Robert and Javier In Love: For Two Years They Have Been Forced to Live 7,000 Miles Apart Because of DOMA

From Honolulu to London…

A kiss atop the Eiffel Tower.

A kiss atop the Eiffel Tower.

 

My name is Robert. I am a family physician and HIV specialist living in Honolulu, Hawaii. My partner, Javier, is a video editor working for the BBC in London. We met on March 8, 2011 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil when we were vacationing separately at the time. It was truly love at first sight – in fact, when I tell the story to people I always mention that our first kiss happened at a waterfront party as the DJ was playing Katy Perry’s “Firework.” There were actual fireworks going off in the air above us (not to mention in each other’s heads). We were inseparable for the rest of the vacation but couldn’t quite see how a long distance relationship from Hawaii to London could work. All we knew at that time was that we had a deep connection and that we had both found something very special in one another.

IMG_3992CROPPED

The day we met on Ipanema Beach

When we said goodbye for the first time in Brazil it was extremely sad. But I was hoping I would see Javier soon.  As it happened, I was taking my mom on vacation to Ireland just 2 weeks later and he offered to fly over from London to spend St. Patrick’s Day with my mom and me. I was excited at the notion of seeing him again and it turned out that my mom liked Javier so much that she asked him if he wanted to spend half of our Ireland vacation together. It was wonderful, not to mention one of the first times my mom was so comfortable with me being involved with another man.

We said goodbye to one another for a second time as he left my mom and me in Ireland to go back to London. Thanks to “WhatsApp” and e-mail, we kept in touch throughout everyday. I flew back to Hawaii not knowing when I would see Javier again, yet I knew in my heart we were meant to be together. A few weeks later, I received a call from one of Javier’s friends in London whom I met in Brazil. He told me that Javier wouldn’t stop talking about me and for Javier’s upcoming birthday all of Javier’s friends wanted to chip in and buy him a plane ticket to Hawaii to come visit me. When he asked me if that would be alright, I of course replied, “Definitely!”

Our trip to Paris.

Javier’s visit to Hawaii was wonderful. He felt attached to the place and got a really warm impression of the islands. He met all of my friends and learned about “the aloha spirit” as we say here. When we said our third goodbye, we knew that we were meant to be together, and that any doubts we had about whether or not this was just a ‘Carnival vacation fling’ were gone. We began to talk about his move to Hawaii.

His arrival was magical – I hired the biggest white stretch Hummer limousine that they had in Hawaii and put 25 of my closest friends inside. I surprised him at the airport and each of my friends whom he met stepped out of the limousine handing him a single white rose. I exited the limo last, handing him the final white rose and gave him a kiss. We rode around Oahu celebrating and the journey ended with a beachfront luau with Hawaiian songs and even a hula dance from Miss Hawaii. It was a memorable night.

Javier was brought to tears, as was I – my baby and I were finally together and we didn’t have to say any more goodbyes, or so we thought.

The reception at our Civil Union.

Javier came to the United States on the Visa Waiver Program. We assumed he could get a work visa and be hired by a company here based on his extensive work experience (5+ years) at the BBC as a Video Editor, but our immigration attorney explained that you need to have a Bachelor’s Degree in order to apply for this particular work visa. While Javier took coursework in Spain after high school, he didn’t have that degree or its equivalent, so we quickly realized that we were going to have to say goodbye again and in December of 2011, we did just that, although this time we had a plan.

Javier has always wanted to be the first person in his family to graduate from college with a degree. He concurrently wanted to further pursue his skills in video editing and become a master in his profession. Hawaii Pacific University, Honolulu was recommended by his boss and Javier checked out the university himself before he left in December. They were very accommodating towards international students; they had scholarships available, and they had a great Media Program which contained courses that Javier was very interested in. He decided to apply for their Bachelor’s Program in Media.

In spring of 2012 Javier was accepted into Hawaii Pacific University and offered a scholarship! While he wasn’t granted any credit for his previous post-high school course work, he was excited about the notion of starting university in America. He could save on money by living with me, and I would be his financial sponsor to the university. The only thing left to do was to go for a student visa, which we were told was just a “red tape formality.” As we started to read on-line about people’s experiences at the embassy, we got a little worried given that I was Javier’s partner. We really weren’t sure if telling the interviewing officer that I was Javier’s partner would negatively affect their decision to grant the student visa.  However the immigration lawyer we consulted told us to be honest and tell the truth so that’s exactly what he did.  This advice turned out to be catastrophically incorrect. Had we consulted with The DOMA Project, we would have learned from immigration lawyers who specialize in LGBT immigration work, that I should never have been Javier’s fiscal sponsor in the first place, and that I should have been excluded completely from his application for a student visa. That one piece of wrong advice resulted in disaster. Had we known otherwise, we would be living together happily making plans for our future. Instead, the consular officer did exactly what we now understand was exactly routine procedure for gay or straight applicants for student visas with an American boyfriend or girlfriend living in the U.S.  But at the time it came as a shock to us.

