Brian & Anton Face Final Deportation Decision on Oct 7 Will New Guidelines Protect This Gay Couple As Promised?

Read this excellent article by Jen Coletta yesterday in the Phildelphia Gay News here and GLAAD’s blog posting urging action in support of Brian and Anton here. See also, our previous summary, The First Big Test: Will The Obama Administration’s New Deportation Rules Come in Time for Brian & Anton?

Together for 8 Years and Married, Donald and Arthur Face DOMA Deportation Proceedings in Miami Tomorrow

Stop the Deportations co-founder, Lavi Soloway, will appear in a Miami courtroom on Thursday September 8 to fight for the right of Donald and Arthur to remain together in this country. Arthur has lived in this country for over 16 years, and if it were not for DOMA he would already have a green card. We will make the court aware that the U.S. Department of Justice explicitly argued for the first time on September 2 in a Federal District Court filing that DOMA is unconstitutional in this context. For more information on DOJ’s historic September 2 filing see here

(Originally posted on May 10, 2011)
From Donald:

Donald and Arthur will appear in Immigration Court in Miami on September 8
for a deportation hearing. Please help us save their marriage!

Arthur and I met just after he had lost someone very important in his life. I was a shopkeeper, and later the assistant manager for a video and clothing store where Arthur shopped for music primarily. At that same time I was working part time as the secretary of The Episcopal Church of the Intercession. I have always felt that my faith has strengthened me; it has always given me great victory over my physical health challenges and allowed me to keep my mind positive.

I held and comforted Arthur many nights in order that he might find some inner peace following the abrupt loss of a great love in his life. He was nearly inconsolable in those times. We listened to so very many great songs and mixes in those days. Arthur would help me order and choose which loud dance music and which new mixes and DJs were going to be hot that year. Together, we did everything. We realized we loved the same things. It was around about the year 2002 and I was in love with Arthur. By the next year we were boyfriends.

By this time Arthur had told me he was here on a work visa and had been on various visas at various prestigious companies. I shared with him my inner need to travel some day and also told him my ultimate vacation destination was Angel Falls in Venezuela. He lit up and told me all about it. He told me he’d seen it up close. I was so envious and this seemed so much like a match made in heaven.
Continue reading here.

For the First Time, the Obama Justice Department Argues that DOMA is Unconstitutional When Applied to Binational Lesbian and Gay Couples Filing I-130 Petitions

On Friday, just as most of us began to settle in for the Labor Day holiday weekend, the Department of Justice filed a brief in Federal District Court in California arguing that is a violation of the United States Constitution to deny I-130 Alien Relative Petitions filed by lesbian and gay U.S. citizens for their foreign born spouses.

The filing multiplies the ironies and cognitive dissonance of an administration that will continue to enforce DOMA against married binational couples while taking an increasingly aggressive legal and rhetorical position that DOMA is unconstitutional. The Obama Justice Department filed the brief on behalf of the following named defendants: on behalf of the named defendants: Attorney General Eric Holder, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, USCIS Director Alejandro Mayorkas, and the Los Angeles USCIS District Director, Jane Arellano. Essentially, Justice Department Attorneys are arguing that none of these Defendants should be enforcing DOMA because it is unconstitutional. 

This is the first time the DOJ has filed a brief arguing that DOMA is unconstitutional specifically in the immigration context. DOJ filed this brief in support of a binational couple in California who are suing the federal government because their I-130 was denied on the basis that DOMA prohibits USCIS from recognizing their marriage. Essentially DOJ argues that USCIS should be approving I-130 petitions filed by same-sex couples, because to discriminate against lesbian and gay couples in this context is impermissible under the U.S. Constitution. DOJ further argued that the three decade old case of Adams v Howerton was no longer applicable precedent and that the “plenary power” of Congress to regulate immigration do not permit discrimination against married gay and lesbian binational couples.

Chris Geidner at MetroWeekly has published two articles today which are a must-read for those who have followed closely the developments since the Obama administration’s February 23 refusal to defend DOMA. (See Defending DOMA, Fighting Back and DOJ Argues DOMA’s Unconstitutionality Holds, Even In Immigration Context, Metro Weekly, September 6, 2011.)

