A Presidential Duty: Stop DOMA Deportations Now

Read on MetroWeekly’s site here.

American Immigration Lawyers Association’s DOMA Letter to Napolitano, Co-Signed By 81 Organizations

The respected, non-partisan American Immigration Lawyers Association has been a powerful ally in the fight for justice for gay and lesbian binational couples. AILA, with its 36 regional chapters, its persuasive think tank, the American Immigration Council, and its cutting-edge impact litigation unit, the Legal Action Center, dwarfs all other immigration reform advocates with the scope of its brain trust and vast resources. AILA’s membership consists of 11,000 lawyers and law professors that are dedicated to the practice and teaching of immigration law. Years ago, AILA attorneys formed a Gay and Lesbian Interest Group and and LGBT Working Group within the organization. So it comes as no surprise, that AILA continues to marshal its expertise to address the issue of same-sex binational couples at this crucial time. Earlier this month, AILA led a broad coalition of immigration reform and social justice organizations in the call for the Executive Branch to protect spouses of lesbian and gay U.S. citizens and permanent residents. After the President changed his position on DOMA, AILA circulated letters to DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, Juan Osuna, Acting Director of the Immigration Courts, and Thomas Hussey Director of the Office of Immigration Litigation at the Department of Justice.

Equality Matters: How Binational Couples Have Become “Obama’s New DOMA Dilemma”

Read this excellent article by Kerry Eleveld at Equality Matters here.

“There’s no rule on how long it takes an agency to process a case – they have the discretion to allocate their resources so they should work on high-priority cases,” explains Lavi Soloway, an immigration attorney who has filed 10 cases involving foreign-born same-sex spouses who are in deportation proceedings.

Soloway saw an opening back in July of last year after federal district court Judge Joseph Tauro struck down section 3 of DOMA as unconstitutional in two high-profile challenges to the law.

“We felt that it was the right time to begin reframing the issues that bi-national couples deal with as issues that relate to DOMA,” said Soloway.

In the past, gay bi-national couples had primarily looked to the legislative branch for relief through legislation that would allow American citizens to sponsor their foreign-born same-sex partners. But by focusing on DOMA in the context of immigration courts – which is part of the Department of Justice – the issue would be placed squarely with the executive branch rather than leaving it entirely up to Congress.

“The primary mission is to stop the deportations, and the power to immediately stop the deportations lies with the executive branch; therefore, the appropriate place to bring this advocacy is in the immigration courts,” Soloway explains.

Following the Tauro decision, Soloway specifically sought out same-sex couples in which deportation proceedings had already begun for the foreign-born spouse in the relationship. He limited his cases to those individuals specifically because he did not want to draw anyone into a proceeding that might endanger them.

But by filing an I-130 on their behalf, he was deliberately using the petition as an advocacy tool.

“It was understood by every couple that the likelihood would be that their petition would ultimately be denied,” he said. “But in that denial, would be the first tangible evidence of the federal government actively discriminating against them because they were gay.”

But by January of this year, only one of the 10 petitions he had filed on behalf of his same-sex couples had been denied. That’s when Soloway began to wonder if the government had suspended adjudication of those cases.

“By the time the Newsweek story broke, we were beginning to suspect that the I-130s were taking a little longer to process than usual,” he said. After word spread of the temporary hold, Soloway’s firm received approximately 200 calls and emails from gay bi-national couples.

“They were almost all the same – a couple that wanted to know if this was finally a time that they could file a green card application on the basis of their marriage,” he said. But Soloway feared that identifying anyone in an application who might be staying in the U.S. illegally or even on a temporary visa could put them in jeopardy.

“I advised them that the risk of filing, even with this encouraging news, was that the individual could be placed into a removal proceeding,” he said.

After CIS announced the hold was over, another of Soloway’s I-130s was denied.

But one of his cases produced a positive result. An immigration judge in New York adjourned the deportation proceedings for Monica Alcota of Argentina due to the legal ambiguities surrounding DOMA and the fact that the sponsorship petition filed by her American spouse, Christina Ojeda, continues to be processed.

