Gay City News: Monica & Cristina Win in Court

The DOMA Project thanks Paul Schindler from Gay City News for coming to court with us this morning and reporting on this historic day. Full article here.

“It is almost impossible to overstate the significance of what happened in there,” Soloway said immediately after the hearing. “An adjournment based on an I-130. It would never have happened a year ago. I don’t think I even would have filed it.”
Describing the development as “huge,” Soloway also credited Bain with being “very kind, very generous” in her handling of the case.
Masliah echoed her law partner’s assessment, terming Bain’s action “benevolent”; she added, however, that it is also “realistic in light of recent developments.”

Queens Congressman Joseph Crowley: Obama Administration Should Halt DOMA Deportations

From the Advocate:

Rep. Joseph Crowley, a New York Democrat whose district includes a section of northern Queens, praised the government’s decision to suspend deportation proceedings against Alcota.

“In any case involving a married gay couple where one person is [a citizen] and the other person does not have legal residence, the government should suspend deportations,” Crowley told The Advocate in a brief telephone interview. “Ultimately the DOMA law needs to be repealed. But what’s paramount is that families need to be able to stay together.”

Crowley joins two congressional colleagues — Reps. Zoe Lofgren of California and Jerrold Nadler of New York — who have called on executive agencies to stop deportations involving married, binational gay couples who are denied permanent resident sponsorship rights as a result of DOMA.

Immigration Judge Grants Reprieve, Allows Monica & Cristina To Pursue Marriage-Based Immigration Case

Monica and Cristina expressed relief and optimism after leaving court

This morning, Monica Alcota and Cristina Ojeda, became the first married, same-sex, binational couple to successfully argue that deportation proceedings should be adjourned until their marriage-based immigration case had been fully adjudicated. The Immigrations and Customs Enforcement attorney and the Immigration Judge agreed that the couple should be given an opportunity to fight for a green card on the basis of their marriage and generously adjourned proceedings accordingly.  During their brief appearance in court, the discussion centered on an acknowledgement that the couple may have a long road a head of them, but that they should be allowed to pursue their case with U.S. Immigration and Customs Services, the administrative agency that processes marriage-based petitions.  Monica and Cristina will report back to the Judge in December to notify the court and the government attorney of the status of their case.  This is a tremendous victory for The DOMA Project and we hope it will signal a shift in how similar cases will be handled in Immigration Courts across the country.

Given the latest developments concerning the Defense of Marriage Act—the administration’s new positition regarding the unconstitutionality of Section 3 of DOMA, their refusal to defend DOMA in federal court challenges, and the introduction of DOMA repeal legislation in both Senate and House last week—there was a palpable feeling in the courtroom that we had collectively crossed a threshhold to a new era in which a lesbian couple’s marriage, while not legally recognized by the federal government, could at least be respected. And in according this couple the respect they deserve, the Immigration Court has moved us one small but significant step closer to equality.

Read more about Monica and Cristina’s fight against DOMA and deportation here and here.
Excellent reporting from The Adocate and Gay City News.

Monica & Cristina Will Ask Immigration Judge Tuesday to Terminate Deportation Proceedings

Last October we brought you the story of Monica and Cristina, a married, binational couple from Queens, New York who are facing the very real prospect of being torn apart by deportation. On Tuesday, they will become the first couple to face an Immigration Judge and challenge deportation proceedings in light of the Obama administration’s changed position toward the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

What Monica and Cristina will do on Tuesday is historic. They will ask not only that Monica should not be deported to Argentina, but also that the government agree to terminate proceedings against her, so that they can continue their fight for a green card for Monica on the basis of their marriage without deportation proceedings hanging over them. Although this is the first time such a request has been made since the administration’s abandonment of DOMA, it is consistent with existing guidelines that require Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to exercise prosecutorial discretion in certain deportation cases. With this request to terminate proceedings, as with their fight against DOMA itself, Monica and Cristina are not asking for anything other than to be treated with fairness, dignity and respect.