While this development may have implications for couples who are appealing denials of I-130s to the Board of Immigration Appeals, or seeking to have proceedings re-opened on the basis of pending I-130s, it does not change the reality that I-130s will continue to be denied. Lesbian and gay couples who file on the basis of their marriages will continue to risk deportation, or limit their ability to qualify for other visas. We continue to urge all couples to consult with competent legal counsel with expertise in issues relating to DOMA and immigration.

Read the entire DOJ brief here.

The First Big Test: Will The Obama Administration’s New Deportation Rules Come in Time for Brian & Anton?

Brian & Anton will spend the next 38 days waiting for a phone call from ICE that may never come.

For the second time this year, Anton Tanumihardja, an Indonesian citizen, and his American husband, Brian Andersen, face the terrifying prospect of a deportation that will destroy their marriage. After losing a nine-year legal battle for asylum, Anton was given a “final order of removal” that may be executed on October 7.

Although this administration recently announced a “kinder, gentler” deportation policy with “prosecutorial discretion” guidelines that include same-sex binational couples, Brian & Anton will still wait anxiously for another month to learn whether this policy will be properly applied in Anton’s case.

Brian and Anton’s case will be the first real test of the administration’s commitment to stop deportations involving same-sex binational couples since the August 18 announcement by DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, promising to set-aside low-priority deportation cases. It will also give us a first opportunity to confirm whether individual ICE Deportation Officers implement the LGBT-inclusive prosecutorial discretion guidelines for an individual with a final order of removal.

Unlike the two history-making cases (Henry & Josh, Doug & Alex) in which Stop The Deportations has won “administrative closure” this year, Anton’s case is significantly further along in the legal process. Anton has exhausted all his appeals and recently received a final denial of his last appeal. Because Anton has a “final order of removal” ICE has the power to put him on a plane and deport him at any time.

Will ICE Deportations and Removals Officers apply the prosecutorial discretion guidelines to protect this married gay couple from being torn apart?  As part of the Stop The Deportations campaign, Brian and Anton will use every day that remains to ensure that Anton is granted “deferred action” and to ensure that the Obama administration’s commitment to same-sex binational couples facing deportation has tangible results.

Earlier this year, Brian and Anton faced the cruel coincidence of a deportation scheduled for Valentine’s Day. Anton, with his bags packed and his one-way plane ticket in hand, was prepared to follow ICE’s instructions: board a plane voluntarily on February 14 or be taken into custody and forcibly deported, even though he knew that by boarding that plane he would be separated from Brian for at least ten years. Stop The Deportations, GLAAD and other LGBT groups mounted an emergency advocacy with the support of U.S. Senator Robert Casey (D-PA) and Philadelphia Congressman Robert Brady (D-PA) to raise the profile of the case and persuade ICE to reconsider the case.

Just three hours before Anton’s flight to Jakarta was scheduled to take off, ICE finally agreed to postpone the deportation. Anton was put under an order of supervision and was not held in ICE custody. At regular intervals he was required to check in with his Deportation Officer at the local Deportations and Removals Operations office of ICE.  Officially, ICE allowed Anton to stay until a final decision was made by the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) on a Motion to Reopen that had been filed in 2010. In fact, deportations are routinely carried out even in cases where there such motions are pending, so it seemed likely that ICE was, at least in part, responding to the specific humanitarian circumstances faced by Brian and Anton. This gave them hope that they would have a future together.

Photo by Jeff Fusco/Philadelphia Weekly

Unfortunately, in early June, Anton learned that the BIA had denied his final appeal. The couple was devastated, but they decided to go forward with their planned wedding. On June 12, Brian and Anton were married in the company of friends in Lafayette Park across the street from the White House. Brian immediately filed a marriage-based I-130 petition for Anton, joining our DOMA challenge.

