Frontiers: Binational Couples Face Heartbreak of DOMA – Deportation Hearing Looms for Doug & Alex

This comprehensive article by veteran journalist, Karen Ocamb, focuses on the crisis facing married binational couples because of DOMA. It is well worth reading in its entirety here.

Excerpt below:

And then there are Doug Gentry and Alex Benshimol from Palm Springs. Their deportation hearing is in July.

“Alex and I met when I was traveling to Palm Springs for work. We hit it off immediately and I invited him out to dinner,” Gentry tells Frontiers. “We had a lot in common, but were from completely different backgrounds. I was attracted to him not just for his good looks, but because he was interesting, intelligent and someone I wanted to get to know better. For our second date he offered me a home-cooked Venezuelan dinner, so of course I said, yes. That was just the beginning of what would turn out to be a long, loving relationship.

“In the next year and a half I moved to Palm Springs, we purchased a house and opened a business together, Alex’s Pet Grooming. Now we’re celebrating six years together,” Gentry continues. “We’ve been through good times and some very difficult times, including the death of my father. We love each other very much. My two children consider him to be another father, and they share a great relationship. We knew that we wanted to get married and to spend the rest of our lives together.

“Since, at the time, we couldn’t get married in our home state of California, we decided to go to Connecticut. We were married at the Lockwood-Mathews Mansion by State Senator Bob Duff on July 21, 2010.

“I submitted an I-130 Petition for Alien Relative form for Alex as my husband. We weren’t sure how it would be handled, but were very happy when we heard the news that the Obama administration would no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act. We were happy again when we heard that USCIS [Citizenship and Immigration Service] had decided to hold approval/denial decisions on I-130s. Sadly, just a few days later they changed course and announced that they were going to deny them again.

“All of this has, of course, taken a terrible toll on Alex and me, on many levels. Because his visa expired, Alex has been put in removal proceedings. It’s difficult to live with the threat of deportation hanging over your head every day of your life. And it’s made worse by knowing that we wouldn’t be in this position but for DOMA, which is so obviously discriminatory and unconstitutional. There is so much frustration in knowing that it affects tens of thousands of binational couples who seem to be ignored. And the ups and downs from positive announcements, then negative announcements, are emotionally exhausting. You don’t know what to expect from one day to the next. You can’t plan for the future. You feel like you can’t ever relax.

“Honestly, Alex and I don’t have a firm plan B. It’s so hard to get your head around the thought of leaving your home, your business and your children. We just know that we can’t live apart and we know we couldn’t live in Venezuela. With its record of intolerance to the LGBT community and its unstable government, it’s just not an option.”

Lavi Soloway, who launched Stop The Deportations last year, has been the most prominent attorney/activist in the field for almost two decades. He notes that for a lesbian or gay American married to a foreign-born spouse, deportation is catastrophic. “Few policymakers realize how far reaching the impact of DOMA is in this context. These are spouses of American citizens, but once they are ordered deported, they will be banished from the United States for at least 10 years. In most cases there is no country in which same-sex binational couples can then seek refuge together. For these couples, DOMA is actually the Destruction of Our Marriages Act.”

And yet, as Soloway notes, it doesn’t have to be this way. “Since its first day in office, the Obama administration has had the discretion and authority to take immediate action to protect all lesbian and gay binational couples from deportation. After the president determined that DOMA was unconstitutional, his obligation to act using the power of the executive branch became that much clearer. As Homeland Security Secretary, Janet Napolitano has a responsibility to develop policy that values family unity and responds to humanitarian circumstances. Despite urgent requests from over 60 members of the House and Senate, she has remained conspicuously silent. Meanwhile, the brave couples who have stood up and told their stories and participated in the “Stop the Deportations” advocacy campaign continue to hold this administration accountable. President Obama, perhaps more than others, should realize how devastating it is to tear apart a family by deporting a foreign-born spouse. He is himself, after all, the son of a binational couple.”