RJandJavier-100

The night of our Civil Union.

The day of the interview came and Javier was a bit nervous. That day, he admittedly went somewhat unprepared because we were told getting a student visa from the embassy in London was more paperwork than anything else. When the interviewer asked him “who is this person that is planning on helping to pay for your education if needed?” Javier was honest and said it was his partner. The application was quickly denied but Javier was not given any explanation as to why – not even when he asked. We were devastated but not defeated.

We decided we would do everything possible to convince the interviewer on the second interview that he did intend on studying and going to university and return to London to work in his field. We provided every supplementary piece of documentation we could think of. At his second interview several months later he brought a letter from his boss stating that he recommended HPU and that upon completion they wanted him to return to London to work for their company once again. Javier brought bank statements from his own bank account and his family’s bank accounts in Spain proving that he had enough financial backing to attend university.  He wanted to explain that his family is very important to him and that he didn’t intend to live the rest of his life in Hawaii – a place so far away.  But all that effort was too late. It was clear that once they knew about me, they would not believe Javier’s intention to return to London at the conclusion of his studies. Again, this is something routine, that we were simply not prepared for.  Most attorneys working for years with gay couples like us would have known this terrain like the  back of their hand. We went in blind; we made all the mistakes of naive first-timers.  Javier believed that he had all of his ducks in order and he went into the second interview quite confident – only to be “interrogated like a criminal” to use Javier’s words. They didn’t even bother to look at any of the supplemental paperwork before they said “I have to agree with the first person that interviewed you. I don’t think you’re a candidate for a student visa at this time.”  A lawyer with experience working with binational couples would have told us that a second time at the U.S. Embassy would have likely resulted in another denial.

I feel like we were mistreated, misinformed and discriminated against.   Mistreated, because the Consular officials were rude and gave us no insight into how we might have overcome this hurdle; misinformed, mainly by the attorney I consulted; and discriminated against because I should have been able to file a fiancé visa for Javier, rather than rely on his ability to get a student visa. Javier developed a negative impression of this country because of how poorly he was treated through this whole process. It’s unfair and it’s not right. We want to live our lives together and it disturbs me to think that because of DOMA we can’t have the same happy life that opposite sex couples enjoy.

So it has been our decision to continue to fight as hard as necessary to be together.

The inscription on our rings is: “Love Knows No Distance”

On August 25, 2012, Javier and I committed our love to one another in a Legal Civil Union in the state of Hawaii. It was a beautiful ceremony held in the penthouse of the Sheraton Waikiki overlooking Diamond Head Beach– we were even blessed by a double rainbow which appeared at the end of our ceremony in front of a clear blue sky backdrop. It was truly magical and we both knew in our hearts that despite the challenges we may face, or how unfair the system may seem and in spite of all of the adversities we have encountered, one must not give up on love – because true love is hard to find, and once you have found it, it is worth fighting for! Javier and I hope that one day we will be able to be legally married and live the rest of our lives together. Until that day, we continue to maintain a long distance relationship from Honolulu to London, and we will continue to fight for just policies that ensure no gay or lesbian couple is ever torn apart.

The double rainbow at the conclusion of our Civil Union ceremony.

The double rainbow at the conclusion of our Civil Union ceremony.

 

 

 

 

 

 

President Unveils Historic Immigration Reform That Includes Provisions for Gay and Lesbian Couples (UPDATED)


President Obama Inaguration 2013

Today, President Obama announced his plan for comprehensive immigration reform in a speech in Las Vegas, Nevada. In advance of the event it had been reported that the President will call for broadly inclusive immigration reform that includes provisions for same-sex binational couples (“Obama Will Include Same-Sex Couples In Immigration Plan“). The President did not disappoint.  The speech itself described the broad outlines of new humane, fair and practical immigration policies, with the same basic underpinnings as the Senate plan released yesterday. White House staffers distributed a detailed plan to streamline legal immigration by “Keeping Families Together” that would broaden the family unification provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act to provide for the immigration of same-sex partners of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents.  This new policy, never before advocated by a sitting President, hews closely the language of the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA), and its predecessor, the Permanent Partners Immigration Act.