On August 25, Anton went to see his Deportation Officer for his first supervised check-in since the BIA denial prepared to submit a request for “deferred action.” It had only been a few days since Secretary Napolitano announced that the administration would review all pending deportation cases, including those with final orders of removal.  Still, Brian & Anton could not sleep the night before; they worried that ICE in Philadelphia would not know how to apply the prosecutorial discretion rules to gay couples.  Their fears turned out to be well-founded. The officer was kind and co-operative, but he was not sure how to proceed given that these guidelines were new.

After conferring with his supervisor for 45 minutes, the officer returned to tell them that no decision could be made on that day. He instructed Anton to return on October 7 and advised him that there was a strong chance that on that day he would informing him that he deportation would proceed.

Once again, the clock is ticking on Brian and Anton’s marriage. It does not have to be this way.

Anton & Brian on their wedding day

Anton is a prime candidate for “deferred action.” He has never committed a crime, he has strong ties to Philadelphia, he has close family ties to his husband, Brian, and Brian’s family. He has been here for nine years and has worked hard and paid taxes.  Finally, conditions in Indonesia would make return to that country not only dangerous for Anton as a gay man who is also a member of the Chinese Christian minority, but would make it impossible for Brian to join him. Not only does Indonesia not provide for the immigration of same-sex spouses or partners of its citizens, but a conspicuous, openly gay couple like Brian and Anton would be vulnerable to abuse and harm.

Brian and Anton should not have to wait until October 7 to learn whether their lives will be torn apart.  We urge the administration to make good on their promise to exercise discretion and stop deportations that tear apart LGBT families.  The Department of Homeland Security can do this today by directing the Philadelphia ICE office to make a decision on Anton’s request for deferred action now.

Victory for Doug and Alex! Government Drops Deportation Proceedings Against Married Gay California Couple

San Francisco Immigration Judge Grants Government Motion to Close Deportation Case Against Alex Benshimol

We learned today that deportation proceedings that threatened to tear apart Alex Benshimol and Douglas Gentry, a married gay binational couple in California, have been dropped by the government. This marks the second time in which Immigration and Customs Enforcement has agreed to close a deportation case involving a married same-sex couple, and the first such case to occur pursuant to the June 17 prosecutorial discretion guidelines issued by ICE Director John Morton.

Statement from Lavi Soloway:

Alex & Doug protest outside
San Francisco Immigration Court on July 13

“For the second time this year, Immigration and Customs Enforcement has dropped deportation proceedings against a married gay binational couple who courageously fought a high profile campaign as part of the Stop The Deportations – The DOMA Project.

This demonstrates that an interim solution can be achieved for married lesbian and gay binational couples facing deportation when ICE fairly applies its own guidelines and decides not to pursue deportation. By halting this deportation, ICE prevents a marriage from being torn part by DOMA, a statute that the President and the Attorney General have determined to be unconstitutional.

On July 13, Alex Benshimol and Doug Gentry of Cathedral City, California, appeared before San Francisco Immigration Judge Marilyn Teeter for their deportation hearing. Judge Teeter instructed the government to respond within 60 days to our lengthy and detailed request for administrative closure. Judge Teeter scheduled the next hearing for September 2013, postponing deportation proceedings for more than two years in the event that the government did not agree to close the case. On August 11, the Judge received and granted the government’s Motion to Administratively Close deportation proceedings against Venezuelan Alex Benshimol. We received the decision today. This effectively ends the nightmare faced by Alex and his American husband, Doug Gentry.

On August 18, Secretary Janet Napolitano announced a case-by-case review of all current and future deportation cases.

Another DOMA deportation has been stopped, following a year-long campaign by the Stop The Deportations – The DOMA Project. While we have been successful at preventing DOMA from destroying marriages, one victory at a time, we still call on the Obama administration to institute a uniform policy in the form of a moratorium on all DOMA deportations that will make these case by case determinations unnecessary.

We are cautiously optimistic after the announcement this week by Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Homeland Security, that all 300,000 pending deportation cases will be reviewed for possible closure, including those impacting LGBT families. However, we do not yet know the mechanics of that process, nor how long it will take for the government working group to carry out its mission. In the meantime, we must continue to fight for each couple and for an end to DOMA deportations across the board.”