Watch: Josh & Henry on MSNBC, Fighting to Save Their Marriage and Stop Henry’s May 6 Deportation

Josh and Henry met over four years ago and were married last year in Connecticut. In just one week they face an Immigration Judge in Newark, New Jersey for Henry’s final deportation hearing. Join their Congressman, Representative Rush Holt and the 60 other members of the House and Senate who have called on DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano to stop the deportations of spouses of gay and lesbian Americans in light of the administration’s changed position on DOMA. Find out how you can help us stop Henry’s May 6 deportation here.


Josh and Henry are in the fight of their lives. For eight months they have tirelessly campaigned to raise awareness of the cruel impact of the Defense of Marriage Act on binational lesbian and gay couples. Fighting to save their marriage and stop Henry’s deportation to Venezuela, they have organized petition drives, collaborated with many organizations, and shared their story with national and international media.  Josh and Henry’s story is familiar to readers of this site because they have spearheaded and inspired so much of our strategy. They lead the effort to involve elected officials to call on the Obama administration to stop the deportations of spouses of gay and lesbian Americans. In 2010, Josh became one of the only gay Americans to have ever filed an I-130 marriage-based green card petition for his spouse.  Josh and Henry have sought the co-operation of Immigration and Customs Enforcement to terminate proceedings and have had the backing of their Congressman, Representative Rush Holt who has publicly called for a stop to deportations.  We are only a week away from Henry’s final deportation hearing. On May 6, a Newark, NJ immigation judge will decide whether Henry can stay or whether he will be ordered deported. Help Josh and Henry stop this deportation, and stop the deportation, separation and exile tearing apart binational lesbian and gay couples every day.  Deportations are the catastrophic result of DOMA, a law which President Obama refuses to defend and believes is unconstitutional. Deportations bring with them a ten-year bar on return to the United States.  Deportations destroy LGBT families.  It is time to stop the deportations once and for all.

Sign Josh and Henry’s petition to DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano here and ALL OUT’s petition here.

(Video by and Courage Campaign)

Sveta & Andi: Together for 11 Years, Married Lesbian Couple in Illinois Faces June Deportation Hearing

Hello, I am Sveta.

I was born in what is now Kazakhstan. I came to the US when I was fifteen; this year I will be thirty. I like Linux and painting. I love a wonderful woman named Andi and I have loved her since we met eleven years ago.

We met online, on a web forum dedicated to a show called Xena: Warrior Princess. Andi wrote poetry; I began adding onto her words and poetry became collaboration, long series of verse, one line after the other. It was through shared words that we grew closer: we fell in love, and she moved across several states from Colorado to be with me.

Many years later, we are still together. We now live in Illinois. We love each other and not much has changed in that regard. Except now, I am stateless, which means I am a person with no nationality or citizenship. An undocumented alien.

It wasn’t always this way. Until 2009, I was in the U.S. legally on a work visa. I contacted the embassy of my country of origin for help on renewing my passport. I provided all the necessary forms and documents proving that I was a citizen, demonstrating that my stay in the U.S. on the student visa and then work visa was legal. Despite the difficulty of speaking a language I barely remembered, I did my best explaining my situation and then I asked for their help.

At first, they seemed willing to assist and took down my information. But then their behavior drastically changed: I was ridiculed, ignored, and finally stripped of my citizenship. Their decision was made on a technicality and left me with no recourse.

That drastic action took place after the embassy officials learned from me that I had a wife: that I, a woman, was in a relationship with Andi, another woman, and a US citizen. Andi and I left the embassy with the paper stating that my citizenship had been revoked and we did not know then what it meant.

One thing was clear: out of many unacknowledged and unprotected men and women in my country of origin, I was still a lucky one. I was lucky to be alive, to be away – to walk away now, still able to speak out freely about what happened to me. After stripping every status I had in their country and almost every opportunity I had in the US from me in a single decision, the embassy officials had little else to take. They had already effectively erased me from existence.

