Tom & Glen Fall in Love, Get Married and File a Green Card Petition. Help Us Keep Them Together.

Thursday September 24, 2009 was the day our lives changed. On that day I met Glen while on a visit to San Francisco from New York. It was quickly apparent that Glen was from Australia. He, too, was visiting, with every expectation that he would simply return to Australia after having had a relaxing vacation.

I spotted Glen in a bar in SOMA, the name given for the neighborhood south of Market Street in San Francisco. My first impression was a lasting one, to say the least. He was so handsome, with a mixture of silver and black hair, stunning features, and an incredible smile. As I would learn he was a former Mr. Australia. In just three days I would celebrate my 39th birthday, and I thought that I would be happier living out my days a single man. But on that day, in that place, that all changed.

Eventually, we were having a conversation. Surprisingly, he seemed to know more people in the bar than I did; there were a lot of Australians in town.  I soon learned that Glen knowing everyone would be a common occurrence. Although I have always been outgoing and gregarious myself, Glen is the friendliest, most sociable person I have ever met. I have never seen anyone so compassionate and so genuinely interested in other people. He kept talking to so many people that night that I started to drift away on the impression that he was not interested, at which point he would reach out and touch me on the arm to make sure I knew that he was. At some point I recall Glen got involved in a conversation, and I decided to call it a night. I had to leave early so I could go to a job interview the next morning, and thought I would never see him again.

I was surprised when Glen called me the next morning and set up a date for that evening. We stayed out all night and well past dawn. The energy was just magical. We became inseparable all weekend, and we bared our souls to one another. I told him of all the most difficult trials in my life: my coming out, being gay bashed, the murder of two close loved ones, and how devastated I was by two past relationships. But I told him all the good stuff too: my spiritual beliefs, how I grew and matured and conquered so many fears and built myself into the person I wanted to be. Three days later, on my birthday, Glen told me that he loved me. I was taken aback. I take a word like “love” very seriously and would never have expected to hear it used so soon, but after some hours of soul searching, I decided that I could say the same to him as well.

The next day I flew back to New York and Glen flew back to Sydney. And for the last 32 months we have done everything in our power to maintain our relationship. As boyfriends, as lovers, and soul mates, nothing can be more difficult than the 10,000 miles that separated us at times.

Glen and I talked to each other on Skype every single day after we met, some times as much as four hours a day. It seemed like the only thing I could think about was that gorgeous, sunny, cheery, sweet, sweet, sweet loving man from Australia. Six unbearable weeks passed before I came to visit him in Australia. The 10 days were among the most magical and meaningful of my life. I was completely swept away with how kind and loving he was toward me; no one had ever treated me that way before. He was just the most beautiful human being I had ever known. We spent several more trips together before deciding it was time to live together, about six months after we had met.

Glen decided to apply to school in New York and come on a student visa and enhance his qualifications, but just before he moved forward with that plan he was offered a job in New York and obtained a temporary work visa. From there, Glen moved from one employer to another.  Each time petitions had to be filed and there was some anxiety for us as to whether each would be approved and whether the job would last. Unfortunately, one after another the employment opportunities seemed to fall through just as they were approved by the Immigration Service. Perhaps it was partly bad luck and partly a bad economy. But we struggled to make sure Glen had legal status so we could remain together.

On our first anniversary we traveled to San Francisco to celebrate.  I got down on one knee at the very spot we had met and I proposed to Glen. A few days later he was on a plane to London where he would live until we could find a way for him to return to the United States. Of course, unlike a straight couple in that situation, I could not sponsor Glen for a fiancé visa because of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).  DOMA not only prevents the Government from recognizing the marriages of gay and lesbian couples for all federal purposes, but even prohibits use of the fiancé visa process to bring a same-sex fiancé to the U.S. to enter into a marriage with a gay American.

With Tom’s Parents

Glen stayed with a fellow we barely knew in London while I handled the administrative work for a job opportunity. Unfortunately, Glen became seriously ill while in London and even though he was covered by my health insurance in the States, that was useless in the U.K.  He had to go through a long bureaucratic process of several weeks to finally get treatment for his developing pneumonia at a health facility that was basically for the destitute. I was beside myself with worry not only with his health, but also because it was becoming clear that the latest H-1B employment opportunity we hoped would bring Glen back to the U.S. was falling through. We had all but given up on that visa, when the employer surprised us by signing the forms and filing the petition.  These were desperate times, and we clung to every opportunity to be together legally in the United States.

Glen returned to New York and started his new job, but that soon fell apart. The employer was not cooperating, and it was clear Glen would have to find yet another job. Glen is a hard worker. He is the sort of person who can sell ice to Eskimos, and I always assumed that as long as Glen was bringing in the sales money, his employer would do what was necessary under the law to keep Glen around. I was wrong. The employer was abusive and Glen could not take it anymore. I will never forget the day Glen came home in tears, not because his boss had gone into a bizarre inexplicable fit of rage and not because he would lose his job.  He was in tears because he was afraid of being forced to leave the United States and not be with me.

However, it soon looked like things were finally going our way.  Glen quickly got another job and it seemed to hold real promise. But this promise soon turned to misery as well. Glen was now traveling almost full time, and he was completely unhappy. The working conditions were just terrible, and the firm was within a few months of going bankrupt. The point of the job was so we could stay together, and yet we were always apart. After months and months, we gave up. This job too would not be the answer for us.