Statement from Doug Gentry and Alex Benshimol:

“Alex and I are tremendously happy with Judge Teeter’s ruling. It’s like waking up from a bad dream. We’ve spent so many sleepless nights and lived with fear and anxiety. For ICE to exercise discretion and agree to close the case is extremely encouraging. This should bring hope to so many couples in our situation. As happy as Alex is, he’s still uncertain. We will still have to fight for full equality because DOMA prevents me from petitioning for his green card. But the constant fear of exile or separation is over, and for that we’re very grateful. “


On July 13th 2011, Venezuelan native Alex Benshimol and U.S. citizen Doug Gentry stood hand-in-hand outside the federal building on Montgomery Street in San Francisco. The couple was surrounded by friends, family, advocates and supporters who came together in protest against a DOMA deportation that would destroy their marriage. Journalists and press took videos and pictures documenting the dedication of the chanting crowd, the face of 17,000 petition signers who urged the administration to take immediate action to ensure that married binational same-sex couples enjoy full equality and access to all the rights and priveleges afforded to opposite-sex binational couples under our immigration laws. The rally and petition in support of Doug & Alex was organized through the combined efforts of Stop the Deportations and Out4Immigation, GetEqual, Marriage Equality USA and many other organizations (see complete list at the bottom of this post).

Appearing before Immigration Marilyn Teeter, Soloway requested that the government exercise “prosecutorial discretion” to drop its case again Alex Benshimol. Specifically, Soloway asked that the government agree to “administrative closure,” which, if granted, would effectively end the deportation case against Alex. Soloway pointed to the June 17, 2011 memorandum from John Morton, the director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), to ICE officers, agents, and attorneys, which specifies the guidelines for exercising prosecutorial discretion in cases that are not enforcement priorities. Soloway asked the Judge not to proceed with the deportation case until the government responded to the request.

Soloway argued that multiple guidelines in the memo applied in Alex’s case (original memo text italicized):
Particular attention should be paid to plaintiffs in non-frivolous lawsuits involving civil rights.
Soloway argued that Alex and Doug were part of an advocacy campaign, namely, Stop the Deportations, that had filed I-130 marriage-based “green card” petitions in order to challenge the Defense of Marriage Act in pursuit of (equal) civil rights.
Whether the person has a U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse, child, or parent.
Soloway argued that Alex has a U.S. citizen spouse, Doug, who lawfully married Alex in Connecticut in 2010. They have been together ever since. Alex is also the stepfather to Doug’s two children who are both U.S. citizens.
The person’s ties and contributions to the community, including family relationships.
Soloway argued that Alex has strong community ties: he has a successful dog grooming business, is a well-respected member of his community, and many organizations have publicly supported his pursuit to stay in the country with his husband, Doug.
The person’s criminal history, including arrests, prior convictions, or outstanding arrest
Soloway noted that Alex has no criminal history, no arrests, convictions, outstanding arrests or charges.
The person’s ties to the home country and conditions in the country.
Soloway argued that Alex has no ties to his home country of Venezuela and has not lived there for 12 years. Venezuelan law makes not provision for the immigration of a same-sex spouse of a Venezuelan citizen, so if Alex were deported Doug would have no way of living in Venezuela with him. Furthermore, Soloway noted, Venezuela is not safe for LGBT people or Americans.

In response to Soloway’s request to administratively close the case, Judge Teeter laid out two options. Either the government could move to close the case within 60 days, or, Judge Teeter would revisit the case again in 27 months to settle the matter until the political landscape surrounding the Defense of Marriage Act had settled. On July 13 Doug and Alex left the courtroom relieved that the judge had given them a 26 month reprieve and optimistic that the government would drop the case altogether before September 12.

Only 16 days later, ICE notified the Immigration Judge that they would agree to close the case. The Judge received the goverment’s motion on August 11 and ruled on the Motion immediately ordering the proceedings administratively closed. Soloway received notice of the decision today.