The proposal seeks to eliminate existing backlogs in the family-sponsored immigration system by recapturing unused visas and temporarily increasing annual visa numbers.  The proposal also raises existing annual country caps from 7 percent to 15 percent for the family-sponsored immigration system.   It also treats same-sex families as families by giving U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents the ability to seek a visa on the basis of a permanent relationship with a same-sex partner. The proposal also revises current unlawful presence bars and provides broader discretion to waive bars in cases of hardship.

DOMA Project co-founders, Lavi Soloway and Noemi Masliah, who, in 1999, helped draft the same-sex partner legislation now known as the UAFA, have called for its inclusion in any comprehensive reform package.  Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) the bill’s chief architect and long the most vocal advocate for lesbian and gay binational couples in the House, re-iterated his belief that immigration reform will not pass without a provision inclusive of LGBT families. Yesterday, the Senate unveiled a bipartisan blueprint for immigration reform that provided little detail and omitted mention of same-sex binational couples. Reacting to the Senate plan, Congressman Nadler said it would be “madness” to advance immigration reform that did not include protections for same-sex couples, adding “I feel certain that Democrats would not move forward with a bill that was not fully inclusive.”  Today the President seemed to assure Congressman Nadler that he will fight for this provision.

On January 21, 2013, President Obama made history as the first President to acknowledge the rights of gay and lesbian Americans at a Presidential Inauguration. His call for equality for gay and lesbian Americans on that auspicious occasion was consistent with stated position that lesbian and gay couples should have the right to marry and that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional:

It is now our generation’s task to carry on what those pioneers began.  For our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts.  Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law — for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.

President Obama’s call for equality for lesbian and gay couples, as he stood just a few feet from all nine justices of the U.S. Supreme Court, is another important milestone in the fight against DOMA. We must continue to urge the President to use the power of his office to develop and implement policies that protect lesbian and gay binational couples and our families now.  To have the unequivocal support of the president should be celebrated, but we must continue to demand and expect concrete actions to follow this soaring rhetoric.

Today, tens of thousands of same-sex couples in America continue to be denied security for their family and their future. The love and lives of same-sex binational couples are often strained because these couples are forced to live apart from one another, in exile from their home countries, or in hiding because the Federal Government will not recognize their marriage and commitment.

“Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity”

The President should follow his public declarations of support for LGBT families with action, by directing the Attorney General and Secretary of Homeland Security to implement an abeyance policy for petitions by same-sex binational couples.

Please sign our petition to President Obama asking that the government stop issuing denials to green card petitions from same-sex couples. Your support means standing up for every couple whose marriage is rendered invisible under the law by the Defense of Marriage Act. President Obama has taken his stance for equality and we urge you to join us in holding him to that promise.

“My fellow Americans. We are made for this moment, and we will seize it – so long as we seize it together.”

Petition

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and 12 Senate Colleagues: Stop Denying Green Card Petitions Filed By Lesbian and Gay Couples (UPDATED)

Gillibrand-031009-18438- 0004

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand

UPDATE:: See a copy of the letter to Attorney General Eric Holder and Sec. Janet Napolitano attached below.

Since 2010 The DOMA Project has worked closely with a growing number of binational couples providing legal representation and filing green card and fiancé(e) petitions based on their marriages.  These couples have participated in a three-part advocacy campaign that targeted elected officials and the White House calling for (1) an abeyance policy (2) a moratorium on “DOMA” deportations (to extend further the protection offered under prosecutorial discretion) and (3) access to humanitarian parole to reunite exiled and separation couples.  Today we have reached another milestone in this effort.  For the first time since the Supreme Court announced that it will decide the fate of Section 3 of DOMA in its 2012-2013 term, a group of U.S. Senators have called on the administration to hold green card petitions in abeyance. We are especially thankful to Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and her staff with whom we have worked closely for the past two years with a group of lesbian and gay binational couples in New York state.  (See text of the letter below.)

DOMA Project co-founder Lavi Soloway noted, “The administration should stop denying these green card petitions, and allow them to remain pending until the Supreme Court rules on Section 3 of DOMA. This will have the immediate effect of protecting our families by allowing foreign spouses of lesbian and gay Americans to remain in the United States and potentially provide eligibility for employment authorization.  An unconstitutional law, only months away from final judicial resolution by the Supreme Court, should not be allowed to tear apart our families.”

The DOMA Project was launched by the law firm of Masliah & Soloway in July 2010 to pressure the administration to develop policies that would mitigate the discriminatory impact of DOMA in relation to lesbian and gay binational couples. In March 2011, we stepped up our call for an abeyance policy and began working with elected officials in the House and Senate to urge the administration to stop denying green card petitions filed by same-sex couples.   We continue to file green card petitions for married lesbian and gay binational couples in certain circumstances.