Because it is so difficult for us to find a way for Glen to stay legally in this country, we know that the only alternative would be for me, as the main bread-winner, to give up the career that I have worked so assiduously to build for years, and move abroad. That most likely means I would be unemployed, either in the UK or Australia. Thankfully, we were able to remain here until my father passed away.  Glen and I did not have to abandon my mother and sister while they tried to manage my father’s Alzheimer’s. At least the haters that claim to be “protecting marriage” had not forced us to leave the land of my birth and deprive a World War II veteran of the support he needed from his son once he became unable to care for himself.

Moving out of the country would not only impact us. I have several employees and pay a hefty amount in federal, state and city income taxes each year. I have a master’s degree and served the country as a diplomat for the U.S. Treasury Department for many years. I support my family and my community and my family wants me here with them. I have ancestors who arrived on the Mayflower and have relatives who fought in every war in our nation’s history to protect this nation’s freedom. It is simply beyond me how any compassionate nation, or any nation with a good sense of its own self-interest, would think it is beneficial to drive me into exile because I am gay and refuse to let go of the man I love.

When all the hopes we had for Glen’s employment visa appeared to have been lost, we decided to move forward with our plans to marry. We also made the important decision to not leave the United States without fighting to be treated equally. We decided to file a green card petition for Glen on the basis of our marriage and we will fight for it to be held in abeyance and then ultimately approved once DOMA is repealed by Congress or struck down by the Supreme Court.

We married in January and submitted an application for permanent residence (a “green card”) for Glen shortly after. We are planning a big wedding celebration in September for our family and friends, and we are hoping that the green card application is put on hold so that Glen will be able to continue to stay in the United States in lawful status.  Our hope now is that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service will delay the processing of our green card petition while the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act” makes its way to the Supreme Court, or is repealed by Congress. In just the last year, a number of federal courts have ruled that DOMA is unconstitutional, a finding that would allow Glen to be treated just like another spouse of an American and let him receive permanent residency. If Immigration Service will wait to receive clarity from the courts, then we can delay the day that I make the devastating decision with regards to my career and my family. That policy decision ultimately rests with President Obama, and despite his strong words of support for marriage equality in May, there are still steps to be taken to protect couples like Glen and me.

We need the Obama administration to stop denying green card petitions filed by married gay binational couples immediately.

We want a resolution for the same reason all other married couples would want to avoid being in this limbo: we want to begin to build a stable future together. With some stability we could then think about buying a home and making choices in our lives that we have had to constantly put off, not knowing what would happen to us in a few months’ time. The years of debilitating uncertainly have worn us down. We did finally decide to get a puppy together, something we had wanted to do for years but had postponed because we did not know if we would be able to stay in our home in New York. There is only one thing in my life that gives me certainty now, and that is the knowledge that Glen and I will remain together. No law, no hate, no immigration authority, no threat of unemployment, and no poverty will ever separate us. Only death, only upon death will we finally part.

We will keep fighting until the Obama administration does the right thing. This is just the beginning and we know we are not alone. We join with tens of thousands of lesbian and gay binational couples who need the protection and security that an “abeyance” policy would offer.

And we can’t wait.

We need it now.

Press Release: Married Binational Lesbian Couple in Massachusetts Reacts to First Circuit DOMA Ruling

Married Massachusetts lesbian couple fighting for greencard react to court ruling finding DOMA unconstitutional. Court ruling strengthens the case that the federal government must start protecting married same-sex couples from deportations, put green card cases on hold.

For Immediate Release
Contact: Lavi Soloway
Phone: 323-599-6915
[email protected]
[email protected]

PDF Download



U.S. Senator John Kerry Has Called for DHS to Recognize and Respect Their Marriage

MAY 31, 2012 – In a historic ruling this morning, a three judge panel of the First Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously held that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the federal law that denies recognition to married same-sex couples, is unconstitutional and that “Congress’ denial of federal benefits to same-sex couples lawfully married in Massachusetts has not been adequately supported by any permissible interest.” This is the first federal appellate court to rule on the constitutionality of DOMA.

DOMA Project Couple React to First Circuit DOMA Ruling

Oral arguments in the DOMA case were held in Boston on April 4 at the First Circuit Court of Appeals. Jackie and Gloria, a participant couple in the Stop the Deportations – The DOMA Project’s campaign, attended to witness the historic arguments. On that day they knew that this case, which will eventually be decided by the Supreme Court, will determine whether they will have a future together as a married couple.

Jackie and Gloria are legally married and live in Massachusetts. Jackie, a U.S. citizen, petitioned for a green card for Gloria, her Pakistani-born wife. (Read more about Jackie and Gloria’s green card case.) Because of DOMA, the federal government has denied immigration benefits to all married same-sex couples. Stop the Deportations – The DOMA Project has pushed for changes in the policies of federal agencies that would protect and reunite loving and committed same-sex couples who face deportations, separation from the U.S., and exile to another country because their marriages are not recognized by federal law.

Upon hearing that the First Circuit struck down DOMA, Jackie and Gloria could not have been more excited for the good news. “It’s great news, I’m really happy. It sends the message that the time has come to recognize the harm caused to married couples like us because the federal government refuses to recognize our marriage,” shared Gloria by phone.