Overall, Soloway’s advocacy appears to have helped focus attention on the issue since he filed 10 cases in total and CIS spokesperson Chris Bentley estimated the number of cases once held in abeyance at 10-20 nationwide. It’s worth noting that, typically, same-sex bi-national couples wouldn’t have been filing I-130s at all since they were almost certain to be rejected.

The government’s decision to resume processing the cases has raised the question of whether the executive branch should be deporting a legally wed foreign-born spouse based on a law that the president himself has declared unconstitutional.

OUT Magazine: Glenn Greenwald, Pundit in Exile

Read the full article here.

Given Greenwald’s intellectual fecundity and argumentative ferocity, being gay may be the least interesting thing about him. But even Greenwald doesn’t claim that his sexual orientation doesn’t matter. After all, if he were straight he would be living in Manhattan, his home for most of the last 20 years. Instead, he lives in Rio de Janeiro, barred from moving to the United States with his Brazilian boyfriend, David Michael Miranda.
“Brazil recognizes our relationship for immigration purposes, while the government of my supposedly ‘free,’ liberty-loving country enacted a law explicitly barring such recognition,” says Greenwald, referring to the Defense of Marriage Act with the disdain he typically shows for policies he believes are eroding Americans’ freedoms. 

Glenn Greenwald: Binational Couples, UAFA & DOMA

Don’t Let Josh & Henry Be Torn Apart by DOMA

Full story here.

LGBT Immigration Activists to Protest President Obama in San Francisco on Wednesday April 20

On Wednesday April 20, President Obama will be in San Francisco for a fundraising event. Please join Get Equal, Marriage Equality USA and Out4Immigration and equality activists to remind President Obama that he has the power to protect all lesbian and gay binational couples by halting the deportations and ending denials of green card petitions. Help us STOP THE DEPORTATIONS!

WHERE: Nob Hill Masonic Center, 1111 California St. between Jones and Taylor.
WHEN: April 20 from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Video: ALL OUT and Courage Campaign Join Forces to Stop the May 6 Deportation of Henry Velandia


From Courage Campaign:

Because they are gay, Josh can’t sponsor Henry’s visa to stay in the US even though they are legally married in the state of Connecticut. No one deserves to be taken away from the ones they love. On May 6th, Henry faces deportation to Venezuela. If we don’t act, their family may be torn apart.
The Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, has the power to stop the deportations, but it will take a massive public outcry to force her to stand up for Josh and Henry – and the 36,000 other families who face a similar fate.

Please help us by sharing this video.

Patricia & Ira: Lesbian Couple Together for 8 Years, Faces Exile to Canada With Their Newborn Daughter

DC -based couple married in 2010 and had a baby, but time is running out on Ira’s visa leaving them no choice by exile.
(Photo credit: Love Shack)

My name is Patricia, I was born in Brazil and became a naturalized American citizen in 2008. My partner Ira, who I have been with for 8 years is a Finnish citizen. When we met in 2003, Ira was a student and right from the start there was a lot of tension and worry surrounding the problem of how she would stay in the country. Could she afford school one more year to renew her student visa? Would she be able to get a job that would sponsor her for a work visa? U.S. work visas are very limited, but lucky for us she did get hired and got a 3 year work visa that could be renewed for another 3 years. However, this visa is going to expire in less than two years and I cannot give her a greencard through marriage, even though we did get married in the District of Columbia last year.

Last year was a big year for us. In addition to tying the knot, we also had a baby girl. Having her in our lives prompted us to try to move to a more accepting society where our partnership is recognized and legal. As such, we are trying to relocate to Canada.

The irony of our situation is that both Brazil and Finland recognize same sex partnerships for the purpose of immigration. Ideally for us we would like to stay in the U.S., but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen any time soon. So Canada here we come!