Of course, if not for DOMA, this story would have ended long ago. Cristina, a U.S. citizen, would have successfully petitioned for Monica’s green card. It would have been a straightforward process regardless of the fact that Monica had over-stayed her entry as a visitor by many years. That is because our  immigration laws, which are designed to keep families together, prioritize spouses of U.S. citizens above all other relatives. DOMA unconstitutionally excludes Monica and Cristina from this process only because they are a lesbian couple.

When Monica and Cristina confront the cruelty of DOMA in Immigration Court this week they will be accompanied in spirit by two powerful allies: Barack Obama and Eric Holder. Monica and Cristina will be the first married, same-sex binational couple to confront DOMA in Immigration Court since the President and the Attorney General announced their conclusion that DOMA is unconstitutional and informed the Speaker of the House that the Department of Justice would no longer defend DOMA in federal court challenges. Monica and Cristina will argue that given the government’s new position, continued deportation proceedings against a married, binational same-sex couple are unfair, unnecessary and inappropriate.

Monica and Cristina have experienced an emotional roller-coaster for the past three years. Like other couples, they met, fell in love and decided to move in together. Almost immediately they struggled with Monica’s immigration status. Their hardest days came in July 2009. Cristina had finished grad school in Buffalo and the couple made one last trip there to move her remaining belongings to Monica’s apartment in New York.  They bought tickets for an express bus, but at the last minute they heard the announcement that the bus would be making local stops. A few hours into the ride, every binational couple’s nightmare unfolded before Cristina’s eyes.  In Rochester, Border Patrol officers boarded the bus for a routine check of identification papers. Monica was pulled off a bus and taken into custody.  That lead to Monica being held for more than three months in detention in Elizabeth, New Jersey.  Cristina traveled hours to visit Monica as often as possible, trying to keep her spirits up. Those visits were heartbreaking. Cristina and Monica was reduced to speaking on a telephone through a plexiglass window.  They tried to stay strong, but many tears were shed during those months. Finally an Immigration Judge ruled that she could not be deported without a hearing, and she was released from detention in October.

DHS’ receipt for Cristina Ojeda’s petition for Monica Alcota refers to Monica as the spouse of a U.S. citizen

It took a while for Monica to recover from the trauma of being held in what is essentially a jail, with limited privacy and very little contact with the outside world. After returning to their home in Queens, the couple started to consider their future together and decided to join Stop The Deportations -The DOMA Project. They participated in a rally for Marriage Equality in September 2010, their first ever act of public protest, carrying signs that read “Don’t Deport My Wife!” and “Recognize our Marriage as Equal.” They stood courageously with other binational couples at the podium as one member of that group eloquently spoke of the pain of living under constant fear of separation. Monica and Cristina themselves had married in Connecticut that summer, and decided to speak to the press and tell their story.  Cristina filed a marriage-based alien relative petition for Monica, the first step in a long-term battle for a green card. In October, The Gay City News published a detailed article featuring them and one other couple fighting deportation. Shortly after the Administration announced its new position on DOMA on February 23, Monica and Cristina were interviewed on the Spanish-language program Pura Politica with one of The DOMA Project founders, attorney Noemi Masliah, who is also a member of their legal team.

Tears of happiness on the wedding day

Monica and Cristina are fighting on behalf of all binational couples who live in fear that they might one day be battling deportation, surely the cruelest impact of DOMA.  Until it is repealed by Congress or struck down by the Supreme Court, DOMA will remain the law of the land. Monica and Cristina will be arguing to the ICE attorney and the Immigration Judge that it is wrong to move forward with the deportation of the spouse of an American citizen when the only obstacle to a green card for that person is a law that the President and the Attorney General believe is unconstitutional and refuse to defend.

Termination of these proceedings does not confer a legal “benefit” on this couple and it does not put ICE at any disadvantage; in fact, ICE can request that the court reinstate proceedings at any time in the future. Importantly, termination of proceedings does not contradict the Executive Branch’s constiutional obligation to enforce all laws including DOMA. Administrative termination is nothing more than an exercise of prosecutorial discretion, a necessity for prosecutors who must allocate scarce resources according to specific agency priorities and objectives. ICE, through several memos over the years, has established that sympathetic humanitarian circumstances and family unification are two criteria upon which a favorable exercise of prosecutorial discretion, including the termination of proceedings, can be based. Monica and Cristina will urge the government to look carefully at its own guidance for exercising discretion and apply those criteria to their case.