Jackie could not believe the news; “I have no words. It is something that I’ve wanted to hear. I’m speechless. I hope that this helps change how President Obama treats Gloria and me. I hope this is finally enough progress for the administration to put our green card case on hold until DOMA has been ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.”

U.S. Senator John Kerry Calls for Change

Jackie & Gloria in Senator Kerry's office

Jackie and Gloria are not alone in hoping that the Obama administration will change their policies regarding legally married same-sex couples. In March of this year, United States Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts wrote to Secretary Janet Napolitano of the Department of Homeland Security on Jackie and Gloria’s behalf: “I know that you and I both believe that every family is worthy of recognition and respect, and that no family should be torn apart based on a discriminatory law. Therefore, I ask USCIS to consider holding [Jackie’s] petition [for Gloria] in abeyance pending resolution of DOMA’s constitutionality in the courts. Abeyance will allow this remarkable young married couple to move forward with their dream of building a life together at home in Massachusetts.”

Last month, Sen. Kerry and 16 other Senate colleagues called on the Obama administration to change their policies to protect same-sex couples who are impacted by DOMA and U.S. immigration law. “With marriage equality rights being extended to more and more citizens of this country, and with the Department of Justice’s repudiation of DOMA, we are concerned with the toll the continued denial of I-130 applications for same-sex immigrant spouses is exacting on families in this country.”

Statement by attorney Lavi Soloway

“In the past two years, three federal courts have ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional. Each court has found in favor of extending the promise of equal protection of the law to married gay and lesbian couples. Today, for the first time, a federal appeals court has struck down DOMA, setting up an inevitable appeal to the Supreme Court. However, until DOMA has been struck down by the Supreme Court or repealed by Congress, married couples like Jackie and Gloria remain unsafe, unprotected, and unable to plan a future because of the constant pressure of uncertain legal status and the possibility that they will be torn apart by deportation.

The Obama administration should act now to protect all married gay and lesbian binational couples like Jackie and Gloria, by holding all green card cases filed by same-sex couples in abeyance and instituting a moratorium on deportations. The Obama administration believes DOMA is unconstitutional and won a victory today for its arguments before the First Circuit Court of Appeals. At this historic juncture, the administration should institute policies that immediately mitigate the discriminatory and harmful impact of DOMA.”

Jackie and Gloria are available for interviews.

For more information contact Lavi Soloway, attorney for Jackie and Gloria, founder of Stop The Deportations – The DOMA Project.

Lavi Soloway
Phone: 323-599-6915
[email protected]

Derek Tripp, Project Associate
Phone: 646-535-3788
[email protected]

Our Green Card Interview: A Chance for One Lesbian Couple to Share Their Story and to Address Harm Caused By DOMA

Sveta and Andi in Chicago After Their “Green Card” Interview

A milestone is one of a series of numbered markers placed along a road at intervals of one mile that serve to reassure travellers that the proper path is being followed, or a single date during which a certain phase of the project is developed.

Thursday, May‭ ‬24, 2012, was a milestone for us.

On the evening before,‭ ‬my wife, Andi and I boarded a train in our town near Peoria to travel north to Chicago:‭ ‬a quiet three-hour ride,‭ ‬past the corn fields,‭ ‬the wind farm,‭ ‬the small communities of rural Illinois, some familiar down to the layout of their streets and others only vaguely known.‭ ‬We watched the sunset through the Amtrak window,‭ ‬and our mutual nervousness was,‭ ‬for once,‭ ‬only the excitement on the eve of an important event and the anticipation of meeting fellow activist, Brad Mattan, and our lawyer, Lavi Soloway.

On the following morning,‭ ‬at eleven o’clock,‭ ‬we were scheduled to appear at the downtown office of  U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services for our green card interview.  Andi and I would be given a chance to share our story with an officer who would be forced, at least for that moment, to treat us like all other married couples in order to evaluate whether our marital relationship was real. We looked forward to sharing the evidence that had accumulated over our twelve years together.

How much has changed in a year‭! On this date in‭ ‬2011,‭ ‬‬I was in deportation proceedings and our trips to Chicago then were overshadowed and weighted down by crippling dread and anxiety over the unknown of our shared future.‭ ‬It was during that difficult time in our lives,‭ ‬in Spring of‭ ‬2011,‭ ‬that Andi filed an I-130‭ “‬petition for alien relative” based on our marriage.‭ ‬At that point,‭ ‬we had absolutely nothing to lose by doing so. At that time, our overriding goal was to stop the government from deporting me back to Kazakhstan, a country I left when I was fifteen years old. Asserting our right to a green card, even if we standing up for that right on principle, was a symbolic gesture that we hoped would be taken into account by the Immigration Judge.

The act of filing the green card petition had kindled a small but steady hope. It gave us strength,‭ ‬stemming from self-empowerment.‭ ‬This was a chance to declare our marriage to the government.‭ ‬We dared to be treated equally by a system which for a decade has rendered our family,‭ ‬and many binational families like ours,‭ ‬invisible.

We hadn’t had a reply from USCIS all year,‭ ‬until this spring.‭ ‬And then,‭ ‬suddenly,‭ ‬a date for the interview was set.