The Senators have asked the Obama administration to do the following:

1) Stop denying green card petitions based on Section 3 of DOMA that are otherwise approvable;
2) Put all green card petitions that would otherwise be denied solely because of DOMA on hold until the Supreme Court rules this June; and
3) Implement a moratorium on all deportations involving same-sex binational couples.

As we have argued repeatedly to the administration, none of these remedies contradicts the continued enforcement of DOMA. While DOMA is the law of the land and prevents approval of our green card petitions, there is no need to deny them with the Supreme Court ruling expected in five months. Holding cases in abeyance is a practice that has been used in the past when the law is in a state of flux and a resolution is on the horizon.

We urge all who are reading this to sign our petition to President Obama demanding that all pending green card cases filed by same-sex couples be held in abeyance. Click here to read the text of the petition.

In 2011 and 2012, Senator John Kerry (D-MA) wrote two similar letters to the Attorney General with 12 and 16 signatories, respectively; however, those letters pre-dated the Supreme Court’s announcement that it would decide the fate of DOMA this year.

GILLIBRAND, SENATE COLLEAGUES URGE FEDS TO DELAY JUDGMENT ON SAME-SEX COUPLES’ GREEN CARD CASES, HALT DEPORTATION ORDERS UNTIL SUPREME COURT RULES ON DOMA

First and Second Circuit Federal Appeals Courts Have Already Deemed DOMA Unconstitutional, Senators Urge Obama Administration to Temporarily Delay Decisions on Immigration Cases Involving LGBT Couples Until Constitutionality of DOMA Law Is Clarified by the High Court

Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), an original co-sponsor of the Respect for Marriage Act to repeal the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), was joined today by Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Chris Coons (D-DE), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Al Franken (D-MN), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Patty Murray (D-WA) in urging Attorney General Eric Holder and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to temporarily put on hold immigration cases involving permanent resident status and deportation orders regarding same-sex foreign-born spouses of LGBT couples until the Supreme Court rules on the constitutionality of DOMA later this year. Currently, federal immigration benefits do not extend to same-sex couples under DOMA, which places undue hardship on these families while they wait for DOMA cases to be ruled upon by the high court. Already, first and second circuit federal appeals courts have deemed DOMA unconstitutional, as has the Obama administration, whose policy is to no longer prosecute those cases.

“The Supreme Court will soon have its voice heard on this discriminatory policy that has already been deemed unconstitutional by two federal courts,” said Senator Gillibrand. “In light of those earlier decisions, we must lift the hardship for LGBT families who live in fear of separation based on this antiquated law until the Supreme Court rules. Regardless of the Court’s ultimate decision, it is well past time for Congress to recognize the marriages of all loving and committed couples and finally put the discriminatory DOMA policy into the dustbin of history.”

The Senators wrote in a letter to Attorney General Holder and Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano, “We urge DHS to hold marriage-based immigration petitions in abeyance until the Supreme Court issues its ruling on same-sex marriage. Holding these cases in abeyance for a few months will prevent hardship to LGBT immigrant families. We also call upon the Department of Justice to institute a moratorium on orders of removal issued by the immigration courts to married foreign nationals who would be otherwise eligible to adjust their status to lawful permanent resident but for DOMA. By taking these interim steps, vulnerable families affected by DOMA can remain together until the Supreme Court issues its decision.”

DOMA currently prohibits federal immigration benefits for binational LGBT couples, including petitioning on behalf of a foreign-born spouse for a permanent resident visa. As a result, officials have consistently denied same-sex couples’ applications, leaving many in immigration limbo without legal status, in fear of separation from their loved ones and potential deportation.

To ensure that foreign-born LGBT spouses would be able to remain with their families in the U.S. and be allowed to work and freely travel during the time leading up to the Supreme Court verdict, the Senators urged the Homeland Security Department to “hold in abeyance” binational LGBT couples’ immigration petitions and applications and called on the Justice Department to issue a moratorium for deportation cases involving binational LGBT couples who would be eligible for U.S. residency, if not for DOMA.

 

The letter from Sen. Gillibrand and her colleagues regarding abeyance for same-sex binational couples

The letter from Sen. Gillibrand and her colleagues regarding abeyance for same-sex binational couples

Full text of the Senators’ letter is below:

Dear Mr. Attorney General and Madam Secretary:

We continue to applaud the President for his decision not to defend the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (‘DOMA’) in federal court. We also applaud the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for including “long-term same-sex partners” under the Administration’s policy that suspends deportations of some immigrants who pose no security risk. These developments are steps in the right direction, but DOMA is still the law of the land and continues to discriminate against a class of Americans.