Prosecutorial discretion has been used by this administration for vulnerable groups (e.g. for widows of U.S. citizens in 2009 and for DREAM Act eligible young people in 2010) to further important public policy goals and address humanitarian need while corrective legislation has been pending in Congress.   With DOMA repeal legislation now pending in both the House and Senate, immigration advocates and some members of Congress (Rep. Jerrold Nadler and Representative Zoe Lofgren) are calling on the Obama administration to develop policy to halt deportations involving married, same-sex binational couples.  Monica and Cristina need your help to enlist the the support of more members of Congress to call on the administration to halt these deportations.

The DOMA Project Founders Interviewed

DOMA Project founders, Lavi Soloway and Noemi Masliah, were interviewed for the radio program “Same Sex Sunday” on March 13, 2011 about the state of the campaign for binational couples since the dramatic news that the Obama administration would not longer defend Section 3 of DOMA in federal court challenges.

In Miami, Maria & Lulu Fight Deportation in Desparate Struggle to Stay Together

I arrived to this country from Venezuela over 10 years ago, looking for a better life and a better future. Living in Venezuela was not easy, not only because I am a lesbian, but also because I had actively opposed to the Chavez government from inception because of it violated the liberties and freedom of speech of its citizens.  Once in the United States, I had the freedom to completely and freely come out of the closet, to have a job and work hard towards my goals of one day have a college education and build my own family. I worked many at many jobs. At one point people used to say that I’ve had a job for every letter of the alphabet. I learned how to speak English. I learn this culture, I learned to love this country as if it was my own, and I also fell in love.

My partner, Lulu, and I live a life just like any married couple, we rely on each other for everything.  When times have been tough, we have weathered all the difficulties together. When we get a break, we enjoy, laugh and relax together, and during the saddest of times we have also cried together. Our commitment to each other is much stronger that the many pieces of papers and legalities we’re not allowed to be a part of.

Times have been extremely rough with this struggling economy. We have gone through layoffs, barely making ends meet, so our dream of getting married has sadly been sitting in the back seat of our car which is full of to-do’s (because we live in Florida, so we must travel to a state where we can get marriage licenses). Still it is a high priority for us.  We hope to marry soon. Although we know that our marriage will not be recognized federally and we know all too well that it may not help in my battle against deportation, we will get married. We will get married because is not about immigration or taxes or any other benefits for us. It’s because we love each other.  I don’t want to refer to Lulu as “partner” or my “girlfriend” for one more day. I want to call her my wife and for it to be real.

For the past few years, I have been battling an asylum case before the Miami immigration court based of all the terrible things that happened to me back home. My final hearing is scheduled for this summer. On that day it will be decided whether I can stay in this country. During this journey I had the help of people who gave me support and love before I met the one I call today my wife. My struggles to remain in this country legally have always seemed never-ending, but I am an optimistic person, together with Lulu we know our love can overcome everything life throws at us. We have had our fair share of challenges in the three years since we met.

Now I am confronted with new obstacles. My mother, who lives back home in Venezuela, has been diagnosed with brain tumor. If it were not for DOMA, Lulu and I could get married and she could file a petition and sponsor me for a green card. I wouldn’t have to suffer the impediments of being trapped here and barely able to make ends meet, fighting my immigration case and an unable to help my mother properly.  If DOMA was gone, I could finally live without the daily fear of being torn apart from the one I love, and we would live a life where we can concentrate on the hard enough day-to-day challenges without immigration or our DOMA being among them.

When we talk about our situation to friends and family, they are simply in disbelief that our current system doesn’t allow Lulu to sponsor me, they simply can’t believe that just by getting married the issue is not solved.  Most people  just don’t know about all these things unless they know someone in the specific situation and it has been explained to them.  That is why we have to spread the message to all voters so that people realize that DOMA is not simply a  “gay issue.”  The cruelty of DOMA and the struggle of binational couples is a social and a civil rights issue.  It could be your sister, your brother, your son or daughter in this situation.  Please help us fight for repeal of DOMA.