When I applied for asylum in US in 2010 on the basis of my fear of persecution as a lesbian, the man who looked at my application informed me that he would have to strike Andi’s name and information from the form because he could not “recognize” her as my wife, not even on the asylum application, which paradoxically asked for my marital status and the name of my spouse. He quoted the Defense of Marriage Act as the reason she was to be erased. He crossed every mention of her methodically from every field and asked me to review and approve every removal by initialing it. It was the proper procedure and federal law said we couldn’t be married, and there wasn’t much I could do about it. Instead I had to focus on talking about the stigma and discrimination that someone like me would face every day in my country of origin, of the injustices and the harm that they suffer, invisible and unacknowledged by the majority at every turn of their lives.

Despite all the heart-wrenching stress of that day, of having to relive a traumatic experience and speak out about just how terrified I was, for my future and for Andi’s, through all our worry and our fear, I kept hoping that in the end someone would listen and the nightmare that hadn’t lifted from our minds for months would be over at last.

Instead, we were forwarded to the immigration courts in what seemed to be a long road ahead, full of waiting for the next hearing date, trying to put the thoughts of alien numbers and identification documents from our minds, and fighting for a chance to tell my story and Andi’s, because our lives are inevitably shared.

I’ve been in the States since 1997. Unable to be sponsored through marriage, or even to marry Andi and have our marriage recognized, I took the long path to retain my legal status, first by earning two Masters degrees, and then by working for my university. I was two years away from being able to apply for an employment-based green card when I learned that I no longer had citizenship. Anywhere. Such a development had very real and very concrete consequences. Without a valid passport I was unable to renew my work visa. I lost my job but gained a brutal diagnosis of PTSD and anxiety. I became an asylum seeker. Through it all, for eleven years, Andi was with me, sharing the same anxiety, and the same fear of separation. She was sharing my life as my spouse. In the end though, even though we made a commitment to each other and we have called what we have a marriage for years, it all comes down to the Defense of Marriage Act.

The Defense of Marriage Act says that we do not have the right to be treated as a married couple. It’s unconstitutional, yet it is still enforced.

If DOMA wasn’t in place, Andi would have been able to sponsor me for a marriage-based green card at any point since we began our relationship in 2000. We would have been able to request a marriage license and have our marriage recognized in many more states than a handful. Sadly, our state, Illinois, is still not one of that number. Fortunately, a neighbour-state, Iowa, now is.

If we were a heterosexual couple, we would have avoided over a decade of headache and fear: years of falling through the cracks of immigration law into legal limbo, of holding an assortment of temporary visas and depending on grades and school attendance and work performance and so many other factors painfully outside of our control in order to keep our family together. Every reason imaginable counted in the eyes of the law, except for the one that meant most to us: our love and our commitment to stay together.

But we are lucky. I am an overachiever, and she is strong and stubborn, and we survived this far.

Or did we? Statistically my chances of winning asylum are no better than an even half-and-half. Andi says that if I am to be deported in the end, she will follow me without question. If that’s not courage, I don’t know what is: for a disabled American woman, an openly lesbian one, being exiled into a country that does not acknowledge gays and lesbians, an authoritarian regime on the democracy index, one which actively opposes the UN Declaration on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, is a very dangerous situation. Trouble is, if I am to be deported back to my country of origin which no longer claims me as a citizen, Andi will not be allowed to follow me, just as I will not be allowed to return to the States. Andi is disabled, so she cannot qualify for a job visa and the only family tie she’d have – me – is not recognized there as family by local law. She’ll never even be assigned an entry visa, just as I will disappear without a voice or means to survive.

This is the stark possibility that we’ve had to face every day for all the years of our lives together.

If we weren’t a same-sex couple, but a heterosexual one, things would be quite different. Our first wedding ceremony in Illinois would have been recognized over the one in Iowa years later, one which finally allowed me to take her last name. The majority of my immigration stress would stem from studying for my citizenship exam. I would be able to travel freely, I would be able to work, I would be able to vote. Our relationship will be equally recognized and honored under the law as any marriage, with all the protection that entails. But despite no such protection being offered, we are together, and we are still lucky to have each other, for better and for worse.