Following the 2012 election, there are now nine states and the District of Columbia recognizing same-sex marriage with several other states granting similar rights. However with DOMA as law, we are creating a tier of second-class families in these States. DOMA prevents same-sex immigrant spouses of U.S. citizens from successfully applying for permanent resident visas. Fortunately, the U.S. Supreme Court has granted certiorari in Windsor v. U.S. and will determine the constitutionality of DOMA in the next term; by June we will know whether or not applications for lawful permanent residence for lesbian and gay spouses will ultimately be approvable.

Given the historic nature of Windsor v. U.S., we urge DHS to hold marriage-based immigration petitions in abeyance until the Supreme Court issues its ruling on same-sex marriage. Holding these cases in abeyance for a few months will prevent hardship to LGBT immigrant families. We also call upon the Department of Justice to institute a moratorium on orders of removal issued by the immigration courts to married foreign nationals who would be otherwise eligible to adjust their status to lawful permanent resident but for DOMA. By taking these interim steps, vulnerable families affected by DOMA can remain together until the Supreme Court issues its decision.

Preserving family unity is a fundamental American value and is the cornerstone of our nation’s immigration law. Thank you for your decision not to defend the constitutionality of a law that hurts so many families and for your consideration of this request.

The DOMA Project Continues Press for Abeyance: Cathy and Catriona Attend Green Card Interview in Denver

C&C at USCIS 625

Arriving at USCIS Denver Field Office

Last week The DOMA Project traveled to Denver, Colorado to join Cathy and Catriona, one of our many participant binational couples, as they attended a green card interview at their local USCIS office. Parents of three beautiful children, they were running out of options last year when Cathy’s H-1B visa petition was denied. They decided to join The DOMA Project, file a green card petition based on their marriage and assert their right to be treated equally under the law. As a result of that filing, Cathy received an employment authorization card and the couple was scheduled for an interview. The DOMA Project has attended green card interviews with married lesbian and gay binational couples at a variety of local USCIS offices around the country over the past two years. To the best of our knowledge, Cathy and Catriona were the first same-sex couple to be interviewed in Denver. After their green card interview, Cathy and Catriona visited their Congressman Jared Polis at his Boulder office and spoke with him and his staff about the need for USCIS to institute an “abeyance” policy that would ensure that green card petitions filed by lesbian and gay couples would be put on hold until the Supreme Court rules on DOMA in June.

POLIS CATHY CATRIONA LSS 625

Catriona and Cathy with DOMA Project co-founder, attorney Lavi Soloway, and Congressman Jared Polis in Boulder, Colorado

In Colorado we continued our collaboration with Brynn Gelbard and The Devote Campaign, shooting another short film for our series, “Love Stories: Binational Couples on the Front Lines in the Fight Against DOMA.”  We spent a wonderful afternoon with Cathy, Catriona and their children exploring Boulder, Colorado.  Their story begins when they met while mountain climbing in the Himalayas in 2006.  They were both originally from small towns in Ireland that were just a few miles apart. Catriona is a naturalized U.S. citizen who came to the United States more than 30 years ago. Cathy, who was working as a nurse in Dublin, began traveling back and forth between Ireland and the United States until she obtained a temporary visa that allowed her to work as a nurse.  Within a few years they had adopted a son from Guatemala and two daughters from Haiti.  With all five members of the family born outside the United States, Cathy and Catriona represent the uniquely American experience of immigration: a convergence of individuals whose paths to this country differed greatly, but who have formed one solid, loving, and beautiful family.

Petition

And now they must fight to keep their family together.

Please sign The DOMA Project petition to President Obama (click here) urging the administration to stop denying green card petitions filed by same-sex binational couples and to hold them in abeyance until the Supreme Court rules on DOMA.

Cathy describes the experience of attending the interview with their attorney, Lavi Soloway, where the couple presented a voluminous file of supporting evidence proving that she and Cathy have a bona fide marital relationship:

“The days building up to the green card interview were nerve-wracking, filled with “what if’s.” We felt very anxious about the prospect of being rejected, refused, worse still, facing the very remote possibility of a deportation proceeding. We had no idea how we would be received or treated by the officer. We hoped for the best, but we prepared every category of evidence knowing that we might face a hostile officer. We knew that whatever happened, DOMA was our biggest obstacle. Despite our worries our conviction never wavered: we had every right to be there and to demand to be treated fairly and with respect. Furthermore, we had every right to make a request that our case be held in abeyance with the Supreme Court ruling on DOMA little more than five months away.

Cathy Catriona and the kids 625

“We had an early start. With our champions, Lavi and Brynn, we set off before dawn for the USCIS Office in Centennial Colorado.