Rodrigo Martinez Receives Official Stay of Deportation from Immigration Judge

We learned today that the Immigration Court in Baltimore has granted Rodrigo Martinez’s request for an official stay of his deportation. (The decision, shown here, was signed by the Immigration Judge on March 7 but was not posted by the Immigration Court until March 10.) Readers of this site will recall that Rodrigo Martinez was scheduled to surrender to the custody of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Baltimore on March 9. When he surrendered on that day he was taken into custody, but several hours later he was granted a discretionary release under an Order of Supervision. ICE was willing to give him time to pursue all legal options including a Motion for Emergency Stay of his Removal (deportation) with the Immigration Judge, a Motion to Re-Open his Proceedings and an opportunity for him and his husband, Edwin, to fight for approval of their marriage-based immigration petition.  Rodrigo and Edwin expressed relief today that the Immigration Court had issued this official order, and are hopeful that proceedings will be re-opened. They are grateful to everyone who called and wrote to elected officials in the last two weeks to help keep Rodrigo from being deported.

Masliah & Soloway: Dueling with DOMA

U.S. Immigration lawyers Noemi Masliah and Lavi Soloway are committed to fixing what they see as a broken country. Masliah, 60, a signature blue streak permanently dyed in her graying hair, and the indefatigable Soloway, 44, who has seemingly superhuman energy levels, have recently started a “Stop the Deportations” project in order, they say, to repair the system that forces individuals to choose between love and country.

These high-profile attorneys, who are fighting to keep gay couples and families together, are prominently operating at the nexus of two of the most politically charged issues on the American public agenda: immigration reform and gay marriage equality. Their New York- based firm is prominent in the US on issues affecting the unification of gay and lesbian binational couples and in handling sexual orientation and gender identity-based asylum claims.

Last summer, they decided that the time was right to launch an attack on US immigration laws and the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), in an attempt to keep binational lesbian and gay couples together. Passed in 1996, DOMA defines marriage as the legal union between one man and one woman. Masliah and Soloway say they expect to bring a suit against agencies of the federal government within two years.

Masliah is a lesbian; Soloway is a striking handsome gay man who talks openly about having had a baby with his adopted sister, who served as a gestational surrogate. Despite their very different Jewish upbringings, Masliah and Soloway each ended up taking the biblical injunction against “oppressing the stranger” very much to heart. Both have been, they say, motivated by their own personal and family histories of persecution, displacement and otherness to develop an immigration law practice with a unique niche.

“What I was taught by my education, parents and community was the paramount importance of our families. We, as Jews, have had a long history of immigration, trials and tribulations of being thrown out of one part of the world and starting over in another,” Soloway tells The Report.

Masliah is diminutive, almost waif-like, yet hardly soft-spoken. With her miniature dog, Yofi (Hebrew for beauty) on her lap as she sits in her office’s conference room, her tone is mat- ter-of-fact and feisty. She speaks passionately and compassionately about the plights of her clients – but there is no mistaking that Masliah is a force to be reckoned with, especially for her opponents. “I’ve always wanted to be an immigration lawyer. It’s very people-oriented, and I know how my clients feel, because I felt like a refugee when I came to the US,” she explains.

MASLIAH AND SOLOWAY were among the founders of Immigration Equality, a non-profit organization begun in 1994 to provide protec- tion and advocacy for LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) immigrants. “When Noemi and Lavi created the organization, they committed themselves to filling a void. There were scarce resources and virtually no identifiable advocates in this area. They were pioneers and they continue to do crucial work,” Joseph Landau, an associate professor at Fordham University School of Law and the current board chairman of Immigration Equality and the Immigration Equality Action Fund, tells The Report.

Immigration Equality continues to grow in response to the legal needs of LGBT asylum-seekers, although homosexuality and HIV-positive status are no longer grounds for barring individuals from entering the US. Masliah and Soloway are no longer directly involved with the organization,but in founding it, “they identified a cohort of attorneys who could represent this underserved population. Then they helped shape the legal fabric by drafting and consolidating critical materials, training other lawyers and pro- moting the issue generally,” Landau says.

