Jennifer & Elizabeth Struggle to Build Future Together

Engaged!

My name is Jennifer and I am a Canadian citizen. I first moved to the States in 2005 to start my undergrad at the University of Houston and I am currently working to finish my Master’s at the University of North Texas by August of this year. I met my now fiancée, Elizabeth, at GLOBAL, the LGBT group at the University of Houston almost 4 years ago. When we first met it was clear to us that we had a strong connection as friends and after a year we started dating. We have now been together for over two years and we are inseparable. She makes me incredibly happy and we are always laughing together. In March of 2011, Elizabeth asked me to marry her and I said YES! Elizabeth is American and has lived in the United States her entire life. This is the country that she calls home, and the country in which I would love to build my life with her. Unfortunately, because we are unable to have our relationship legally recognized by marriage in the United States, things have been rather difficult for us.

When I finished my Bachelor’s degree, there was a lot of uncertainty as to whether or not I would be able to remain in the United States with Elizabeth. I applied for something called OPT, which allows you to work within the United States within your field for a year after graduation, and I also applied to graduate school, which would also allow me to stay. I had to return to Canada to renew my health insurance and visit my family and I was unsure when I would be allowed to return to be with Elizabeth again, as I was told that processing could take up to three months. I was accepted into my grad program at the University of North Texas after only a month away from her, which we considered to be very lucky. Although it might not seem like a long time to wait, it is agony when you do not know exactly when you will be able to see the person you love again.

Although I absolutely love my Master’s program, a big factor in deciding to get this degree is that a job requiring a Master’s in Library Sciences is on the North American Free Trade Agreement list and it will allow me to apply each year to continue working in the United States. Unfortunately this is only a temporary solution, as this type of work authorization is given “without the intent to immigrate.” This means that at any point they can decide that you have been working in the U.S. for too long, and they can choose to not let you through the border. Although we have some temporary solutions, which is more than a lot of our fellow binational couples, it is still not a permanent answer. If Elizabeth and I could be recognized as legally married by the United States government for immigration purposes, we could both continue to live in the country that we both consider to be our home. Until that is possible we can’t purchase a home or settle down completely because we know that at any point we might have to leave.

I know that Elizabeth is the one I want to spend the rest of my life with. She makes me so happy and I do not know what I would do without her. We have both discussed the possibility of moving to Canada if things do not work out here, as we both know without a doubt that we will do whatever it takes to remain together. Please help us repeal DOMA and work towards the passage of the Uniting American Families Act.  It is abhorrent that binational couples have to choose between their country and the person they love. We should be able to live in the United States together legally without the fear and uncertainty of the future.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren Letter to the Administration Urges DHS & DOJ to Halt Deportations and Restore Abeyance

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and 98 co-sponsors re-introduced the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA), a bill that he has championed in each successive Congress since 2000, which would provide relief for most binational couples by expanding family-based immigration to include same-sex partners of American citizens and permanent residents.  A companion bill was introduced in the Senate by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) with a record 18 co-sponsors.

The day’s other big news was that California Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren, who had not previously co-sponsored UAFA, now not only joined her Democratic colleagues in support of the bill, but also took a leadership role in the call for executive branch action in light of the administration’s changed position on DOMA. With 48 House members co-signing, Rep. Lofgren today sent a strongly worded letter to Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano and Attorney General Holder urging them to halt deportations of spouses of gay and lesbian Americans and put all green card applications filed by married, same-sex couples into “abeyance,” restoring the policy that was announced and then retracted just two weeks ago. Lofgren, who is the ranking minority member on the House Subcommittee on Immigration, joins Senator Kerry (D-Mass) who last week, together with a dozen U.S. Senators, wrote to DHS and DOJ to do the same.

See also, “Immigration Battle Heats Up, The Advocate, April 14, 2011, excerpted here:

“At least one binational gay couple, Henry Velandia and Josh Vandiver, currently face imminent deportation proceedings. Velandia, a Venezuelan citizen, married his American spouse in 2009 in Connecticut, and has a deportation hearing scheduled May 6.