We spent the past few weeks gathering the necessary files,‭ ‬documenting our life together as a married couple.‭ Photocopies, ‬photographs, forms:‭ ‬even though the date of our marriage was recent,‭ ‬our shared life has spanned more than a decade: shared lease, domestic partnership declaration from my workplace in 2006, our wills and power of attorney forms, financial records, and a copy of federal tax form from April: the one which we had to fill out as married in order to file Illinois taxes jointly and then discard, submitting federal tax form as single, under DOMA.

Heading into the USCIS Chicago Field Office on May 24, 2012

Though the green card interview was no longer a “necessity” due to my successful asylum application, winning asylum was not the same as being treated equally.  I was forced to apply for asylum and put my fate in the hands of an asylum officer and then an immigration judge, only because of DOMA in the first place.‭ With that back drop, ‬Andi and I could not miss this incredible opportunity to force USCIS to meet with us.‭ And so we would go to the interview as a married couple, to inform USCIS that‭ ‬we would not settle for being treated unequally.‭ ‬

This green card interview was a chance to address the harm DOMA brings within the immigration context,‭ the injustice felt personally by so many families, whose stories I have seen, heard, and remember.

Despite the overwhelming likelihood of denial,‭ ‬we entered the small,‭ ‬sunlit office of a USCIS official with a clear purpose.‭ ‬‬The door of that room was not something I expected to open for us, just a year ago. But here we were now: together,‭ ‬Andi and I stood,‭ ‬raised our right hands,‭ ‬and swore to tell the truth.‎

“‏Are you familiar with the Defense of Marriage Act‭?”‬ the officer asked us.‭

“Yes,‎” ‏my wife answered. I nodded. Not a day passes when I am not reminded of DOMA in some way, be it small or overwhelming.

When it was my turn to answer,‭ ‬I stated my name.‭

My voice must’ve been too soft to hear. The interviewing official asked me to speak up,‭ ‬and so I did:‭ ‬I repeated my married name,‭ ‬louder.‭ ‬And on and on:‭ ‬where I was born and when,‭ ‬when did I come here‭? ‬What name was I given at birth‭? ‬When did we marry‭?

Really.‭ ‬

Sveta and Andi in 2005


How can a single date convey a far more complicated fact‭? ‬The celebration of our commitment to each other began much earlier ‬than the date on our marriage license. Long before civil marriage was a legal possibility, we affirmed our commitment again and again,‭ ‬with every signature,‭ ‬every form,‭ ‬every milestone reached,‭ ‬and with every small step made toward the recognition of our family.‭

“‬April‭ ‬2nd,‭ ‬2011,‭” ‬I stated the date of our marriage in Iowa,‭ ‬but in reality, we exchanged our wedding rings six years before.‭ ‬So I said that too.

The question that followed afterwards was not read off the form.‭ ‬It was just a question: ‬When was it‭?

“June‎ ‏15th,‎ ‏2005.‎”

I think he wrote something down on the margin.‭ ‬Did he just make a note of that date as well‭?

An image came to mind,‭ ‬blurry as the inside of that Chicago courtroom seen through my tears,‭ ‬as I watched the immigration judge writing “Svetlana Apodaca,” my married name, down on the final order granting me asylum.

The last time Andi and I walked through the door at the USCIS office, was to attend my initial asylum interview. At that interview, the Asylum Officer dispassionately crossed out Andi’s name on my asylum application and asked me to acknowledge the removal of her from the record‭ ‬to proceed.‭ ‬Today,‭ ‬another government official sat across the table from us,‭ ‬with the sole purpose of taking the facts about our life together to build a record of them.

It felt so commonplace and so simple,‭ ‬this measured routine.‭ ‬Such a sense of normalcy was,‭ ‬in itself,‭ ‬extraordinary;‭ ‬and it was welcome, given how far we’ve come already.

We were asked if we had anything else to add, but what else could we say in conclusion that wasn’t already laid out on the table in front of him?

So then‭ ‬our attorney,‭ ‬Lavi Soloway,‭ spoke with the interviewing official, discussing names and cases in terms which I grew to comprehend only last year by the sheer amount of research out of the desire to learn what we were up against, out of the need to know the names of people affected as we were by the Defense of Marriage Act.

Having Lavi by our side at the interview was a magical moment:‭ ‬unforgettable and inspiring.‭

Andi and Sveta, with fellow activist, Brad Mattan, and their attorney, DOMA Project co-founder, Lavi Soloway

It set the tone for the day: excitement,‭ ‬infectious and overwhelming,‭ ‬and the deeper joy of being able to share this milestone of the much larger battle with The DOMA Project team.‭ ‬Our day was a poignant reminder of how empowering and inspiring it is to find each other, our place, and our voice in this mutual struggle against DOMA,‭ ‬and to work together toward a goal every one of us shares.‎

As I finished writing this post, I learned that DOMA’s federal definition of marriage had been unanimously struck down by the First Circuit Court of Appeals, the first time a federal appellate court had done so.  This is yet another reminder why we must keep fighting to have all green card petitions held in abeyance during this fight for full equality.  We have much work ahead of us,‭ ‬but every day,‭ ‬every doorway entered,‭ ‬every story told,‭ ‬and every record made,‭ ‬brings us one step closer to victory.‭

Here Come The Voices of Change: Producer Brynn Gelbard Reflects on Our Recent Trip to Boston, New York and Charlotte

Brynn Gelbard, Lavi Soloway and Hanh Nguyen in Brooklyn on May 18, 2012

It’s been nearly a week since I returned home to Los Angeles from the first road-trip collaboration between The DeVote Campaign and The DOMA Project. From Boston to North Carolina, we interviewed seven married binational same-sex couples who are struggling to remain together in this country because the Defense of Marriage Act prohibits the recognition of their relationships for immigration purposes. As one half of a binational couple myself whose Irish spouse won a green card in the lottery, I could never have anticipated how profoundly this experience would affect me.