For Doug and Alex this long ordeal is over. While they still fight for full equality, and a green card for Alex, they are safe in the knowledge that the government will not longer seek to deport Alex and destroy their marriage and the life they have built together for past six years.

Just two days ago, Janet Napolitano released a letter to Senator Harry Reid (NV-D), explaining that “the June 17th, 2011 prosecutorial discretion memorandum is being implemented to ensure that resources are uniformly focused on our highest priorities.” Secretary Napolitano specified by noting that these high priority cases are “those involving convicted felons.”

Secretary Napolitano’s letter explained that an inter-agency group had been established between the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security in order to do a case-by-case review of “all individuals currently in removal proceedings, to ensure that they constitute our highest priorities.” She notes that all future cases will be viewed in the same fashion, in order to be consistent with the priorities of the two departments. Perhaps most importantly, DHS clarified that the family unification considerations outlined in the June 17 memo did include LGBT families.

What does this mean?

Secretary Napolitano’s historic announcement takes us one step closer to a uniform policy that will end deportations of all spouses of lesbian and gay Americans. It puts the full power of the administration behind the enforcement of prosecutorial discretion rather than simply allowing each ICE attorney or deportation officer to decide whether and how that discretion should be exercised. By undertaking a review of all pending deportation cases at the highest level and clarifying that existing prosecutorial discretion guidelines include LGBT families, Secretary Napolitano will now have the opportunity to stop every deportation involving a lesbian or gay binational couple.

There is no question that DOMA is the sole obstacle to a green card for Alex and Doug. Alex came into the U.S. 12 years ago from Venezuela and overstayed a tourist visa, an immigration violation that straight binational couples can remedy once married. As a same-sex married couple, Doug and Alex do not have that option. Thousands of married binational couples, like Doug and Alex, are treated as legal strangers in the eyes of the federal government. Doug and Alex faced deportation proceedings for one reason only: the Defense of Marriage Act, a law President Obama has determined to be indefensible and unconstitutional and has called on the public to help repeal.

Tens of thousands of binational same-sex couples will celebrate this historic second victory following on that of Josh Vandiver & Henry Velandia in June. Again the administration has demonstrated it can prevent a married same-sex couple from being torn apart by a “DOMA deportation.” Secretary Napolitano’s announcement opens the path to further exercise of prosecutorial discretion in deportation cases, enabling same-sex married couples to stay together. However, we must continue to fight for each and every couple to ensure that no couple is separated by DOMA.

STOP THE DEPORTATIONS – THE DOMA PROJECT,  a campaign co-founded by attorney, Lavi Soloway in July 2010 along with his law partner, Noemi Masliah, has contributed to the trend of recent victories. For nearly two decades, Soloway has been the most prominent attorney and advocate on LGBT immigration law and policy in the United States. He has worked exclusively in this field since co-founding the non-profit organization, Immigration Equality, in 1993.

Our July 13, 2010 rally to stop the deportation of Alex Benshimol was also supported by Asian Pacific American Legal Center (APALC), Asian Pacific Islander Equality, Asian Pacific Islander Legal Outreach, Asian Law Caucus, Central American Resource Center (CARECEN), Chinese for Affirmative Action, Equality California, Immigration Equality, Love Honor Cherish, National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC), and San Francisco Immigrant Legal and Education Network (SFILEN).

Sujey and Violeta’s Victory, Beating Back DOMA Deportation Makes Big News in Denver

From left, Sujey and Violeta Pando and the Denver couple’s attorney, Lavi Soloway, walk into court Friday before a federal immigration judge postponed a decision on deportation of Sujey Pando.  The decision came a day after the Obama administration announced a policy change that makes cases like Sujey Pando’s a low priority. The Pandos were married in Iowa in 2010.  
(Karl Gehring, The Denver Post)

Complete article from Denver Post:

Shift in national immigration policy just in time for Denver woman facing deportation

By Felisa Cardona
The Denver Post
August 20, 2011

The Obama administration’s sudden shift in immigration policy had a tangible impact in a Denver courtroom Friday when a federal immigration judge delayed a deportation hearing for a lesbian fighting to stay in the country with her wife.