I couldn’t relax knowing that we were probably the first same-sex couple to be interviewed in Colorado in connection with a marriage-based green card petition. Our family’s future, like many LGBT families across the United States, depended on this process.

We proceeded to the waiting area and within a short period my name was called. I was a bundle of nerves, but reassured myself that we were doing the right thing. We were presenting an abundance of evidence proving we were a married couple with a family. We only had the discriminatory and unconstitutional law, DOMA, standing between us and our future staying together in the United States.

The interview itself was great. The interviewing officer was kind, respectful, courteous, and very understanding. All evidence was accepted and our file is now being held for further review.

We left on a high note, encouraged that we had not been summarily knocked down, or turned away with our hopes and dreams in shatters. Most importantly, we had not been denied. We left hopeful and optimistic as to the future. We are fully aware that the ultimate goal, approval of our green card petition cannot come until DOMA is gone, we believe it is an enormously important step for USCIS to be meeting with us and interviewing us about our marriage, in short treating us like all other married couples.”

Catriona notes that she was happily surprised that her worst expectations did not transpire:

“I must admit that I really expected a cold, officious reception with a high probability that we might not get to even sit down with an officer before being shown the exit door with a denial. I suppose I braced myself to be treated like an oddity that had no place in a process that allows only heterosexual couples to be successful. Boy was I wrong! The USCIS Officer was extremely gracious and welcoming and followed the interview process in a professional and courteous manner, kindly letting us know that, although we had more than enough evidence of a valid marriage, she informed us that she could not yet approve our petition because of the law. Of course we understood that going into the process, but in her respectful treatment of our case and her careful review of our evidence validated our effort to be treated equally. We understood that day that we were fighting for our family and for all other lesbian and gay binational couples. We left feeling that we had won another incremental victory in this civil rights struggle. It was empowering to meet with an officer and to make our case, and we realized more than ever that we were indeed holding the government accountable and pressing USCIS to do better than simply issue denials based on DOMA. This was a huge step forward for us. It really was a positive experience. We left the USCIS office a lot lighter in step with a lot more hope and optimism than before. We believe strongly that we must do our part to make change happen so that our three children grow up in a world in which all families are valued and respected. Last week we took a step in that direction.”

Cathy Catriona on Set 625

“Love Stories: Binational Couples on the Front Lines Against DOMA”

Forced Apart by DOMA, Kevin and Francis are Engaged to be Married and Fighting to be Together

My name is Kevin and I am currently engaged to Francis.

Kevin&Francis-cakes
My name is Kevin and I am currently engaged to Francis.  We are a gay binational couple who, like so many others, must endure being separated as a result of discriminatory marriage laws in the United States.  While the United States gradually joins more than a dozen other countries where same-sex couples have the right to marry, it still lags in one important respect. Over 50 million Americans now live in states in which same-sex couples can marry, but when they do, all those loving newlyweds are still unequal in the eyes of the federal government which treats them as though they are not married. While individual states have the power to marry gays and lesbians, the federal government refuses to recognize those marriages because of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).   And that is where the story begins for thousands of lesbian and gay Americans like me, who are separated from partners or spouses abroad. DOMA is tearing us apart.

We are fighting so that our marriage will count for all federal benefits, including those related to immigration. We accept no less. Our love is strong and it is worthy of respect and value.  In sharing our story, I want to make clear that Francis and I will never give up on our dream to be together for the rest of our lives. We will also not passively wait for “change to happen,” a false construct if there ever was one. Change happens when you and I act together. If we wait, change does not come, at least not on our terms. If everyone before us had waited, we would still be decades behind the progress and privilege we enjoy today.  Like past struggles for equality, our story is one of many frustrations, but also of hope for life together, a hope that should never be denied to any loving couple.

Our problems start because I am a gay American, and Francis is from The Philippines.  In 2011 we knew that we were both ready to join our lives together.  As a result, about a year ago he and I began researching the U.S. visa process.   We quickly discovered that a fiancé visa was out of the question since this option is solely reserved for opposite sex married couples only.  Because of DOMA, that option is closed to us.  After much research we decided that our most viable alternative was to work within the current non-immigrant options available and aim for a tourist or student visa so we could be together, at least temporarily, in this country.

Let me begin by saying that trying to obtain a visa from the Philippines to the United States is much like trying to break out of a prison.  I am sure many couples have faced this dilemma when the non-American partner is from a country not considered a “First World” country. In fact, what few Americans realize is that perfectly honest, well-intentioned citizens of most of the world’s countries will have no chance of ever of getting a visa even to visit our shores briefly and then return home. Unfortunately there is such a high rate of fraud; so many people in the world want to come to the U.S. permanently even if they profess to have a temporary intent. So my fiancé and I were forced to enter Dante’s Ninth Circle of Hell to try to get a visa so we could enjoy just a short time together, all the while knowing that a straight couple who were engaged to be married could have these problems solved by applying for and receiving a fiance visa and then “permanent resident” status or a “green card” with relative ease.

