PRESS RELEASE: Same-Sex Couple Raising Three Children in Colorado Becomes the First in the U.S. to Receive a Marriage-Based Green Card After Immigration Interview in January

USCIS Issues a Green Card to the Irish Spouse of a Lesbian U.S. Citizen

On July 3, 2013, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued a green card for Cathy Davis based on her marriage to Catriona Dowling, making Cathy the first immigrant to become a permanent resident in the U.S. through marriage to her same-sex spouse.

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Cathy and Catriona are raising three children together in Boulder, Colorado: Cian (6), Mardoche (11), and Angelina (9).

Catriona Dowling and Cathy Davis joined The DOMA Project and filed a green card petition based on their marriage in June of 2012 to prevent their family from being torn apart and to demand equality under the law. They were running out of options last year when the extension of Cathy’s work visa was denied. After filing the green card petition and the application to adjust status to permanent residence, Cathy received an employment authorization card which allowed her to work and contribute financially to support her family.  The couple was scheduled for a “green card” interview with USCIS in Denver on January 9, 2013. They were told by the Immigration Officer, who thoroughly reviewed their documentation, that their case could have been approved that day if they had been a man and a woman. However, 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.

Speaking from their home in Colorado on July 3rd, Catriona and Cathy said:

“We’re very excited and relieved, we’re over the moon for ourselves and for all families seeking equality. We set up an InfoPass appointment because there had been no action on our case since the DOMA ruling by the Supreme Court a week ago. With the statement from Secretary Janet Napolitano in hand, we wanted to ask why our case had not yet been approved since DOMA had been the only obstacle. Our InfoPass appointment was for 10:45 a.m. We brought our children with us in the hope that we would walk out of the USCIS Field Office with good news and a future to plan. We entered the waiting room at 10:40 a.m. and waited with others to be called to a window.”

Catriona described what it was like the moment they were called to the USCIS window:

“At 10:55 a.m. we were called to the window. The officer at the other side of the window began to log our information into the computer when another officer appeared, introducing herself as the Supervisor, and declared that ‘as of one minute ago’ Cathy’s green card had been approved. The time was 11:00 a.m. I immediately yelled out and began to cry, Cathy was more stunned with the news and quiet for that moment, which led the Supervisor to assume that I was the immigrant spouse. She explained that production of the green card had been ordered and it would soon arrive by mail; she also explained that Cathy could apply for American citizenship in three years, on July 3, 2016.

When we’re asked why we took this route and fought for this green card with the help of The DOMA Project we say: ‘Family is worth fighting for, and our family deserves the same rights as all other families, it’s that simple. It doesn’t take courage to fight for your family, it’s a responsibility.’”

Earlier this year, Cathy and Catriona were featured among several other families 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. The series focuses on lesbian and gay couples across America asserting their own inherent equality by petitioning for green cards based on their marriages and demanding that the U.S. government treat them no differently than opposite sex couples under federal law.

Just last week, 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.

Just two days later, the first “stand alone” green-card petition was approved on June 28, 2013, for another couple working with The DOMA Project: Julian Marsh and Traian Popov in 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.) 

Cathy and Catriona are the first same-sex couple to have a marriage-based green card issued by USCIS. Cathy Davis will forever be the first person to have shattered this barrier.

Coincidentally, Richard Adams and Anthony Sullivan, the first gay couple to wage a fight against the Immigration Service were married in Boulder, Colorado, in 1975. They filed green card petition and assert that their legal marriage must be recognized for purposes of the immigration law.  Although they 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 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 Cathy and Catriona and inspired thousands of others who have take up the cause of equality for LGBT families.

Statement by Lavi Soloway, Attorney and Co-Founder of the DOMA Project:

“Seven days after the Supreme Court struck down DOMA, a green card has been issued to Cathy Davis. She is the first same-sex spouse of an American citizen ever to receive a green card, and as such she will forever occupy an important place in the history of our civil rights movement. She and her spouse, Catriona, did not wait for change to come. They fought back by standing up to a powerful federal government agency that refused to recognized their marriage or their family. 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. They were determined to protect their children and build a future together in this country, and they succeeded in making history.