When I first started DeVote two years ago, I was motivated by the need to do something productive rather than wallow in my fury that the passing of California’s Proposition 8 meant I had to postpone my wedding to my girlfriend of nearly seven years at the time. My goal was to create a series of vignettes portraying the scope of humanity unified by the desire to eradicate discrimination against LGBT people. I also wanted to ensure that first hand anecdotes from this time in history were preserved for future generations. I did not see myself as an activist though, but as a writer and filmmaker who relished great characters for their ability to open stubborn minds.

Teaming up with The DOMA Project has been nothing short of monumental for me. I have never been so convinced of the power of stories to invoke change as I am now working alongside spouses from all walks of life who are refusing to keep silent and wait for laws to shift in their favor. Their unrelenting commitment to each other, despite never knowing what tomorrow may bring, fuels my urgency to help them ensure this fight is unapologetically personal.

When we look back upon historical milestones in the civil rights movement, the heroes we speak of are real people like Rosa Parks, who one day just refused to get up from her seat and move to the back of the bus. For countless binational couples, however, the fear of being torn apart has kept them from openly taking a stand. Now that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act has been ruled unconstitutional by several federal judges and the Obama administration has said it will no longer defend it in court, there is hope where there was none before. Guided by their dedication to one another, these husbands and wives are claiming their power to change hearts and minds – the ultimate manifestation of full equality – by discussing how this discriminatory law has affected their lives and families. It is no longer possible for lawmakers, immigration officials, or the general public to deny that there are real people impacted by this injustice. The terms of the discussion have changed precisely because binational couples have come forward, demanding green cards and a policy that values and honors their love and their marriages.

There is one thing that can and must be done so these families are free to get on with the lives that they have so honorably fought for the right to share. When an American applies for a green card for his or her same-sex foreign-born spouse, as heterosexual couples regularly do without incident, it should not be denied. Rather, it should be put on hold while DOMA makes its way through the courts, or is repealed by Congress.

Shooting a video in Charlotte, North Carolina, May 19, 2012

I am forever grateful to these couples for sharing what it has been like to live in love with the constant threat of losing everything. Some have put off having kids and buying their dream house because they never know what the future holds. Others recount sleepless nights wondering if the foreign spouse will be deported to a distant country that is flagrantly homophobic, affording them no options but exile to yet a third country if they are to stay together. There are those living here without status who have faced the harsh choice of whether or not to attend a parent’s funeral overseas knowing it could mean a 10-year bar from returning to the U.S. Many children are growing up without one of their parents present because there is no way for the non-American to legally reside here. Imagine the mother who got a call from her wife that their son had gone blind after a sports accident. She had to explain to him that she could not be by his side because she had only just left the country and could not get back in as a visitor again so soon.

In honor of these binational couples and their bravery, I am proud to step into the role of activist, working with attorney, Lavi Soloway, to ensure their stories are out there for all to see, including elected officials, many of whom want to do the right thing, but need a context to do so. On behalf of The DeVote Campaign and The DOMA Project, later this month, we look forward to presenting voices that will never again be silenced. Here come the voices of change.

Boston Globe Editorial Features Senator’s Kerry Advocacy for Jackie & Gloria, Who Seek Abeyance for Green Card Petition


Today’s Boston Globe editorial reported on the denials of green card petitions for same-sex binational spouses under the Defense of Marriage Act and called for equal treatment of same-sex spouses for the purposes of immigration. The editorial told the story of Jackie and Gloria, a married binational couple from Massachusetts who are one of the many couples participating in The DOMA Project.  On April 4, Jackie and Gloria, accompanied by The DOMA Project’s co-founder Lavi Soloway, met with senior staff at Senator Kerry’s office to discuss the details of a letter that would urge DHS Secretary Napolitano to hold their green card petition in abeyance.

Jackie and Gloria met when they were college students after Gloria came to the United States from Pakistan on a student visa. A happily married couple in their twenties living in Massachusetts, they are struggling to build their lives together as they face an uncertain future under the Defense of Marriage Act. Faced with the prospect of seeing her wife deported to Pakistan, Jackie filed a marriage-based green card petition for Gloria earlier this year and sought support of their elected representatives to urge the Obama administration not to deny their petition.

Earlier this month, Senator John Kerry  and 16 other U.S. Senators called on Obama administration to request that all marriage-based green card petitions filed by lesbian and gay couples be held in abeyance.

Today, the Boston Globe became the latest major newspaper to call for an end to “DOMA deportations” that threaten to tear apart loving couples like Gloria and Jackie.

Victory! Boston Immigration Judge Grants Reprieve To Dwayne and Bolivar, Postpones Deportation Proceedings

Bolivar signs paperwork before heading to Immigration Court on May 17

Today, a Boston Immigration Judge postponed further deportation proceedings for Dwayne and Bolivar, a married, gay binational couple who have lived together in rural Maine for almost ten years.  Overruling the strenuous objection of the ICE Assistant Chief Counsel, the Judge scheduled the next hearing for October 2012; at that time a final hearing will likely be scheduled for a date in 2014.