“The administration has both an opportunity and responsibility to complement legislative efforts now by ensuring that all binational couples are protected from deportation or separation until we have achieved inclusion and equality in family-based immigration,” said Lavi Soloway, the couple’s attorney and cofounder of Stop the Deportations. “If the administration fails to act, irreversible legal consequences of deportation will mean that many binational couples and their families will be torn apart permanently and will unable to access the family unification immigration process even after DOMA is repealed or struck down by the Supreme Court.”

Both Nadler and Lofgren pushed early for halting deportations in such cases after the administration’s February announcement that it would no longer defend DOMA in pending legal challenges.”

Uniting American Families Act Re-Introduced in Congress

Full Huffington Post story here

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Full Bay Area Reporter story here.

Doug & Alex Featured in Freedom To Marry Campaign

The Seattle Lesbian: International LGBT Families

“The harsh reality of immigration discrimination is even more consequential. Attorney Lavi Soloway, a founder of Immigration Equality and “Stop the Deportations – The DOMA Project,” reported that tens of thousands of Americans who live and even marry same-sex partners from other countries are currently forbidden from sponsoring their spouses for U.S. residency. His clients Fred and Mark, French-American parents of four who spoke on the panel, described how their family may be torn apart as early as June this year. After being together for over 20 years and adopting four children in the U.S., the French dad cannot remain in country due to immigration discrimination, while the family cannot move to France because the two dads’ joint parenting is not recognized there due to discriminatory adoption laws. This case illustrates that, especially for same-sex couples raising children, immigration inequality can tear families apart, leaving them with no acceptable options at all.”
Full story here.

EDGE: Binational Couples Fight to Keep Families Intact

Full story here.

Two Women in Love, Kept Apart By DOMA

“DOMA defends no one’s marriage. But it is crushing us.”

T writes:  I first met CJ online and, very quickly, I found myself interested in knowing more about her. From our first conversations I could see that she was intelligent, funny, and very passionate about the things that are important to her. The first time I heard her voice I melted; and now, after a year, it still has that same effect on me. We grew closer with each conversation and soon we were talking through Skype on our cell phones at least three times a day; morning, noon and night. We found that we are alike in many ways, enjoy most of the same things, yet we are different in ways that complement each other.  Finding each other makes us two of the luckiest people in the world.

CJ made the long journey to North Carolina from the UK to visit for the first time last year. It was after that visit that I knew without a doubt that she is the woman of my dreams. When we are together, everything feels so right. When we are apart, it is, quite honestly, very painful. I suffer from migraines and when CJ isn’t here, I get them weekly; sometimes twice a week. When we are together I rarely get one. Every day that we are apart feels like a day wasted; a day that I should have been able to spend with the one I love; a day that I can’t get back.

Right now we should be happy. We shouldn’t be sad and hurt from being forced to live apart. We shouldn’t be worrying about how and when we can be together. For as long as I can remember I’ve had this image in my mind of the perfect woman for me. I had given up hope that she existed. But she does, and we finally found each other. Problem is, she’s not a US citizen and the US government doesn’t recognize our relationship.  And to be with the love of my life, I may be forced to leave my family and a good job I’ve held for 21 years. This is a choice no American should be forced to make. Only because we are a lesbian couple, am I looking at the possibility of being literally pushed out of my own country. This is the reality of America in 2011 for a lesbian binational couple. A heterosexual American in my position would simply complete a fiancée visa petition and the immigration process that is in place to keep loving couples together would work its magic.

CJ writes: T and I felt like soul mates from the start. We just clicked. I think I realized about a month or so into our friendship that I was falling in love with her. Early last spring, we had planned for me to go over to the US in November for a month. But by May, November seemed so far away that we brought it forward to August. I spent a little over four weeks in NC and during that time I knew I was in love and never wanted to leave her. But I had to. On some nights, while she slept, I would lay awake crying knowing that the visit would have to end. Being there, with her, felt so right, so perfect. The parting at the airport is the most unbearable heartache; it feels like someone is standing on you crushing your chest. I blame the American legislators who passed the law that so cruelly suppresses our freedom to love. DOMA defends no one’s marriage. It is, however, crushing us.

I returned for a visit to North Carolina for three weeks over Christmas and New Year and T will be back in the UK in April for two weeks. The travel is exhausting and expensive, but that is the price we pay. We refuse to be kept apart because of discriminatory laws.