Since US immigration rules fall under federal powers, same-sex couples are excluded from the various immigration mechanisms designed to keep families intact: Even if a same-sex couple was married in another coun- try or in one of the few US states in which same-sex marriage is legal, the federal govern- ment does not recognize these marriages. Therefore, the government will not allow the American citizen in a gay binational couple to sponsor his or her foreign-national spouse in a residency request.

Two judicial decisions convinced them that “the time was right to act,” explains Soloway. The first was by District Judge Joseph Tauro in Massachusetts, in which he ruled that Section 3 of DOMA, which denied federal benefits to same-sex couples, is unconstitutional. Tauro’s opinion regarding the motive behind DOMA was the most relevant: “Indeed, Congress undertook this classification for the one purpose that lies entirely outside of legislative bounds, to disadvantage a group of which it disapproves. And such a classification, the Constitution will not permit,” the judge wrote.
In the second case, District Judge Vaughn Walker in California handed a victory to the opponents of California’s Proposition 8, which had amended the California state constitution to define marriage as being solely between a man and a woman, and ruled that it was unconstitutional under both the due process and equal protection clauses.

“Those cases inspired us,” Soloway asserts. He also cites public opinion polls that show public support for marriage equality at over 50 percent. “That’s a palpable change in the public discourse,” he notes, adding that he was “pleasantly surprised” to see that gay marriage was not used as a wedge-issue
in the November 2 mid-term elections. Most foreign national spouses in gay and lesbian binational couples try to stay below the radar and not call attention to themselves by having their partner apply for an I-130 Petition for Alien Relative on their behalf. They are either living according to the ticking clock of a lawful visa, or as an “overstay who fears the knock on the door,” as Soloway puts it. For the 10 couples involved in the Stop the Deportations project, applying for residency for the foreign spouse could not make their sit- uations any worse. Nine of the couples are mar- ried; one is engaged to be married. In some cases, the foreign partner is in the midst of deportation proceedings; in others, either the couple has been living abroad together for many years or the foreign partner is living outside the US.

“They have nothing to lose at this point,” Masliah notes grimly.

Soloway is working on individual legal strategies with each couple, but in all cases, the American spouse has filed or will be filing an I-130. “If the government acts in accordance with how it should, we expect in each case to receive a denial citing DOMA as the reason,” Soloway explains. He expects that, after exhausting the appeals process, his clients will then sue the Department of Homeland Security and the US Citizenship and Immigration Service under the equal protection clause for unconstitutionally discriminating against citizens because of their sexual orientation.

“Stop The Deportations” is at once a legal project and a public relations effort. It is Soloway who is spearheading the publicity, public education and advocacy aspect of the campaign. While both he and Masliah have been active on the national scene for years, speaking and writing on behalf of gay rights, it is the press-friendly and tech-savvy Soloway who has set up the “Stop The Deportations” website and who constantly posts links to it and other relevant news items on Facebook and Twitter. While only ten couples are involved in the legal piece of the project, many other bi-national couples have written up their stories and shared them on the website.

Californian Doug Gentry and his foreign national husband Alex Benshimol from Venezuela were thrilled that Soloway was willing to take their case. Benshimol feels that he has been living for 11 years in the shadows. “It’s terrible for me, for my family and for Doug. We have no life,” he said. Gentry is incensed that he has lost basic rights he had when he was previously in a heterosexual marriage for 18 years. “Suddenly I’m a second-class citizen in my own country,” he tells The Report in exasperation.

Josh Vandiver and his Venezuelan husband Henry Velandia, who is facing deportation, live in Princeton, New Jersey. They tell The Report that they feel confident about joining Masliah and Soloway’s project because “Lavi’s personal story is a model and inspiration,” says Vandiver.

Masliah’s distinct accent reveals that she is an immigrant to the US. Traces of all the places she has lived and all the languages she knows echo through her voice. Her parents met as young adults in France during the war, south of the Vichy line, after both their families had fled Paris. Her father’s family had immigrated to France from Turkey and her mother’s family moved there in 1932 from Berlin. Toward the end of the war, her mother was sent to Switzerland and her father was in the French resistance. In 1948, they moved to Cuba to join relatives. Masliah was born in Cuba in 1950.