Read their full story here: Dwayne & Bolivar: After Nine Years Together, Married Maine Couple Heads to Immigration Court on May 17 to Fight DOMA Deportation.

Like thousands of married, binational couples, Dwayne and Bolivar are hoping for the best case scenario: that the U.S. Supreme Court will rule on the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in the next two years. Last summer, Dwayne filed a green card petition for his husband, Bolivar, a Venezuela citizen who moved to the United States in 2002. The green card petition was denied in February 2012 solely because of Section 3 of DOMA, which prevents the federal government from recognizing their marriage. With legal representation provided by Stop The Deportations – The DOMA Project, Dwayne and Bolivar appealed the denial of their green card petition to the Board of Immigration Appeals.

Many legal observers believe that the Gill case currently pending before the First Circuit Court of Appeals, will be the first challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act to make its way to the Supreme Court where it is hoped that DOMA will be found unconstitutional as a violation of the equal protection guarantee of the United States Constitution and is struck down.

Today, when Dwayne and Bolivar stood up for their marriage and challenged DOMA, they did so in a court of law on the 8th anniversary of marriage equality in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. In the intervening years, over 18,462 lesbian and gay couples have married in Massachusetts. Like Dwayne and Bolivar, these couples are now denied access to 1,138 provisions of federal laws protecting and promoting the well-being of families. They remain unequal, all because their marriages are not recognized under DOMA.

Dwayne and Bolivar will continue to work with Stop The Deportations – The DOMA Project to urge that all pending DOMA deportation cases are terminated, administratively closed, or postponed until DOMA has been repealed by Congress or reaches a final judicial determination by the Supreme Court.

Dwayne & Bolivar: After Nine Years Together, Married Maine Couple Heads to Immigration Court on May 17 to Fight DOMA Deportation

Almost a decade ago, I finally escaped one of the most discriminatory countries in Latin America for gay men — Venezuela. Being gay in Venezuela was never an option for me, and it never will be.

On August 18, 2002, I was lucky enough to find myself in Ogunquit, Maine. I was lucky, because on that day I met Dwayne. I had been dancing at one of the local clubs when I bumped into him. We talked, exchanged phone numbers, and planned to go on a date. Unlucky for me, the next day I came down with one of the worst sore-throats I have ever had. I went to the hospital and was discharged — everything was okay, but my date with Dwayne would have to be cancelled (I didn’t want Dwayne to catch my cold.)

How could I have known that Dwayne would catch my heart forever? Dwayne did something very special that night; barely knowing me, and knowing that I was home sick with a cold, he surprised me by coming over anyway. I opened my apartment door to see Dwayne with a smile on his face, groceries in one hand, flowers in the other. He made me homemade soup. My heart turned into jello.

We dated non-stop for the next two months, so much, that my roommate, at the time, was jealous of the time I was spending with Dwayne, and he asked me to leave. When I told Dwayne, I was a little scared. What if I had to move farther away, where we couldn’t date anymore? But Dwayne had another idea in mind, “Well, if you don’t mind a hairy dog…” You can come live with me, he said.

I didn’t mind.

At first, things weren’t easy. Dwayne and I went through struggles in our first two years of dating, but it made us so much stronger. At the time, I was working in Portland, ME, and Dwayne was working in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Our home was in Lebanon, Maine, a good hour drive to Portland one way and forty-five minutes to Portsmouth.  Unfortunately, I had never learned to drive, or even had a car, and I was terrified at the  thought of either. Dwayne was so loving and generous to me, enough to wake-up every day at 4 a.m. and drive me to work in Portland, drive back to Lebanon to get ready for work, and then drive to New Hampshire. I would wait in the Portland Mall for five or six hours for Dwayne to pick me up after getting out of work himself, and for us to do it all over again each day of the week for two years. Yet, it was all worth it.

One day, suddenly, Dwayne pulled off the side of the road. He turned to look at me and told me: “You’re gonna learn to drive. You can do it.” And with that, he got out and came over to the passenger seat. Next thing I knew, I was driving a truck. Dwayne helped me study for the written permit test, and practice for my driving test, and after passing, I was able to drive. We refinanced our home, and bought a car for me. Dwayne’s days of endless traffic and freeway ramps were finally over (well, for the most part!).

I realized early on that I had to tell Dwayne of the situation regarding my immigration status. When we met I had been on a tourist visa (that would eventually run out), and I had no other options for lawful status at the time. With Dwayne’s help, I contacted lawyers who helped me to prepare an application for asylum. It was filed in April of 2007, only to be denied two years later. I remember the courtroom that day, the Judge had announced that my asylum application was denied, and then he told me that I had to leave the country within sixty days voluntarily or I would be deported. I looked to Dwayne in the back of the court, and then back at the judge and told him that I would never leave Dwayne.

So I filed an appeal of the Judge’s denial of my asylum application. The Board of Immigration Appeals re-opened my case and sent it back to the Immigration Court for another hearing.  I still face deportation, but with the help of the team at Stop The Deportations – The DOMA Project I am more optimistic than I have been in years. Dwayne and I are prepared to fight to be treated with dignity and respect as a married couple. I know, too, that I am one of the lucky ones; I am not detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement in some remote federal facility; I am employed and have an employment authorization card so that I help contribute financially to our household and continue to live with Dwayne in our home. We continue this fight for our marriage together.