Princeton University Hosts Marriage Equality Event Featuring Josh & Henry’s Fight Against Deportation

Excerpted from the Daily Princetonian, April 14, 2011:

The Frist Campus Center Multipurpose Room, decorated with floral confetti, white drapery and event schedules decorated with silver borders, looked fit for a wedding on Thursday afternoon at the “Speak Now for Marriage Equality” panel and discussion session organized by the Princeton Equality Project.

Deans of Religious Life Alison Boden and Paul Raushenbush joined Joshua Vandiver GS, his Venezuelan husband Henry Velandia and the couple’s attorney Lavi Soloway in a five-member panel that shared different perspectives on marriage equality and discussed the impact of U.S. marriage laws on the LGBT community.

PEP, a student-run organization at the University working to realize full LGBT equality, dedicated the event to Vandiver and Velandia’s fight against the Defense of Marriage Act. This February, the Obama administration recommended that DOMA no longer be defended in federal courts because it prevents the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages.

Velandia and thousands of others are threatened with deportation because DOMA bars Americans such as Vandiver from sponsoring same-sex spouses for green cards.

Boden opened the panel with an invocation in honor of the event’s wedding theme. “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to witness and celebrate the equality of all people and of their civil liberties,” she said. “We are grateful most for those we cherish, those who fill our hearts with love and for whom our hearts pour out such love in return that we cannot begin to measure.”

Vandiver shared how he and Velandia met at the University and married last August on “one of those late summer days, green and gorgeous in eastern Connecticut.” Two days after the marriage, he filed a petition for his husband’s residency and green card.

However, Vandiver’s application was rejected this February. Velandia is scheduled for a deportation hearing on May 6. If the hearing goes against him, he could be required to leave the United States and be barred from returning for a minimum of 10 years.

Vandiver talked about the couple’s petition to Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano to stop the deportation of people in Velandia’s situation until the DOMA dilemma is officially resolved. “She has the power to do that immediately,” Vandiver said. “She’s done it for other groups, and she could do it in our case as well, but the broader struggle is to repeal DOMA.”

“We can’t trust in our presidents or our Congress; we have to work very hard to encourage them to bring about the change,” Vandiver added. “They may have promised that they want to do it, but they need us behind them to do it … That’s what Henry and I are trying to do, both to save our own marriage and the marriages of dozens and dozens of couples.”

As an immigrant from Venezuela, Velandia talked about his journey of self-discovery as he came to terms with his “identity as a gay man” while trying to “live the American Dream.” He talked about his happiness upon finding Vandiver and referred to him as his “life.”

“I fell in love with him the first day,” he said. “It’s like a horror movie to imagine that we could be separated.”

Soloway, a lawyer who has represented binational same-sex couples for 18 years, recently won a case to stop the deportation of Monica Alcota, the wife of American-born Cristina Ojeda. The judge allowed Ojeda to petition U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to have Alcota recognized as her spouse and provide residency.

Soloway urged the audience to reach out to Senator Lautenberg and Senator Menendez of New Jersey to join the fight against DOMA.

After the panel concluded, the audience was encouraged to sign the online petition “Save Our Marriage — Stop the Deportation of Henry Velandia,” which already has nearly 3,000 signatures, attend a reception and enjoy wedding cake on the South Frist Lawn.

According to PEP president Andrew Blumenfeld ’13, the program was a success, with over 80 people writing letters to their congressmen asking them to recognize the difficulties of couples like Vandiver and Velandia.

In an interview after the panel, Vandiver and Velandia expressed their frustration at the DHS’ lack of response to last week’s letter from 12 senators. The movement, led by John Kerry, urged U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Napolitano to stop defending DOMA in federal courts.

With Velandia’s hearing less than four weeks away, “they need to make a decision very soon,” Vandiver explained.

Velandia noted that leaving the United States was not an option for the couple, explaining that moving to his native Venezuela would be very dangerous for them as a same-sex couple and that the move could have a destructive effect on Vandiver’s career.

“Josh is aiming to be a professor in the States. That’s where he was born, and that’s where he deserves to stay,” Velandia said.

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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.