In Cuba, Masliah’s father was set up in the jewelry business by those relatives. The attorney recalls living a comfortable, middle class life there. “The idea of a God ended with the war for my father,” she states. In 1960, she, her parents and her younger sister arrived in New York, leaving Cuba “because my father’s brand of Communism was not the same brand as Castro’s.” But after only a few months, her father followed a business prospect to Lima, Peru. The family joined him soon after, only to decide after a few months that, in the end, New York was probably the best place to settle. “I did 5th grade in four places – Cuba, Boston, Lima and New York,” she recalls.

Masliah attended Queens College and decided to do her senior year in Paris, where she stayed for several years following graduation. “I stayed there doing this and that, and it was in Paris that I came out [as a lesbian],” she tells The Report. She never really ever came out to her parents, however. “But they knew, they definitely knew,” she says.

She attended the Yeshiva University Cardozo School of Law, graduating in its first class in 1979 and then joined a small immigration law firm. “Today law schools have clinics in immigration law, but in those days, immigration law was seen as something unsavory,” she reflects. Masliah struck out on her own as a solo practitioner in 1985, at which time she also began to get involved in pro-bono and advocacy work in the LGBT community, in particular with Lamda Legal, the oldest and largest legal organization working for the civil rights of gays, lesbians and HIV-positive individuals.
Currently single, Masliah was involved in the past in a long-term lesbian domestic partnership. It was only in the last couple of years, before her father died last January, that she and her parents began attending Passover Seders and Kol Nidre services together as a family. Masliah has served on several key committees at Congregation Beit Simchat Torah,

Manhattan’s LGBT synagogue, where she has been a longtime member.

Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, leader of the congregation, officiated at Masliah’s father’s funeral last year. “All of the remaining survivors of his partisan group came,” she recalls. “They clearly remained a family over all these years,” she observes, highlighting the notion that for the Masliahs, blood ties are not the only ones that matter.

It is difficult to pin down Lavi Soloway, always on the move, for an interview. Given his busy schedule and heavy bi-coastal travel routine, it was necessary to speak with him by phone in spurts – once while he was sitting in his Los Angeles office, another time while he was driving his car, and yet another in his New York office.

Soloway was adopted as an infant in Toronto by older parents, who went on to adopt another son and a daughter. His distinctive first name is often mistakenly pronounced as “Lah- vy,” like the currently popular Israeli name meaning “lion.” In fact, it is a misspelling of the traditional Jewish name, “Levi.”
Soloway attended Jewish day schools from kindergarten through the end of high school. After receiving a BA from the University of Toronto, he moved to New York to attend the Cardozo School of Law.

In 1992, as his student visa was about to expire, Soloway came to Masliah as a client seeking legal advice on how to stay in the US. “We joke that Lavi came for a consultation and never left,” Masliah laughs. Indeed, it did not take long after Soloway joined the firm as an associate to establish that the fit was a good one.

While Masliah grew up in a very secular home, Soloway had a very different upbringing in the bosom of the modern-Orthodox community in Toronto. “I grew up in a Jewish bubble,” he said. At first, “I took a lot of comfort in knowing I had this world, this shtetl, ingrained in me.” It gave him, he says, a strong sense of identity and the knowledge that he belonged to a community and a people, both of which helped ground him as he later faced personal challenges. By the 1990s he had begun to think about the fact that his grandfather’s immigration to Canada before World War II had saved him from the fate of the rest of his entire family that had remained behind in Europe.

He traveled to Europe in search of family-related sites and was astounded to discover that the family of one of his grandfather’s siblings had survived the Holocaust and immigrated to Israel, continuing a branch of the family that he and his parents had never known existed. Soloway visited his newly discovered relatives in Israel after he and his Israeli cousin Omer, also a genealogy enthusiast, discovered one another.

