John and Shaun Attend Their Green Card Interview, Determined to be Treated Like All Other Married Couples
Ever since we married in January 2012 and later decided to file a green card petition – the same way an opposite sex couple would- we knew, if we were lucky and our case was not denied outright because of DOMA, that we would have to face a green card interview. We spent the last year working closely with The DOMA Project, visiting both of our U.S. Senators and our Representative, to educate them and their staff on the issues married same sex couples face under current immigration law. We fought to win their support to have an abeyance policy implemented, so couples like us could have our marriage based green card petitions placed on hold, until DOMA was finally struck down. (Below is a short video of our wedding reception in January 2012, narrated by our attorney, DOMA Project co-founder, Lavi Soloway.)
Outside of that, our life was just like any other newly married couple. For the first time in more than 11 years, we no longer had to face constant separations when Shaun had to leave the US and return to the UK for months at a time, because we made the decision that he would not leave again and that we would not be separated. Instead, we decided that we would fight for the green card that should be ours, the future and stability that should be ours and the respect and equality under the law that should be ours. Aside from this legal process, for the first time we spent all our time together uninterrupted by travel after a short visit, we established a more robust social life and adopted two orphaned kittens. Our house became a real home and finally we had a true sense of being a family. Imagine that for 11 years we made do with visits and separations and had such a fractured life as a couple. We now had a home. For sixteen months, Shaun and I have experienced what so many other couples in our situation are denied because of DOMA: the simple right to be together in this country, in our home.
Then we received our interview date, and reality set in. We were not like other families. No one had introduced a bill to defend our marriage, or to ensure Shaun would be able to stay here. Even after 13 years together and a legal marriage, we had to once again be reminded that in the eyes of the federal government, we are no more connected than two strangers on the street.
As we gathered all we needed on the night before the interview, we were tense. I tend to withdraw under stress and Shaun snaps easily. We ended up having one of the first arguments we had since we married. The pressure and fear of the unknown, of being one of the first same sex couples to attend this kind of interview, really got to us. By the time we arrived for the interview the next day, we were both emotionally on edge.
Our appointment was set for 1:30 pm. We sat waiting with our lawyer Lavi Soloway, who always helps relieve our anxiety. For many binational couples like us, our relationships are sustained by years of visits. Each visit depends on the judgement of an immigration officer at the airport when the foreign partner lands and seeks entry as a visitor. Those experiences are stressful for both of us. We never knew when it might be the last time Shaun would be permitted to visit me. So when it comes to facing an immigration officer, we experience tremendous anxiety. Everything rides on it. Shaun had many bad experiences with immigration officers in the past. Some had been rude and did their best to be intimidating. Having our lawyer with us yesterday as we waited to be called for the interview made Shaun feel like the little kid bringing his big brother along to defend him against the bullies.
After waiting a short while, Shaun’s name was called and we were led to one of the interview rooms. We sat in a pleasant, brightly lit room. No bars on the windows, no lights ready to be shined into our eyes like interrogations on TV cop shows. We were politely asked to take seats while the officer briefly read through our file. One of our fears was that they would ask me questions about events that happened so long ago, and that I would not recall exact details; those fears turned out to be groundless. They did not ask the color of his shirt on our second date. They did not ask him what the shoe sizes of my parents were. We laughed after that we had been worried about those things.
We went to the interview with photos, bank statements, utility bills, letters from friends who vouched for our relationship. We brought all the evidence we had to prove that we had a real marriage, that we lived together, and that we lived our lives as a married couple. This is the process for all other green card marriage interviews, and it was in a way comforting to be able to go through this process and have our marriage treated like all other marriages, in this way, even if we could not leave that day with an approval of our green card petition. The officer looked through our photos with all the captions showing our lives together from our first date in 2001 to the present and he asked a few basic questions about how we met, how much time we had actually spent together. The majority of the time he reviewed through our petition and application that we had filed with the Immigration Service in February 2012 and reviewed our joint legal documents, insurance policies etc. He asked Shaun a series of questions to determine his eligibility to be an immigrant to the United States. He reviewed our financial documents and Shaun’s medical exam that had been submitted previously. Throughout the whole 45-minute interview the officer was polite and respectful to us. There was no language used that treated us differently from an opposite sex couple. In fact our sexuality was not mentioned and DOMA was not referenced at all.
During the interview we knew that we were not alone. We knew that we were there representing tens of thousands of gay and lesbian binational couples who are engaged in a fight every day for the right to be together with the person they love. We knew that the world was changing outside the four walls of that office and that change did not happen on its own; the momentum toward equality resulting from the courage of so many who came before us. That courage and that momentum toward equality was also with us during the interview. In a sense, DOMA was with us as well, though it felt very much that the old statute from 1996 was on its last legs.
At the end of the interview our lawyer went over some legal and technical aspects of a same sex marriage application with the officer. We were the first gay couple interviewed at this particular office. The DOMA Project has filed green card cases for approximately 70 same-sex couples since 2010, some have been denied earlier in the processing when it is discovered that they are a same sex couple, and others made it to an interview. Of those who were interviewed, some were denied at the interview itself. We knew we were lucky that we had made it to this stage. We knew that The DOMA Project had won 10 cases at the Board of Immigration Appeals ordering the Immigration Service to re-open denied cases and conduct interviews where they had not taken place.
All that being said, we know that at any time after our interview we may receive a letter in the mail denying the petition based on Section 3 of DOMA. Despite what some people think, the Obama administration is still not willing to do what is within their power to do: to hold all same sex applications in abeyance, pending the Supreme Court’s ruling on DOMA. With our entire future in the balance, and we continue to speak out and encourage others to join in the fight to defeat DOMA.