Gay Couple in LA Receives a Marriage-Based Green Card Just Two Weeks After Supreme Court Strikes Down DOMA
USCIS Issues Green Card to British Spouse of Gay U.S. Citizen, Ending Their 13-Year Struggle to be Together
On July 11, 2013, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued a green card to U.K. citizen, Shaun Stent, based on his marriage to American citizen, John Catuara, making Shaun the second gay immigrant in U.S. history to become a lawful permanent resident on the basis of a same-sex marriage. The couple have been together since 2001. They married in January 2012, and have struggled for 13 years to be together in this country.
John Catuara and Shaun Stent during their green card interview on April 23, 2013
John Catuara and Shaun Stent joined The DOMA Project and filed a green card petition based on their January 2012 marriage in order to prevent their family from being torn apart and to join other binational couples in demanding equality under the law.
John shared the story of how they met on the DOMA Project website:
“By the time I reached my mid 50s, I had begun to let go the hope of finding a life partner. Maybe it was a combination of society’s views of gays, combined with the scars of a Catholic upbringing, that left me feeling I did not deserve what most people had. All that changed when Shaun entered my life.”
After an online friendship developed, they first saw each other in person in January 11, 2001. John wrote about that day:
“… when he first saw me he was a little afraid, as I was bouncing up and down with excitement. If I was, it was nerves. In person he looked even better than his photos. As we ate lunch my hand began to tremble with joy. He reached over, took my hand and looking directly into my eyes, he whispering in his British accent, “It is OK, just relax”. Our lunch went so well, that Shaun altered his plans and spent his final week with me. It was then that we knew that this was more than just friendship.”
For the next decade Shaun and John lived what they called two half-lives: one half together, and the other half alone. Shaun would spend three months in the U.S. and three months in the U.K., separated from John by 5,000 miles.
In 2002 Shaun was stopped on entry to the U.S. and detained. Immigration Officers questioned him for hours at the airport. Eventually he was allowed to stay for six weeks but told he would no longer be able to use a “visa waiver program” to visit. He was told that he must apply for an actual visitor’s visa at the U.S. Embassy in London. Shaun did as told, and he received the visa; but several more times he was detained, sometimes for as long as five hours. While Shaun was detained and interrogated, John would be left waiting at arrivals, without any news, each time not knowing whether Shaun would be allowed to visit.
Once an airline representative threatened Shaun, saying that he was going to be handcuffed, taken to a detention center and flown back to the U.K. the next day. Every time he was detained, Shaun cut back the time he would spend in the U.S. hoping this would better his chances for another visit.
Shaun would ask immigration, how long he could visit without it being a problem. He was told, “You are just coming here too often,” or “visit here less than expected.” He was never given a clear rule to follow and this ambiguity left him with no certainty and filled him with anxiety.
The trauma of the constant travel and separations, the confrontations with border officials, and the mistreatment he had suffered on occasion, had a serious effect on Shaun’s health. He would sink into deep depressions as his visits came to an end and his departure from the U.S. came nearer. Before his next return trip to the U.S., his fear of immigration would consume him to the point of not being able to eat or sleep. Each time Shaun became convinced that he would be denied entry and banned from returning to the US for ten years.
Twice a year, for ten years, they repeated this grueling routine. Shaun would stand in a line and John would be left waiting, hoping that they would be allowed to continue their lives together. John and Shaun were both all too aware that at any time, a U.S. Customs and Border Protections officer could destroy what they had worked so hard to build together.
In 2011, John faced a cancer scare, with the possibility of surgery, and was forced to face it alone without Shaun by his side through the experience. In January 2012 they celebrated their 11th anniversary as a couple. To coincide with this milestone they traveled from LA to New York and were married. On a stop over during the flight home, they were subjected to questioning by TSA.
John writes about the experience:
“As an American citizen, I have never been questioned in that manner. It was intrusive and spoken with an intimidating tone. For the first time I saw a little of what Shaun has faced each time he entered the US. Although we were not technically being interrogated by immigration officers, the worst fears ran through our mind. We both panicked, fearing that if they found our marriage license in our possessions Shaun may be sent to a detention center for displaying intent to remain in the United States while he was a visitor; we had read that had happened to others. The fear in Shaun’s eyes was so intense, that I made up my mind that this had to stop! We could no longer live this way.”
That encounter was the turning point that drove John and Shaun to speak out against the injustice by joining The DOMA Project and to file for the green card based on their marriage.
This short video of John and Shaun’s 2012 wedding reception was featured as the first installment in the series of short films called ‘Love Stories: Binational Couples on the Front Lines Against DOMA,’ produced by Brynn Gelbard and The DeVote Campaign in collaboration with The DOMA Project.
John and Shaun attended a “green card” interview with USCIS on April 23, 2013. They were the first married same-sex couple green card interviewed at the Los Angeles Field Office. The interviewing officer put the case on hold at the request of the couple’s attorney, DOMA Project co-founder, Lavi Soloway, rather than issuing a denial based on DOMA.