“I feel relief, and I thank the judge because she is a human being,” said Sujey Pando, who is trying to stay in the U.S. following a 2008 traffic stop that revealed her undocumented status.

Sujey Pando is one of 300,000 undocumented immigrants across the country who Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Thursday should begin to be considered “low priority” for deportation. Pando was facing the possibility of removal from the country, but the the immigration judge, Mimi Tsankov, postponed the hearing until January, citing Napolitano’s shift.

“The judge was not comfortable moving forward with so much at stake,” said Pando’s attorney, Lavi Soloway.

The status of undocumented immigrants who pose no security risk and came to the country as children should be reviewed on a case-by-case basis in compelling circumstances, Napolitano said in a letter to the Senate released Thursday.

The policy change includes consideration for immigrants who have familial ties to the U.S., including lesbian and gay families.

Critics of the plan say the White House is providing back-door amnesty to undocumented immigrants and overriding Congress’ authority on the issue.

Napolitano thinks easing up on those cases will let courts focus on security threats and undocumented immigrants with criminal records.

Over the next five months, prosecutors may be offered more guidance by the government as to how to proceed with Pando’s case.

Prosecutors could decide to allow Pando to live in the U.S. under certain conditions and drop the case against her, Soloway said.

Pando’s mother and stepfather brought her from Chihuahua, Mexico, into the U.S. when she was 16 and promptly kicked her out when she revealed she is a lesbian.

Her mother, who has permanent residency status, obtained citizenship for her three sons, but not her daughter, because she is gay.

In 2010, Pando, 34, traveled to Iowa so she could legally marry her longtime girlfriend Violeta Pando, a 27-year-old U.S. citizen. They live in Denver.

Sujey Pando works as a restaurant service manager, and Violeta Pando is a correctional case manager for felony offenders.

In November 2008, Sujey Pando forgot to use her turn signal while driving in Adams County, and police pulled her over. She didn’t have a valid driver’s license, and she didn’t lie to the officer about her status.

The police called Immigration and Customs Enforcement to pick her up, and she was jailed for 3 1/2 months.

“I was scared to go into that kind of facility because I am not used to that kind of life,” she said.

Violeta Pando says her government should be protecting her marriage instead of trying to destroy it.

“If I was straight they would be helping me keep her here,” she said. “I do feel relief today, and I am happy our marriage was being recognized a little bit at least.”

Victory for Sujey and Violeta Pando! Judge Halts Deportation, Sets January Date to Consider Application Based on Their Marriage

Lavi Soloway: “Today Denver Immigration Judge Mimi Tsankov halted the deportation of Sujey Pando and scheduled a new hearing to consider an application based on her marriage to her U.S. citizen wife, Violeta Pando. Because today’s hearing was intended to be a final decision day on Sujey’s deportation, the judge’s action was unusual; she spent 45 minutes methodically considering the procedural posture of the case.  In the end, the Judge set aside the intended purpose of the hearing, citing developments including the Attorney General’s intervention in a similar case in May (Matter of Dorman) and noted that the issues involved in this case existed in a context that was “fluid” and “in a state of flux.” The Judge referred to events that occurred as recent as yesterday as having an impact on how to proceed. Yesterday, the DHS Secretary Napolitano ordered a review of all pending deportation cases for possible closure, including those involving LGBT families.”

Sign Our Petition To Stop The Deportation of Sujey Pando

On August 19th in Denver, Violeta and Sujey Pando will face the worst nightmare for any lesbian or gay binational couple: a final deportation hearing in an Immigration Court. They are legally married, but Violeta, a U.S. citizen, cannot sponsor her spouse, Sujey, who is from Mexico, because of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). In fact, because of DOMA, this loving, committed couple of five years, who married last year in Iowa, may be torn apart by a judge’s order next Friday if action is not taken to prevent it from happening.

The President has said that DOMA is unconstitutional and has endorsed its repeal. The President must immediately direct the Department of Homeland Security to halt all deportation of spouses of lesbian and gay American citizens to prevent DOMA from destroying marriages. If Sujey Pando is deported she will be barred from returning to the U.S. for ten years.