In this age of fast-track marriages and divorces taken for granted, if one is looking for the very definition of love and long-term commitment, truly they should look no further than tens of thousands of same-sex binational couples and their children facing discriminatory laws, distance, and separation, in order to keep their families intact. Having to protect our families one day, one step at a time, we of all people realise what’s at stake, we know what marriage is about, how valuable and precious and important such a union is, how it must be treated with all the respect it deserves; because we also face, personally and every step of the way, the dangerous cost of being denied such a basic human right.

If there’s anything that I’ve learned over these years, it’s that even the hardest of times provide us with the opportunity to do incredible things. We survive unthinkable hardships one breath at a time simply by putting one foot in front of the other and refusing to give up. Every day we achieve unreachable goals and we make the impossible happen.

When John Lennon and Yoko Ono faced their deportation battle, they established a conceptual country of peace named Nutopia. It had no land, boundaries, or passports, only people. The references to Nutopia are still alive in today’s culture, almost four decades later. It became a part of their activism and part of their story.

Sadly, in our reality, the lack of a passport only enforces the countless boundaries for Andi and me, and it only contributes to our hardship.

I am thinking of putting a rainbow flag cover over my invalidated identification documents. It’s the only flag that I have left to count as my own.

One day, when DOMA is repealed, I hope this changes.

Marriage News Watch: Josh Vandiver Speaks Out About His Husband’s May 6 Deportation Hearing

See this week’s full episode at Marriage News Watch.

Judy & Karin Get Married in Vermont and Bring the Fight for Immigration Equality to MSNBC

Readers of this site may recall that earlier this year Judy Rickard, 63, and Karin Bogliolo, 70, tireless advocates for equality for lesbian and gay binational couples, recorded this video for the We Give a Damn Campaign.  Last week they appeared with MSNBC host, Thomas Roberts, to talk about the book and to reveal for the first time, that they had recently gone to Vermont and married. As a married lesbian couple, Judy and Karin face discrimination caused by DOMA and exclusion from US immigration laws. Until DOMA is repealed or Uniting American Families Act becomes law, they will be forced to fight for every moment together. See also, “Same Sex Couples Still Awaiting Immigration Reform,” Feet in Two Worlds, January 7, 2011.

Now with Judy’s book, Torn Apart, officially launched, they have been doing many public events to educate audiences of the ways in which we can end discrimination that separates or forces in to exile so many binational couples. (Note all proceeds from the sale of Torn Apart benefit non-profit organizations fighting for immigration equality for lesbian and gay binational couples).

Congressman Rush Holt: Stop the DOMA Deportation of Henry Velandia, Save Henry & Josh’s Marriage

Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) has emerged in recent months as an outspoken supporter of Josh Vandiver and Henry Velandia, a married binational couple fighting to stop a deportation that will tear them apart forever on May 6. Congressman Holt has written to DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano asking her to halt all deportations of spouses of gay and lesbian Americans until DOMA is repealed or struck down by the Supreme Court.

Holt: “There is no second class in our country, or at least there shouldn’t be…”

This video was first shown last week at a Princeton University Marriage Equality event held to raise awareness of Josh & Henry’s “Save Our Marriage” campaign.

Yesterday, New Jersey’s largest daily newspaper, the Star-Ledger, published an editorial raising awareness of Josh & Henry’s case and calling for an end to the “War on Our Families.”

On March 31, 2011, Congressman Holt became the first member of Congress to send a letter to DHS Secretary Napolitano calling for an end to DOMA Deportations. Eventually more than 60 members of the House and Senate joined this letter writing campaign to urging the Obama administration to stop the deportations and put all green card applications filed by married same sex couples on hold.

Star-Ledger Editorial: Immigration, Marriage Laws Making War on Our Families – Josh & Henry Highlighted

Read editorial here.

Equality Matters Podcast: Binational Couples – “Obama’s New DOMA Dilemma”

Rep. Nadler on MSNBC: UAFA and Binational Couples

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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.