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.

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, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy held that, “[DOMA] tells those couples, and all the world, that their otherwise valid marriages are unworthy of federal recognition. This places same-sex couples in an unstable position of being in a second-tier marriage… And it humiliates tens of thousands of children now being raised by same-sex couples. The law in question makes it even more difficult for the children to understand the integrity and closeness of their own family and its concord with other families in their community and in their daily lives.”

By issuing a green card to Cathy Davis on the basis of her marriage to Catriona, the U.S. government is finally recognizing the inherent dignity of this family, and giving tangible meaning to Justice Kennedy’s ruling.”


ADDENDUM TO JULY 4, 2013 PRESS RELEASE

LOVE AT THE MOUNTAIN TOP: CATHY AND CATRIONA FIGHT FOR THEIR FUTURE AND THEIR FAMILY

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Cathy, Catriona, Mardoche, Cian, Angelina at the USCIS Office in Denver on July 3, 2013

Currently residing in Boulder, Colorado, Catriona and Cathy first met in 2006 on a mountain-climbing expedition in the Himalayas. Though Cathy lived in Dublin, Ireland, and Catriona lived in Colorado, they had an instant connection. After returning to their respective homes, they began a long-distance relationship, falling in love and visiting each other as often as they could. Their exhilarating reunions ended with tearful goodbyes, then long separations. As with many gay binational couples, it was only when they found themselves searching for a way to be together that they realized the severity of their situation. Until the Defense of Marriage Act Section 3 (DOMA) was struck down by the Supreme Court last month, U.S. immigration law did not provide any way for a gay or lesbian American to sponsor his or her foreign-born partner to live and work in the U.S.

Finally, after two years, Cathy secured a work visa when a hospital in San Antonio, Texas, sponsored her to work as a nurse. Cathy was promoted, and her employer petitioned for an extension of her visa.

In January 2012, the Immigration Service denied the extension of Cathy’s work visa, forcing Cathy and Catriona to make a heartbreaking choice: Either Cathy would remain in the United States without lawful status, or she would move back to Ireland leaving behind Catriona and the children. Unwilling to allow their family to be torn apart, Catriona and Cathy decided that Cathy would stay and that they would fight for the right for their family to be together.

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Cathy and Catriona on the day of their green card interview on January 9, 2013

Their first step was to get married. They could not do this in their home state of Texas. They had decided to relocate back to Boulder, but Colorado also has a constitutional ban in place against marriages between people of the same sex. In May 2012, Cathy and Catriona married in Council Bluffs, Iowa.

Catriona recalls,

“It was a very special day that allowed us as a couple to declare publicly what we had already declared in private six years prior: our love and commitment to each other.”

With their family settled back into their beloved mountain town, Boulder, Catriona filed a green card petition for Cathy, just as any other American would do for their foreign-born spouse. Despite the possibility that their case could have been denied due to the Defense of Marriage Act, they persisted, determined to protect their future as a family. With hundreds of other couples, they joined The DOMA Project to fight for a secure future for their family. USCIS interviewed Cathy and Catriona January 9, 2013 based on the green card petition filed by Catriona.

Shortly after the interview, Catriona shared her reaction with The DOMA Project:

“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.”

Earlier this year, Cathy and Catriona were featured among several other families 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 and Lavi Soloway and The DOMA Project . The series focus on LGBT couples from across America asserting their equality by petitioning for green cards based on their marriages and demanding that the U.S. government treat them no differently than opposite sex couples under federal law.

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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.

For more information or to schedule an interview, please contact Project Associate Derek Tripp or Lavi Soloway, attorney and co-founder of The DOMA Project.

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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.