After Five Years, College Sweethearts, Ned and Emilio Defer Dreams to Contend with Threat of DOMA Exile
Sometimes, it seems hard to believe that Emilio and I ever met. In a huge world with billions of people, we somehow found our way to each other and changed our lives forever. Meeting my partner Emilio has been the product of a series of incredibly improbable events. Like individual scenes playing out one by one, they have built up to the beginnings of a promising life together. Nonetheless, we know that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) threatens our future as a same-sex bi-national couple.
For having grown up in a religiously devout family in rural New Mexico, my “coming out” was by and large a seamless transition. Thanks to an uncle of mine who was brave enough to come out decades earlier, my loving family made my experience as normal and blessed as any other. As I grew into adulthood, they were there for the highs and lows of dating and life in general.
More than 5,000 miles across the globe in Cordoba, Argentina, Emilio had his own experience and struggle to come into his identity. Although his experience was much more complicated than my own, the hardships he faced ultimately led us both to be in the same place at the same time. I have always envied Emilio’s incredible bravery and ability to take a blind leap of faith, never knowing what lies ahead. Emilio took the first of such leaps in 2003 when he decided to leave Argentina – his mom, brother, and all he had ever known – to move to Albuquerque, New Mexico with his dad, step-mom and baby sister. That single decision brought us within 100 miles of each other.
We know now that there were probably many opportunities to have met before we finally did. During high school, we were both involved in Student Council, which brought together high schools from across New Mexico, yet somehow, we never attended the same event. After high school, we both enrolled at the University of New Mexico where we surely crossed paths, perhaps on a daily basis on campus. Nevertheless, we never seemed to notice one other. It was not until a summer night in 2008, when we were both out at a popular nightclub with our respective friends, that one of us noticed the other at all.
Emilio remembers seeing me entering the building with a friend of mine and shouting at me to get my attention. However, I did not see him and walked away. Weeks later, he was scrolling the social network MySpace and my profile randomly came up. Emilio immediately recognized my face as “the guy who walked away”. In typical Emilio fashion, he decided to take a shot in the dark and send me a message just to tell me that he thought I was cute. I am so glad that he did because it changed my life.
After some time of back and forth communication, we exchanged numbers and made plans for our first date. I remember being incredibly nervous and not knowing what to expect. Sure we communicated great via text, but would we hit it off in person? He had seen me in person, but I had never seen him except for in photographs. I was excited yet completely terrified to meet him. My memory of the date is exceptionally vivid till this day. He talked and I listened. He talked some more, and some more… Basically Emilio just loves to talk; his charisma is one of the most attractive things about him for me. It helps that he also has the sexiest accent ever.
In a lot of ways, we really were not either of each other’s type on paper. He was free spirited, extroverted, tattooed, pierced and studying psychology. I was über-structured, introverted, clean cut and studying political science. Nevertheless, it worked against all odds.
Over the next several years our relationship took off. After some time, he met my entire family and I met his family in Albuquerque. I also traveled to Argentina with him for Christmas break in 2009 where I met the rest of his beautiful family and his hometown. Months after our trip to Argentina, we moved in together. Since then we have shared countless holidays, birthdays, vacations, and family events together. We grew as a couple and endured painful losses. Together we were able to accomplish anything we set our minds to. Nevertheless, one seemingly insurmountable obstacle stood in our way: DOMA and Emilio’s immigration status in this country.
Emilio’s dad and step-mom came to the United States with intentions to return to Argentina someday. When plans changed and the family decided to make the United States their permanent home (through an immigration petition from his step-mom’s employer) Emilio had already turned twenty-one years old, and so thus missed out on the swift path to a green card that would come from being the child of a legal permanent resident. Emilio was ultimately forced to wait at the back of a 5-year waiting list for a green card that would allow him permanent residency in the U.S. This situation makes building a stable life together very difficult, to say the least.
Our first scare in this nightmare came in 2011 when we both graduated from the University of New Mexico. What was supposed to be a sheer period of joy in our accomplishments was laced with fear and anxiety. Emilio was (and still is) here on a F-1 student visa. In order for him to be able to remain here with me, he must remain a student or return home to wait for an uncertain amount of years until he is able to return through his parent’s pending petition. Though he had been here since age fourteen, feels more American than Argentinean, and had been with me for three years; Emilio’s only option was to gain acceptance into a graduate program.
The normal anxieties of a graduate admissions process were exacerbated by the reality that our very relationship and even my future in my own country would be decided by a committee of professors and admissions officers we had never even met. Though we worked relentlessly to keep each other optimistic of a positive outcome, it was truly the most frightening experience of our young lives.
After all was said and done, Emilio was accepted to graduate school and we swiftly made the move to Oakland, California in August, 2011. Emilio has been attending the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco ever since. However, this chapter in our life together will end in May 2014 when Emilio graduates with his Master’s degree. Once again, our backs will be up against the wall. We have two options and no room for error. Unfortunately, the green card waiting time has virtually gone unchanged in the past few years, and DOMA still stands as the law of the land. Now, Emilio must either enter a Ph.D. program or we will have to seek exile in Argentina and wait for DOMA to be struck down or repealed before we could return.
I aspire to be an immigration attorney, in part as a result of our experience together. However, I have been forced to put this dream on hold in light of the threat that Emilio may be forced to leave the country we call home. In addition, given work restrictions on international students, I have been forced to carry an overwhelming majority of the financial responsibility for the two of us. As a result, I have sometimes had to work multiple twelve-hour shifts per week in order to cover the cost of living in the Bay Area. Although Emilio has made incredible strides to put himself in a position to secure employment upon graduation, it is a real possibility he will have to decline every offer for lack of a permanent legal status and the employment authorization that would allow him to capitalize on all of his hard work. It has been hard on me, but I know it’s not easy for him either. Nonetheless, we continue to power through it every week because the alternative – to be separated by over 5,000 miles – is simply not an option.
If and when Section 3 of DOMA and California’s Proposition 8 were ruled unconstitutional, Emilio and I plan to get married in San Francisco with our closest friends and family in attendance. Shortly after that, we would file for the immigration benefits we deserve with the intention of securing a green card prior to Emilio’s graduation. At that time, it would most certainly lift the weight of the world off our shoulders. The looming uncertainty we have lived with for the past five years would be gone. Emilio could focus solely on securing employment post-graduation, instead of worrying about how he will stay with me and his family that are still in New Mexico. I would finally be able to move forward with the dream I have left on hold with the peace of mind that we will never be forced to pack up and leave if we do not choose to do so ourselves.
Today, we are sharing our story because we believe it is important for the world to know what’s at stake in the upcoming Supreme Court decision DOMA. Our story may not be over yet, but we are determined that it will have a happy ending. Please join us by sharing our story. Every person we reach brings all binational couples like us closer to our dream of a life together.