Soloway can be seen at rallies and protests for immigration rights and gay rights with his husband, Sebastian, and young daughter, Lily. Soloway has been living in Los Angeles and commuting to New York as needed since marrying Sebastian, an independent film producer, in Toronto, in 2009. It was before his meeting Sebastian that Soloway became a single father. “Nothing can be more funny than telling your parents that you are having a baby with your sister,” he jokes. Yet his traditional parents, who had observed a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in regards to Soloway’s sexual orientation, were supportive of Soloway’s plans to become a parent with the assistance of his adoptive sister, who agreed to carry the pregnancy resulting from the IVF fertilization of donor eggs by Soloway’s sperm.

Twin girls were born in 2007, but one died in the neonatal intensive care unit in Toronto; named Pearl for Soloway’s mother, who had passed away less than a year before the girls were born, she was buried together with her grandmother in the same grave.

Masliah believes her convictions come from a very Jewish place. “Jews should be welcoming. We were ejected for centuries and centuries. We cannot be like our enemies. We cannot be like the people who have oppressed us for so long. I believe in tikkun olam. We have to repair the world. It is so broken, and we can’t be part of what’s continuing to break it. We have to have a conscience and the will to put it together. It can’t be meant to be so broken,” she passionately declares.

Soloway, too, sees “an absolute connection” between his Jewishness and his family’s immigrant legacy and the choices he has made in his personal and professional lives, in particular his work on behalf of asylum seekers. “My grandparents left a place where they had no future because they were Jewish…When I stood in that forest where my grandparents’ family was gunned down by the Nazis on August 23, 1941, I decided that in my everyday life I would help people not end up in that forest.”

(Reprinted from The Jerusalem Report, January 31, 2011)

DOMA Project Welcomes Legal Intern, Derek Tripp

Derek Tripp and U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand

The DOMA Project welcomes our first legal intern, Derek Tripp, a third-year student at Hofstra School of Law in Hempstead, New York.  Derek is a graduate of the University of California at Davis (2006, B.A. Political Science, B.A. English).

At Hofstra, Derek was selected for an LGBT Rights Fellowship and served as Associate Editor and Staff Member of the Journal of International Business and Law. Derek has participated as a student attorney in the Hofstra Law School Asylum Clinic, where he prepared asylum claims and represented applicants in Immigration Court.

Last summer Derek interned at the office of U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, where he researched multiple issues including health care, women’s issues, aging, and immigration. He also  assisted with casework involving immigration issues as well as the Senator’s focus on LGBT legislation. Before attending law school, Derek was a Public Policy and Government Affairs Intern in Washington, DC for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

Derek will work with The DOMA Project on pending I-130 Alien Relative Petitions filed by lesbian and gay binational couples before the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, Board of Immigration Appeals and federal courts.

Laura & Samantha Join Countless Married Binational Couples Exiled to Canada By DOMA

Samantha and I met in September 2009 when my college roommate introduced us; we were perfect together. We moved into an apartment after dating for a few months and lived quite blissfully for the 3 or 4 months following.

Sometime in my second semester at college I realized that I was way off track with where I was heading as far as my education. I was at one of the best music schools in the country and I just didn’t feel all that great about it; and considering the tuition costs, I needed to feel great about it.

In 2010, Sam and I spent a great deal of time discussing our priorities and what we could do to stay together while still being productive with our lives. It was a tough few months. I looked into attending a U.S. college, but not being able to apply for both U.S. and Canadian student loans or get a job made tuition impossibly expensive—even with scholarships.

We considered a long distance relationship, but neither of us was happy or functioned at our best when the other wasn’t there. We aren’t just lovers, we are best friends, and neither of us would be whole without the other. We looked into other options, but Canada won out. We had to leave; there was no other way. Because of the Defense of Marriage Act, U.S. immigration law provided no recognition of our relationship—it would give me nothing more than a student visa, bar me from working and keep us in an indefinite state of instability and poverty.

The most difficult part of our decision was that it forced us to leave Samantha’s father. He took a horrendous fall a year ago and has been in and out of the hospital ever since. When we told him we were moving to Canada he was sad, but told us it would break his heart to see us apart.