None of this would be happening to an opposite-sex couple in the same situation.

Urge President Obama, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, and Attorney General Eric Holder to take action: exercise prosecutorial discretion, respect Violeta and Sujey’s marriage, and prevent this married lesbian couple from being torn apart.

Sign our petition to the President and send a message that we need immediate executive branch action to protect all lesbian and gay binational couples.

To help Sujey and Violeta further:

  • Follow STOP THE DEPORTATIONS: The DOMA Project for further updates

  • Call your elected officials to urge them to help couples like Violeta & Sujey Pando before Sujey’s final hearing on August 19th
    U.S. Representative Diana DeGette: 202.225.4431, Denver 303.844.4988
    U.S. Senator Michael Bennet: 202.224.5852, Denver 303.455.7600
    U.S. Senator Mark Udall: 202.224.5941, Denver 303.650.7820

  • Share our petition urging the officials to halt DOMA deportations. To share this petition via email, facebook, or twitter, use the buttons below.

Violeta & Sujey’s Fight Against DOMA Deportation Featured in Out Front Colorado

Read the complete article here. Read the Violeta and Sujey’s story in their own words here.

Sign this petition to President Obama asking him to halt the deportation of Sujey Pando and all spouses of lesbian and gay Americans.

Violeta and Sujey: Married, Lesbian Couple Fights DOMA Deportation in Denver, Final Hearing on August 19

My name is Violeta. I am a 27 year old American citizen. I live in Denver, Colorado where I was born. I hold a degree in Criminal Justice and work as a Correctional Case Manager. My wife, Sujey, and I, are one of the many same-sex couples who are threatened with being torn apart because of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Because of DOMA, I cannot pursue the most obvious solution which would be to petition for her as my spouse; instead we are fighting for asylum due to her past experiences of extreme harm that she suffered in Mexico and her fear of returning there. All our hopes are on this asylum application–a long, difficult and painful struggle for Sujey, who has had to re-live traumatic incidents of physical and sexual assaults–but there is no guarantee that it will be granted. What is so obvious, is that we should never have had to fight in this way at all. We have been together for almost 5 years as a couple and we are married. No American citizen should have to beg for protection for her spouse; the right to sponsor my spouse for a “green card” should be automatic for me as it is for all other American citizens.

On August 19th, an Immigration Judge in Denver will decide whether Sujey will be deported from the United States. This fact puts our life, our marriage, and our family into a state of complete chaos. Sujey has lived in the United States since she was brought here as a teenager, and she is fully a part of my family as any spouse can be. Why does my government insist on enforcing this unconstitutional law against me? If Sujey is deported she will be barred from the United States for ten years. TEN YEARS. There are no words to describe the anguish we feel as the days countdown to August 19th. We hope and pray for a miracle.

I met Sujey on November 2, 2006 at a gay club named El Protrero and from that day on we have never been apart. We had our first date the next day. Sujey was very supportive of me while I attended school and put in long hours studying. She would stay up late with me as I tried to get my homework done and would help me study and read my term papers. I loved her immediately. Two months later, Sujey and I moved in with each other; we were spending so much time with each other, our relationship was getting serious, and it made no sense to be paying two monthly rents. Our pets got along great, too. We quickly became one big a happy family. Together we now have 4 dogs, Honey, Briza, Akira and Rocko and 2 cats, Kissie and Soulen. We also have a red tail Boa, her name is Destiny.

I love Sujey with all my heart. I knew when we started dating that I had found true love for the first time in my life. I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her. We were engaged for two years, our plans for our wedding were still taking place at the time Sujey was picked up by immigration. Even though we knew that the federal government doesn’t recognize the marriages of same-sex couples, we knew just as strongly that we wanted to marry and move forward with our lives together as a family. As an engagement promise, we got tattoos with each other’s names. We planned for two years to get married in one of the states where marriage was legal for a same-sex couples. Finally the day came. Sujey and I married November 15, 2010 in Iowa. It was the happiest day of our lives.