Kevin&Francis-1

After a flight to Manila and a quick check-in to a hotel across from US Embassy, Francis was off to his interview. His first attempt was denied under what is called “Section 214(b)” on the basis that he could not prove sufficient non-immigrant intent.   In other words, he failed to prove that he would return to the Philippines.  We were devastated, but with perspective we now see that it was almost the assured outcome of this process.

Saddened but determined, we then decided we might be more successful going the student visa route. Since Francis has a Bachelor’s degree in Nursing, we sought and found colleges in my area that offered ongoing nursing programs.  Not only would we be together, but he could enhance his credentials and be able to gain job experience through work placements arranged by the school, within the guidelines of student visa restrictions.

More research, paperwork, and my having to show that, as his U.S. sponsor, I had the capacity to support his education and living expenses while in the US.  I did some accounting and was able to pull together enough liquid assets to prove my financial qualifications.

In addition, Francis had to complete English courses and tests to prove his English speaking abilities. Fortunately, his enrollment was accepted by one of the colleges and he was immediately issued a Form I-20 so that he could then apply for the visa. Even better was the fact that this college is just minutes from my house.

Again, off on another flight to Manila, more hotel stays, another long line at the Embassy, and another denial.  Once more, denied due to the failure to prove his intent to return.

We are obviously disappointed, but there’s something about when you want something bad enough you just are not ready to accept defeat.  As a result, we decided to go the student visa route once again, use a consultant firm, armed with knowing what mistakes we made in the first two attempts.

At this point we needed a success.  Since I had some vacation time coming I decided to travel to the Philippines and give us a chance to spoil ourselves at a resort for a few days, but more importantly I would have the chance to meet the family to whom I had only been able to communicate with via Skype until then.

“Welcome to Davao City Philippines
Kevin Yeager
We are happy to see you
Feel at home and be one of us
Thank you very much
Mabuhay”

Our time together in the spring of 2012 was amazing and beautiful.  Naturally, I did not want to be any further than a few feet away from him as possible.  It’s funny how you appreciate each moment together when you’re a prisoner of distance for much of the time.  Upon the conclusion of our stay at a resort in Boracay, we flew to his hometown of Davao.  From there we would travel to his family home of Midsayap, a rural area in southern Mindanao.

Upon our arrival in Davao, we were met by his brother, sister-in-law, and our God-Daughter, Arianna.  I knew this was going to be a life changing event the moment I climbed into the van they rented to take us on our journey.  In the window was a sign welcoming me to the city of Davao and to the family.

Even recalling this event takes me back to that moment and the overwhelming feelings that were going on inside my heart.  I knew at this instant that this was the spouse and family I had dreamed of but never thought it possible for me.

Upon our arrival in the area Francis was born and raised we checked into our hotel.  His parents and many family members had already checked in prior to our arrival.  Now let me tell you that this hotel was not what a typical American person, who just happens to have spent many years in the hotel industry, would have imagined ever staying.  Regardless, it was soon overshadowed by the hugs and handshakes from people who, in an instant, were no longer strangers but a family I might have known my whole life.  It was as if I was coming home.  Besides, I had Francis, my mahal, with me.  If we were staying in a tent, I would have been happy just as well.

The next day was spent traveling to Francis’ family home.  I thought I understood the word rural, but it was completely redefined on that day.  Francis grew up on a farm.  A typical tropical farm where his family made a living harvesting bananas, rice, and coconuts that surround a home referred to as a Nipa hut I believe.   A home built from the resources right there available on the farm.

Even in the tropical heat that day, to have an intimate look at my fiancés background and perspective was a gift that I cannot express completely in words alone.  Here we are two people, from completely different worlds, whose paths somehow crossed to lead to this moment.

Later than evening his family threw us an engagement celebration in his rural hometown.  The event was one that we will never forget for many reasons.  One of which is that, to me, this was our formal engagement that was both recognized and supported by his family that evening.

One must understand that this is a poor country, with families living in conditions that are unimaginable to so many people here in the US.  Yet, his family used their very limited resources and put together a celebration to both recognize our commitment in addition to officially welcoming me to the family.

We are now on the side of a barely paved road, in an open air diner that is decorated with crepe paper, folding tables, and balloons with the words “Welcome to our Family Kevin Yeager, We Love You” imprinted on them.  I lost count of how many family members came that evening, not to mention how many pictures were taken of my fiancé and I with various aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends.