Sam spent the summer in Canada with me. Once we qualified as common-law partners we could begin the immigration process; so we planned on returning to Boston for four more months in the fall before moving to Canada for good. We stayed with my parents in Alberta until the end of June and made a quick stop in British Columbia before returning to Boston. When we crossed the border I had to surrender my student visa because I was no longer planning to attend school in the States.

After visiting Samantha’s father in the hospital (he had pneumonia for the second time that year) we drove back to Canada so I could work at a job I had committed to in January. Border control asked us A LOT of questions that trip. The officer asked Samantha what she planned on doing in Canada three times and even asked—aware that we were going to be in the country for 2 months—why we were bringing clothes with us. We were terrified that Canadian customs would not let Samantha cross the border, but ultimately they did.

Despite our experience at customs we had a great summer. I worked and studied to get into college (again) and Samantha studied and worked on her music. We talked a lot about exactly where we were going to settle down and what programs we should apply for and how many kids we were going to have and when we were going to have them and then, realizing we had planned out a whole life together, decided to get married. We knew we wanted to get married on September 22nd (the day we started dating), but we hadn’t really planned on it for another few years. When Sam asked, while I was brushing my teeth no less, “Do you want to get married on September 22nd?” I said “yes” since she’d already asked me the question before. However, she quickly added “2010” which changed things a little.

Of course I accepted and we began planning our wedding ceremony with four weeks notice. Being 19 years old and not having a lot of money or time we opted for a backyard BBQ. My parents, bless them a thousand times over, knew I wanted more and offered to help pay for the wedding.

By the time we needed to head back to Boston we had a date, a venue, food, our best man, a maid of honor, and one of two wedding dresses. We were beyond excited and in high spirits.

Then we got to the border.

I work hard, I do well in school, I am kind to strangers, and I am respectful of everyone’s beliefs—even those that conflict with my own sexual orientation—but I wish that on the day we crossed the border I had been capable of telling a little white lie. Instead I told the truth. I told them I was planning on staying until January, that I was taking courses online, and that I was getting married in 3 weeks. Needless to say, the Customs and Border Protection officer was not happy.

I cried when one officer told me I might not be able to enter even for my own wedding. I could not for the life of me understand why my honesty was costing me so much. Luckily the immigration officer I spoke to in the end was very understanding. They wouldn’t let me stay 4 months, but I had until the end of November. I was given a visitor’s visa and a warning that there would be serious consequences if I overstayed my exit date.

Regardless of those hardships, the wedding was beautiful. Everyone there said it was the most beautiful ceremony they had seen. People told us they had never seen two people happier together; it was perfect. A month later we packed everything up and left for Canada.

Samantha and I are submitting our application for Canadian immigration this week. I have applied for an undergrad in Engineering with plans to pursue a PhD in developmental neurology. Sam is studying for entry into the same program to pursue surgery. She will be in Boston for the next month because her father is sick and her Boston family needs her there. I will be staying here because I cannot work in the United States and we have bills to pay.

We live in constant fear that the Canadian immigration application will be denied. Luckily we in Canada have the option of re-applying on “compassionate grounds” with low chance of denial, but I will still need to postpone my university entrance date and Samantha will be unable to work or go to school for over a year.

I do love Boston—I would have chosen to live there if I could—but I cannot bring myself to live in a country that won’t uphold my right to pursue happiness. When I have my doctorate and U.S. immigration welcomes me with open arms I still won’t live there. Until I can live there as a spouse, sponsored by my beautiful wife, I will not move to the United States.

For that to happen the Defense of Marriage Act must be repealed or struck down. It must go or we will not come home.

I love my wife more than I have ever loved anything or anyone in my entire life. She makes me laugh and she gives me a purpose. She makes me a better person and she doesn’t put up with my crap. She is flawed just like everyone else in this world is flawed, but because of who I am that makes her perfect for me. This isn’t some fluffy idea of love that we have—we know that love and marriage (especially gay marriage) has challenges and we are prepared to work hard for the life we want to share together. THAT should be what the government looks at when they are deciding whether a relationship is honest. We both have a lot to give. We are both going to be successful. All I have left to say is that I am sad for America; sad that it has lost and will lose so many wonderful people who could have made it a better place.

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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.