Although I am allowed to stay in this country as long as my case is pending, I do not have the freedom to leave the country and re-enter. I am trapped here until this issue is resolved.  Dwayne and I cannot travel to other countries, and in the case of a family emergency, I cannot travel to Venezuela even for one day, or I will not be allowed back into the United States for ten years.  A few years into our relationship my father in Venezuela became extremely ill. The amount of pain I felt for my family, who I could not help, was immense. I could not visit my father, even for his funeral, when he eventually passed away a couple years ago. As happy as I am to live in a safe country where I can be open as a gay man and fight for equal rights for the LGBT community, I still miss my family.  On birthday celebrations and holidays, my family in Venezuela uses Skype so that we all can be together, even if it’s through a computer screen. My sister in Venezuela puts her laptop on the chair where I used to sit for holidays. When birthdays come around, I have cake sitting next to my computer and my family has one there. We count to three and cut the cake at the same time. This is the life Dwayne and I have been forced to live, cut off from half of our family simply beause the U.S. government does not recognize our marriage and give us the simple freedom it gives to all other married bi-national couples: a green card.

Daisy, the American Hound Dog

Last year, on April 29, 2011, we decided to get married. We had a small ceremony in Somersworth, New Hampshire. Dwayne and I (along with Daisy of course) have been living together for more than nine full years now. We’re a normal loving couple that contributes to our community.  I work for a company that does catering and banquets and Dwayne is an insurance professional. I am lucky enough to have a wonderful relationship with Dwayne’s family. Before his mother passed away I always called her my “American Mom.” She was very loving and supportive.

Dwayne is my husband. He is the man of my dreams, he is the man that I adore, and he is my world. The thought of being separated from Dwayne is more than frightening.  This entire immigration ordeal has been a nightmare for both of us. There is no way that I could return to live in Venezuela, where I have been taken into custody, extorted, forced to give money to the police, or risk being pulverized by the police—only for appearing to be gay. Because of Venezuelan immigration laws, needless to say, Dwayne couldn’t follow me there even if he wanted to.

Now with the help of Lavi Soloway and The DOMA Project, we filed a petition for a marriage-based green card based on my marriage to Dwayne.  If it weren’t for the Defense of Marriage Act, this would lead to a green card for me.  However, due to the discriminatory law that prevents the federal government from recognizing our legal marriage or our nearly ten years together as a couple, Dwayne’s petition was denied. We are left in limbo, waiting for the Board of Immigration Appeals to decide our appeal of the denial of our green card petition while I fight deportation to Venezuela.

We are encouraged by President Obama’s recent statement that he supports same sex marriage and hope that he will build on last year’s immigration policy developments.  We will work to convince USCIS to re-open our denied green card petition, and put their final decision in abeyance until DOMA is stuck down by the Supreme Court or repealed by Congress.  Though only a green card will give bi-national couples lke us the security of true permanent lawful status, the Obama administration can implement an abeyance policy immediately, putting our petition on hold while DOMA works its way through the courts and the legislative repeal process.  We are joining this fight to make sure that no couples are torn apart. I want nothing more than any other married couple wants; I want to be allowed to stay with my husband, so that we can live our lives as Dwayne and Bolivar, together forever.

Senator Kerry Calls on Obama Administration Not to Deny Green Card Petition Filed by Jackie & Gloria, Seeks to Prevent Deportation to Pakistan: VIDEO

Last November, Jackie and Gloria shared their story with The DOMA Project.  Jackie and Gloria met when they were college students, after Gloria came to the United States from Pakistan on a student visa. Now a happily married couple in their twenties living in Massachusetts, the two women are struggling to build their lives together facing an uncertain future because of the DOMA.

Since last year, even after announcing its position that DOMA was unconstitutional, the Obama administration has steadfastly refused to protect married binational same-sex couples. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services continues to deny marriage-based petitions filed by gay and lesbian Americans for their spouses, rejecting calls from advocates and elected officials to hold final decisions on those cases in “abeyance,” which would allow married binational gay and lesbian couples to be remain together in the United States without forcing the foreign spouse to lapse into unlawful status. Jackie and Gloria have bravely stood up to defend the rights of lesbian and gay Americans to sponsor their foriegn spouses for green cards and to build futures together without fear of being torn aapart.

In March, Jackie filed a marriage-based green card petition for her foreign-born spouse, Gloria, and joined an advocacy campaigned aimed at persuading the U.S. Customs and Immigration Services to delay making a final decision on their petition until DOMA has been struck down by the courts, so that Gloria can stay in the United States, obtain employment authorization, and eventually, a green card.

They also reached out to their elected officials and to the media to share their experience and highlight the impact of DOMA on married lesbian and gay binational couples.  U.S. Senator John Kerry (D-Mass) wrote to Department of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano on the behalf of Jackie and Gloria, raising the issues they face because DOMA prevents recognition of their marriage, and asking the Secretary to direct USCIS to hold their petition in abeyance.

Gloria and Jackie have recently spoken with local news and press in the area as well.  A local newspaper first ran a news story on Jackie and Gloria.  Both CBS and ABC, local affiliate stations in Boston, Massachusetts have interviewed the couple and reported on their fight to stay together in this country.

