations, got ready for bed and woke up the following morning to do it all over again. I had my share of fixing boo boos, running to the emergency room, building forts, cheering during the ball games, helping repair flat tires, and watching curfews. I had many sleepless nights after long conversations. I fixed their ties and pressed their shirts. You name it, I did it. I loved our sons and they knew it.  If there was a difference in our parenting style, I guess I’d say that I was the strict parent. I made sure that they followed the rules, did their homework, excelled in school and sports, and that they were happy, loved, and felt safe and comfortable. Our boys were the best thing that ever happened in my life, the first of course, being together with Linda.

With their sons on vacation in Los Angeles

Our lives revolved around our boys. Since I worked closer to their school, I picked them up on my lunch hour and every time they got hurt I ran to their rescue. Charlie is now thirty years old and nothing has changed from the time I came into his life.  He has grown up like any other boy in Nevada, with loving parents who have done everything to care for him and give him all the opportunities life has to offer. In his case, he was raised by two moms and his dad. We were always a close loving family.  As a family, we laughed and cried, and faced life’s greatest challenges together. None was as difficult as losing our son, Bryan, who tragically died in a car accident just after his eighteenth birthday.

As any mother would, I remember that day in all its painful details. Bryan was coming home from school. The paramedics who treated him at the scene discovered that he had around twenty missed calls on his cell phone, half of those were from me: I was calling him to see how he did on a test he had that day. The hurt that I felt was so intense that I could feel it all the way in my heart. I will never fully know the pain Linda experienced, losing the son she gave birth to. Our family has never been the same since, but we have remained strong together. Still, there is always a void; it is impossible to forget that Bryan is gone no matter how many years pass. Linda, Charlie and I will always share this tragedy as we share our wonderful memories and love for Bryan. Birthdays and holidays are both happy and sad, because Bryan’s absence is felt. Unfortunately, we know that will never change for the rest of our lives. Part of the measure of our love for each other as a couple and for our son Bryan, is our ability to remain optimistic and see the joy in our lives despite this horrible loss.

The love that we have as a family and the love that is given to us by our extended family gets us through difficult times. We support each other. We pray together. The bond that we have and the love that we give each other make us strong and steadfast. Every waking moment, I feel the love in our family just like every family. Our love and commitment to each other is no different from everyone else. We have been through surgeries, through life and death issues. You name it, we’ve had it. And yet here we are, twenty-three years later still loving each other more than ever. Our love and commitment to each other is stronger that it has ever been.

With the boys at Yosemite National Park

My initial asylum application was denied but we continue the fight for legal status, even though we know we are facing a steep, long uphill battle.  I live in fear of being taken away from Linda, Charlie and our extended families and friends.  Despite the fact that Linda and I have been together already for many years as a committed, loving couple raising two sons, there are currently no options for me. Because of the incredible, courageous work of couples who have participated in The DOMA Project‘s Stop The Deportations campaign, we know now that the Obama administration has created deportation rules that aim to keep families together. This has given us the strength to stand up and speak out. We traveled with our son, Charlie, to New York to get married. That was a huge step for us, not because of the commitment, but because we were so afraid, not knowing any better, that I may somehow trigger a deportation if we traveled and married.  Thankfully, our prayers were answered. We had a safe trip to New York and celebrated our love for each other in the presence of family and friends.

Still, because of DOMA there is a danger that the life we have built for twenty-three years could be crushed, all because our marriage is not recognized by the Federal government.  We are still denied access to the green card process because of DOMA, and we cannot have security for our future. Our son is now an adult, but we could never imagine leaving him or being split up as a family.

The America that I knew growing up as a little girl in the Philippines is a country that stands for equality. The America that Linda cherished growing up as the daughter of a World War II veteran is a country that stands for equality.  Yet the promise of equality has not been fulfilled for our family, and it is up now to us to carry the torch and to help perfect it for all.

I am fifty-three years old. Almost half of my productive life has been here in America. I have raised a family, built a great career, paid my taxes, and volunteered in my community. I have made a positive difference in many lives. But because of my immigration status, I can no longer work legally. And despite our marriage, nothing can be done to fix that, all because we are both women. Any other married couple could easily remedy this situation. There is no question that our marriage is “real” that our family is “real” and that our love is “real.” This injustice has practical consequences for us as we try and struggle to make ends meet on one salary.  It is terrifying growing older not knowing how we will survive in the future.

We cry when we talk about this. We cannot imagine life without our family, or without each other. We cannot leave our only son, Charlie. What would happen to all the people that we love and care for, to our home, to everything that we have built together, and to the relationships that we have established within our families, our church and our community?

With their son, Charlie, on their wedding day

We now live in fear of being separated from each other. I cannot let Linda consider leaving the United States and moving to the Philippines. She is an American citizen and she should not be forced to choose between me and our son. We have already lost one son.  I know that I may be forced to leave this country. I may not be here to see my son, Charlie, get married and raise his family. I may miss the opportunity to be actively involved in his life as a grandmother to his children. And we all know that the sole reason for this is DOMA.

There have been a lot of sleepless nights, filled with worry. I have been hospitalized due to panic attacks. We are frustrated and angry that the Obama administration is dragging its feet, and failing to put policies into place to ensure that LGBT families like ours are treated the same way as all other families. Linda is an American citizen! She was born and raised here, yet she is treated as an outsider. She lives an exemplary life valuing faith, family and her country and yet because she is a woman in love with a woman, she is not afforded the same rights as all other Americans.  Our son, Charlie, is deprived of the security of knowing that his family will always be together.

We are holding on tight for now with strong faith in God. We are surrounded with love and prayers from our families and friends as we continue to fight for us, for our love and commitment, for our marriage.  We also believe that sharing our story of love and loss and our determination to stay together will help bring an end to this injustice. We urge others to stand up and speak out. No court and no President has our “rights” or our “equality” in their hands. Only we do. But we must raise our voices and make change happen.

Though many may say that a Supreme Court ruling on DOMA is coming, my family does not have the luxury of being able to wait and we cannot take a favorable ruling for granted. That is why we decided to share our story and speak out. By building pressure and awareness at all levels, we will continue to build momentum for both long term and interim solutions that protect all families like ours. Thank you for reading our story and please consider sharing yours.

© 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.