I was planning on waiting until April to see her, but in February I was injured in a cycling accident and had to take time off work. I was hurting, and I just needed to be with my girl; so I flew out to North Carolina for a week and a half. Everything was fine except the interrogation by the immigration officer that I had to endure because I’d only just left the US seven weeks earlier. It was so demoralizing. I wanted to scream at her, “I’m in pain. I just want to be with my partner. Is that too much to ask?” but I couldn’t. Why do we have to feel like criminals just because we are binational couples? The U.S. government punishes its own law-abiding, hard working gay and lesbian citizens for having fallen in love with someone from another country. The government is actively undermining our attempt to build a future together. It is a clear case of the government saying who its citizens can and cannot love. It is inhumane.

T is the most loving, caring, kind hearted, generous person I have ever met. She makes me feel invincible. If I’m stressed, angry or upset, just talking to her calms me down and puts me back in my happy place. This relationship should not have to be lived, as it is, primarily over Skype. I get stressed if I have to go a whole work day, for whatever reason, without hearing her voice. I miss her so, so much. We should be able to wake up together and help each other start the day, which in turn would make us more productive members of the workforce. I want to be there in the evening of the day for each other, to moan about the crap life throws at us, and to enjoy the good times. I want to be supportive in the build up to job interviews and celebrate promotions and to be together at such times when extended family needs us. It hurts to know that many couples take having a beer on the deck in the yard on a Friday night or arguing about what to watch on TV for granted. We do not even have those luxuries. To be separated by law is a crime, pure and simple.

T could move here to the UK, because my country recognizes same-sex partners/spouses, and I could sponsor her without any problems. However; unlike me, she has an elderly mother and very close family ties. How could I ask her to leave? That is not an option. We may relocate to Canada, which has become a haven for stateless binational lesbian and gay couples; at least Canada would be closer to NC, so she could visit her family on a regular basis. But forcing her to become a refugee would be another loss to the US. She’s a highly skilled IT worker. How many skilled workers does the US want to lose? As for me, I have a Masters degree; I am self employed and have no criminal record.

I know our relationship is a new one compared to many others who have suffered this injustice for years and even decades. I hope President Obama’s refusal to defend DOMA and his administration’s determination that it is unconstitutional marks the dawn of a new era and that soon all loving couples can be together.

I am certain there is only one woman with whom I want to spend the rest of my life; she is 4,000 miles away in one of the most powerful, but frustrating, democracies in the world. Don’t let it become the most backward looking. Please, help us by joining the effort to repeal DOMA and working to pass the Uniting American Families Act as the best temporary solution in the meantime.

NY Community Center Panel: Binational LGBT Families

Lavi Soloway with Kelli Carpenter speaking at NYC Community Center
about LGBT Binational and International Families on April 10, 2011
Panel participants, Mark and Fred, pictured above with Lavi Soloway.  Mark and Fred are a married binational couple living in Pennsylvania. They celebrated their 21st anniversary on April 7 and are raising four children together and fighting to stay in the country for more than two decades.

Josh and Henry Take Their Fight to Harvard University

AP: Doug & Alex Fighting Deportation and DOMA

Doug and Alex celebrating after their marriage in 2010

 Associated Press, April 10, 2011 (full story here):

“Last month, there was a flurry of excitement among binational gay couples when a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services spokesman indicated that cases would be “held in abeyance” while broader legal issues were reviewed. Hopes soared that this would mean a halt in deportations of foreigners married to gay Americans, but within two days the federal agency said there would be no policy change.

“It’s gut-wrenching to go through the ups and downs,” said Doug Gentry, whose Venezuelan spouse, Alex Benshimol, faces a deportation hearing in July.

They briefly hoped the case would be put on hold — but now have been notified that an application for permanent residency for Benshimol has been denied.
“I’ve had the rug pulled out from under me so many times,” Gentry said. “You’re so used to getting your hopes up, only to get them dashed, that you almost don’t want to hope.”

The couple, who married last year in Connecticut after six years as partners, run a pet grooming business in Palm Springs, Calif.

“I don’t feel we’re different from any other family,” said Gentry, 53. “I don’t want to be forced to stay with my husband by going into exile, and leaving my home, my business and my country behind.”

Read more “Gay California Couple Joins Challenge to Defense of Marriage Act, Fight Deportation,” October 24, 2010, Stop The Deportations – 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.