Watch Gloria & Jackie interviewed on CBS news

Watch Jackie and Gloria interviewed by ABC news

FIGHTING TO STAY TOGETHER: Inger and Philippa Forced Apart by DOMA For Now, Brought Closer with Wedding Vows

Marrying in Iowa – April, 2012

In just a few days I will be forced to leave my wife, our child, and our home behind in the United States because our family isn’t recognized or respected under the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).  Last September, my family and I came to the conclusion that Inger and I needed to be legally married in the States. On April 3, 2012 we drove from our home state to Iowa (the closest marriage equality state) and tie the knot. We chose April 3rd because it is the anniversary of our first commitment ceremony three years ago.

I confess I was scared stiff of getting married, like anyone would be.  But deep down I had no doubt that it was right choice for my beautiful wife and me. I wanted our family to have the stability that a legal marriage provides, and that society provides for legal spouses. But I know that, at the federal level, our marriage does not mean we are any closer to being together permanently because of DOMA and current U.S. immigration laws.  But for me it makes all the difference on an emotional level.  It means everything to my family, that Inger and I are married, not “married”, and that we are legally recognized as one another’s wife.

Kissing the Bride

The folks in Story County, Iowa were absolutely amazing on our big day. There was no hint of disapproval or judgment. We both walked in wearing political t-shirts (“Some chicks marry chicks. Get over it.“) and collected the paperwork we needed to get hitched. When we returned later that day after the ceremony, they couldn’t have been more complimentary and well wishing to us.

So a big thank you, from my whole family, to everyone who helped us that day in Story County. Also a big thanks to our friend April, who arranged everything for us, to Gary, who saved us when we needed a second witness, and to Homie, for performing the ceremony and providing the beautiful scenic location.

Our marriage has truly changed the way I feel about so much in just a few days. Even though leaving so soon breaks me in two, I felt so fortunate to have seen my wife happier than I have ever seen before. The joy in her eyes means everything to me. I know that this was the right decision for our family, and I am more motivated than ever to tell the world about how much my family deserves basic equal respect

Us in front of the Story County, Iowa Registrar’s Office

The timing of this trip was not just about us getting married. It was also about Easter and our daughter’s birthday. Turning 12 is a big deal and I was happy to be there for her big day. I know there will be more special days, but an unjust law should never be allowed to deny me those moments.

On a bittersweet note, when we booked the flights we didn’t know the dates of our daughter’s spring show. It turns out that her big performance is two days after I leave. I have not been able to see her perform in person once in the last four years of our family being together. I can only see my daughter via videos from her school. I feel gutted to be honest. But there is no way I can change my flights right now to make this happen. It pains me to know that my wife will sit in the school auditorium watching our talented daughter’s great performance. I will only share it with her via text messages. I truly cherish every moment I get to spend with my family.  I just want to be a great wife and great parent. I want to be able to show them how proud of am of their amazing achievements.

Until DOMA is repealed I do not get to start doing that.

I tell our story to the world because I know that sharing our experiences, sharing our lives, will lead to change we need. It has been over four years of traveling back and forth, and I genuinely love my wife more with every day. I never regret the path that I have chosen because I know that when we have true equality and our life can begin together properly, that the moments we spent apart will feel like distant memories. The fact that she married me is just the next step in our big adventure…

On behalf of everyone involved with the Stop the Deportations – the DOMA Project campaign, we extend heartfelt congratulations to Inger & Philippa.

Married Gay Couple, Sean and Steven, Fights DOMA Deportation in NYC Immigration Court

Sean and Steven preparing this morning for tomorrow’s hearing

Tomorrow Sean and Steven will appear before a New York Immigration Judge to argue that Steven should not be deported to his native Colombia, where he has not lived for more than 12 years. (Read Sean’s original post here: “Eight Years After First Meeting, Sean and Steven Marry and File Green Card Petition, Joining Fight Against DOMA“).  In November 2011, Sean filed a green card petition for his husband on the basis of their marriage. Just a few days ago, the petition was denied by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services solely because of DOMA. The couple has filed an appeal of that decision.

Meanwhile, Steven has filed an application for cancellation of removal. Cancellation is a form of relief from deportation that results in a green card for a individual who has been present in the United States for more than 10 years, is of good moral character and can show that his deportation would cause extreme hardship to a “qualifying relative.” In this case, Steven argues that his deportation would cause extreme hardship to Sean. However, like Sean’s green card petition, the application for cancellation requires that the Immigration Judge recognize Sean as Steven’s spouse for all federal law purposes. Unlike Sean’s green card petition, the cancellation application directly implicates the Matter of Dorman, a case with similar facts still pending before the Board of Immigration Appeals. The U.S. Attorney General, Eric Holder, intervened last year in Matter of Dorman to ask that panel for a ruling as to whether the extreme hardship to a same-sex “partner” could be considered where a “spouse” could not be recognized due to DOMA, specifically in the context of a cancellation application. Sean and Steven will argue that this issue is as yet unsettled law and that no final decision should be made until it has been resolved. Sean and Steven are resolute that they will not be separated after 8 years. They join dozens of other couples who have demanded to be treated equally under the law, and who have joined the Stop The Deportations campaign.

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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.