On July 11 the USCIS issued an approval of Shaun Stent’s green card application and ordered production of the card itself. It will arrive by mail in a few days.
Battling DOMA: John and Shaun, Married Gay Couple Fighting For Green Card in Los Angeles, Meet with Elected Officials to Urge the USCIS Not to Deny Their Petition.
On July 11, Shaun and John won their fight of thirteen years. Shaun Stent was granted a green card based on his marriage to John Catuara.
Speaking from their home in Los Angeles John and Shaun reacted to the news:
“We are both happy and relieved that our thirteen-year battle has finally ended. We have had so much support from people over the years and we want to thank them all. However, for us the victory will only be complete when all same-sex married binational couples are united and have the chance to enjoy the same peace of mind we now have.”
Just last month, on June 26, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a law that prohibited the federal government from recognizing marriages of same-sex couples for all purposes including immigration benefits, as a violation of the equal protection guarantee of the U.S. Constitution.
John and Shaun follow in the footsteps of married lesbian couple in Colorado, Cathy and Catriona, who, last week, became the first same-sex couple to be issued a green card. They are also continuing the legacy of an 1975 binational gay couple, Richard Adams and Anthony Sullivan, the first to file green card petition and assert that their legal marriage must be recognized for purposes of immigration law. In 1975, Adams and Sullivan received a denial letter from the Immigration Service office in Los Angeles, where they lived, stating that “[Adams and Sullivan] have failed to establish that a bona fide marital relationship can exist between two faggots.”
It is the same Los Angeles office that granted a green card to Shaun Stent this week.
Although Richard Adams and Anthony Sullivan were unsuccessful in their lawsuit against the Immigration Service, they are widely respected as pioneers in the movement for marriage equality and immigration rights for lesbian and gay binational couples. Adams and Sullivan, who, like Shaun and John, lived in Los Angeles, were together as a couple for more than 40 years until the death of Richard Adams in December. They blazed a trail for Shaun and John and inspired thousands of others who have taken up the cause of equality for LGBT families.
John Catuara, Shaun Stent, Anthony Sullivan, the DOMA Project volunteer Donna Gough and The DOMA Project Associate Derek Tripp at Los Angeles Pride in July 2013.
Just two days after the Supreme Court decision that struck down DOMA, the first “stand alone” green-card petition was approved on June 28, 2013, for another gay couple working with The DOMA Project: Julian Marsh and Traian Popov of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. (Approval of a green card petition filed by a U.S. citizen is the first of a two-part process through which the spouse obtains status as a “lawful permanent resident” and receives the actual green card. Marsh and Popov will complete the second part and receive a green card later this year.)
A second “stand alone” green card petition was approved for Tom Smeraldo, a gay American living in forced exile in Canada with his Venezuelan husband, Emilio Ojeda. They left the U.S. six years ago to avoid the deportation of Ojeda to Venezuela.
Statement by Lavi Soloway, Attorney and Co-Founder of the DOMA Project:
“Fifteen days after the Supreme Court struck down DOMA, a green card has been issued to Shaun Stent, making him only the second same-sex spouse of an American citizen ever to receive a marriage-based green card. Shaun and John fought back by standing up to a powerful federal government agency that refused to recognize their marriage. After a decade of exhausting and expensive travel between the U.K. and Los Angeles that required long separations, the couple decided to fight back. They refused to allow the government to treat them as though they were unmarried, and refused to allow their family to be torn apart by a discriminatory law.
The issuance of this green card is the culmination of a two-decade grassroots movement in which lesbian and gay Americans fought for the right to sponsor the person that they love for permanent resident status in the United States. It is also the final chapter in a fight for equality that began in 1975 when the first married gay couple, Anthony Sullivan and Richard Adams, sued the U.S. government for a green card and lost.
For the first time in our nation’s history, lesbian and gay binational couples and their families celebrated the Fourth of July this year having achieved freedom from a cruel law that has torn apart loving, committed couples, forced lesbian and gay Americans into exile to be with the person they love and has resulted in the unconscionable deportation of partners and spouses of lesbian and gay Americans.
The long nightmare is over.
In striking down DOMA in United States v Windsor, Supreme Court Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy held that:
“The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity.”
By issuing a green card to Shaun Stent on the basis of his marriage to John Catuara, the U.S. government is finally recognizing the inherent dignity of this family, and giving tangible meaning to Justice Kennedy’s ruling.”
Since it was founded in 2010 by attorneys Lavi Soloway and Noemi Masliah, The DOMA Project has filed almost 100 green card petitions for same-sex couples affected by DOMA. USCIS has announced that will soon issue guidance for all DOMA-impacted immigration cases. The DOMA Project is working closely with members of Congress and with the Obama administration to ensure that all petitions and applications filed by lesbian and gay couples are processed as quickly as possible.