Sujey and Violeta on their wedding day in Iowa, November 15, 2010

I learned of Sujey’s abusive childhood early in our relationship. Sujey has many personal issues due to all of her trauma, so there were times when we had to sit down and talk about things. I learned that Sujey was given away by her mother a few months after her birth and that Sujey was raised by her grandmother. And in her grandmother’s care, Sujey was the victim of extreme cruelty and abuse because she was a “tom boy.” One family member in particular was determined to show her “how to be a girl” and raped her repeatedly. No one could protect Sujey. Even the Mexican authorities refused to intervene.

As a little girl, Sujey loved sports. At school, however, she was often in too much pain from her abuse to play sports which would result in dismissal from class. At home, Sujey would get in trouble for being dismissed and would get beaten up by her uncle. Sujey has lasting physical injuries resulting from the physical and sexual abuse she suffered growing up in Mexico. Her history makes me want to cry when she talks about it, but I can’t cry in order to support her, I have to be strong and be as optimistic as possible. Some days it is very difficult to keep a positive attitude. I can see the fear in her eyes, sometimes she thinks that her tormentor will come to the United States to look for her. I have to calm her down and reassure that I am here for her and that she is safe.

Once, when she was 16, Sujey was thrown out of her house in Mexico and was forced to hide at a neighbor’s house for a few days. Desparate, she decided to call her mother, who by then resided in the United States. Her mother was married, but had never told her husband that she had left a daughter behind in Mexico. On the phone, Sujey’s mother refused to help her, but her mother’s husband intervened, to his credit, and forced Sujey’s mother to go to Mexico to get her. And that is how Sujey was brought to the United States, where for the first time she met her three American-born brothers. Her feeling of safety lasted only a short time. A few months after Sujey was brought to the U.S., her mother discovered that Sujey was gay and threw her out into the street. Even though her mother was a green card holder she refused to sponsor Sujey.  Sujey was left to fend for herself and find a way to survive in the United States without any support.

In November of 2008 Sujey got pulled over for a routine traffic violation and was taken to jail. There, Immigration and Customs Enforcement was notified and she was placed into deportation proceedings. We have been fighting to stay here ever since. I went with her to her mother’s home to beg for her help but she refused to help Sujey because she was gay. We are scared for our lives and our future if Sujey is deported.

It is a shameful and sad reality that this country officially discriminates against lesbian and gay Americans by denying recognition of our marriages. We are second-class citizens at best. Denying that our love and our families are of the same value, denying us the same respect and the same legal protection simply because we are gay is unAmerican. We cannot be a country that cherishes equality, as long as our laws enforce this cruel discrimination against me. My government is so powerful that it can come into my home and drag my wife off to be deported, treating me like nothing more than a legal stranger.

I have been placed in a position where I have to choose between my country and my wife. If my wife gets deported and I choose my country, I would be left without my wife. If I leave to Mexico with her, I am left without my country. To keep my marriage intact I am being forced out of my own country. If Sujey is deported then I will be deported too, because I will not leave her side. She is my wife and I will be there for her to protect her and make sure she is safe with my last breath. The reality is that we have no way of surviving in Mexico. I don’t know what we will do. I should not have to be exiled from my own country because I am a gay woman. I am an American citizen. This should not be happening.

We have joined the Stop The Deportations campaign to help make others aware of the humanitarian crisis that binational gay couples face, even when we are married. We need your help to stop this deportation from happening. We are reaching out to our two U.S. Senators Michael Bennet and Mark Udall and our Representative Diana DeGette to ask them to call on the administration to stop this deportation. We ask everyone who is reading this to help us by calling those elected officials and urging them to take action to save our marriage and stop this deportation.


U.S. Representative Diana DeGette: (202) 225-4431    Denver (303) 844-4988
U.S. Senator Michael Bennet: (202) 224-5852    Denver (303) 455-7600
U.S. Senator Mark Udall: 202-224-5941    Denver (303) 650-7820

Page 10 of 33« First...89101112...2030...Last »
© 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.