A greeting from Francis’ Lola.

The highlight for me the following day was to be officially welcomed by my fiancé’s Lola (grandmother), the matriarch of the family.  I remember to this very moment, the feeling of her grasping my wrist and whispering, “I would like to welcome you to our family.”  During our visit at her home, she had the strongest, yet loving grip on me the whole time.  I was again experiencing moments that I wanted to live in and somehow make them last forever.

I learned much on this particular trip.  I find myself in a small remote town where I was witness to a group of people who struggle on a daily basis just to maintain basic necessities, yet gladly offer an abundance of unconditional love and acceptance.  All this was in contrast to having just spent a few days at a five star beach resort.  Amazing how an evening of hugs and welcomes completely trumps a resort that even includes your own beach butler!  I was living a dream, one I had thought impossible… a man to whom I willingly offer my commitment and a family who invites me graciously and unconditionally into their lives.

Upon my return to the U.S., Francis continued his English classes to study for the English exam as needed for our next shot at a student visa.  Again, his enrolment application was accepted by the college, he received the I-20, we paid the $200.00 SEVIS fee along with both the consultants and visa application fees. A trip to Cebu to meet with consultant, then flight to Manila, more hotels, and standing loaded down with documentation for an interview.  The door was slammed shut in our face again with nothing but an emptier bank account, heartbreak, and one more piece of paper with excuses for denying Francis the visa.  As attorneys in the United States, such as those at The DOMA Project, would have told us, these efforts are almost always in vain. We did not have the benefit of that knowledge, but it may not have mattered. We felt we needed to try every avenue so not to remain forcibly separated.  Our love was so strong it could not tolerate surrender.

Now we find ourselves saddened that we must continue to endure this separation due to the injustice of our current immigration laws.  Although I am periodically able to travel to and from the Philippines with no problem, it is both expensive and relegated to when time off from work is available.  Our story is like so many other same-sex couples in similar circumstances who are forced to live apart due to current discriminatory restrictions.  I wonder how many people realize the financial and emotional toll same-sex and/or bi-national couples have to endure.

goodbye_day

Our last day with Francis’ family in the Philippines.

I now am more determined than ever to find a path in which Francis and I can be together.  I have considered relocating to the Philippines and living in exile at least until a change is made in our current laws.  I have consulted numerous immigration attorneys who are sympathetic, yet all agree that this is almost a no-win situation.  There has been discussion of the option of was possibly sponsoring my fiancé for a work visa through my family’s business.  I have researched this, but it appears to be quite complicated navigating all the paperwork and understanding the requirements, if it is even viable.

With regard to employment-based visas, these can be just as difficult to obtain as a student or tourist visa.  Three common categories of employment-based visas are L-1, H-1B, and E visas.  Even though Francis may be eligible for an H-1B visa as a nurse, this type of this visa does present some problems.  First H-1Bs have an annual quota and this year’s quota has been filled which means USCIS is not accepting petitions for H-1B visas until April 1, 2013, employment on October 1, 2013.   In addition, H-1B employers must show the position requires a Bachelor’s degree.  Francis would need a U.S. employer to file a petition for the H-1B on his behalf and the position would have to be directly related to his field of study. USCIS’ position on nurses is that only senior or highly-specialized nurses qualify for H-1Bs because registered nurses generally need only an associate’s degree.   It is incredibly unfair and frustrating that we are left with almost no options.  But of course there is one option, the only option, the single most obvious and apparent option that presents itself to every binational couple, though it only functions at this time for opposite sex couples; that option is a fiancé visa and a green card. That is the fight we must undertake now. We cannot be distracted by an alphabet soup of visas! It is degrading, costly, and insane to play this game. My government has no business treating me this way, and I am ready to fight back.

mahal03

In spite of the sadness and frustration, we will continue our fight to be together.   Each obstacle we face results in our being even more determined to succeed in our goal of creating the life of which we dream.  A life, unfortunately, unfairly allowed to a limited segment of our country’s population.  Our hope is that soon we, and all other couples currently separated or facing the possibility of separation, will no longer have to endure this legacy of injustice.  We all deserve a life and family not separated by distance and discriminatory rules and regulations. Our dreams are your dreams. They are the dreams of all human beings. We seek to live in peace, together.

I made a promise to Francis.  I will not stop, I will not give in, and I will not allow any person, embassy, rule, or injustices have the final say in our life together.  This is my vow to my beloved Francis, the one man whose path crossed mine by some universal miracle.  I now fight not only for our dream, but for the dreams of countless couples who know the pain of separation due to the inequality wrought by DOMA.

 

© The DOMA Project

Attorney advertising

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.