A Sister’s Plea: Let Jesse & Max Come Back

Perhaps we do not write enough about the love between siblings, but few relationships can be as precious since siblings are there from the beginning of time. Siblings mark a lifetime together that transcends the parental bond in a unique way. Tear away siblings from each other and gone are the shared memories of childhood. There is just no other way to say it: the bond that my brother and I share runs deep, as in core-of-the-earth deep. Today I am frustrated, angry, sad and motivated by discriminatory laws that have taken my brother from me and flung him across the world. So absurd is the situation that I often wonder to myself: how many American families wake up each day hoping and praying that the U.S. government will end the exile of their loved ones? What can I do to hasten the end of this diaspora?

I was born on a freezing winter afternoon in February, a day that also happened to be my brother Jesse’s seventh birthday. Our birthday would be only the first of many things we would share in lifelong friendship. Jesse and I enjoy a unique closeness, a true affection for each other that is hard to describe in words. It’s like Jesse is my 7-year twin with whom I share vital organs, bone marrow, even my soul. He is many things to me: yes, an older brother, but, because I admire him and respect him so much, he is also sometimes like a father to me. But most importantly, he is my best friend.

Jesse paid special attention to me as a child. He was always willing to engage, play, interact, and in this way he created a world for us. Together we put on magic shows and went on strike with picket signs to demand an increase in our allowance. Jesse eagerly shared his favorite music and his thoughts about his personal philosophy. As we grew up, our age difference began to dissolve and our friendship deepened. We have traveled all over the world together and some of the most significant experiences I have ever had were shared with Jesse.

In the year 2001 my brother met Maxi, the love of his life and his soul mate. Quickly, Maxi became an important member of our family. For me he became another brother and a dear friend. On the day I write this, Jesse and Maxi celebrate 10 years of love, commitment, adventure, and partnership.
The winter of 2001 I was a college freshman and Jesse was living and working in New York. I remember as though it were yesterday, the afternoon I received the phone call from him in my dorm room. The phone was in the hallway of my suite, I picked it up and it was an elated Jesse on the other line. His voice was filled with energy and excitement as he explained to me that he had met Maxi. “He is the one!” he exclaimed. “I am in love!” He began to pour out all of his raw emotions to me on the phone and I knew automatically that he had met his love, just like that, overnight. And that was the beginning of a long and incredible journey that would not only enrich the life of my brother but of our entire family.

I watched as Jesse and Maxi coped with the long distance and the separation. Jesse visited Maxi in Argentina as much as possible. As quickly as possible, Maxi found a job in New York and returned on a work visa. They thrived together. After 5 years, with Maxi’s visa running out and no way to stay together in the U.S., they were forced to seek shelter across the ocean. This was devastating for our family. We could not believe our own Jesse and Max would be banished from the U.S. and torn from our close family to a remote country.

Having Jesse and Maxi living in NY was something that I naturally took for granted during those 5 years. It wasn’t until they lived so far away, with no sign of coming back home, that I began to realize what it meant. In the beginning I tried to be optimistic, taking their lead, I tried to look at it as an adventure, but in my heart I had an aching feeling: adventures should be born from choice. They were not free to choose this adventure, instead this new chapter was imposed upon them. This great country of ours which offers so much falls extremely short when it comes to protecting its lesbian and gay citizens. This is never more obvious than for binational couples.

I miss the 5 years we had together in NY with a profound intensity. Sharing a love for live music, Jesse and I spent many weekends together going to concerts, discovering New York and going to social events and parties. We celebrated New Year’s Eve together religiously, and of course, we were always together on our birthday. This year again, we will be apart in February and no email or phone call can make up for that loss. Almost three years have passed since I have had Jesse and Max in my life in an everyday way. For a time I moved to Budapest and we re-connected, but of course that could only be a temporary salve. They eventually found a new home in London, where the British government recognized their relationship.

As many families learn, the plight of same-sex binational couples is devastating on not only the couple but all those who love and care for them. We have been robbed of the privilege to experiencing each other in the regular way. I cannot hop on a bus or train and see my brother. I cannot call him on a whim, due to the time difference. I go out in the city, wander and explore, see art, and feel the deep absence of my brother and comrade. Daily events are lost to each other, they cannot longer be shared in real time, experiences start to slip through the cracks, and life inevitably moves on. When we do get to meet on holidays, we are brought together for a joyous week or two but it is just not the same. Sad to say, but those reunions contain a hollowness. There is a gentle scramble which reflects the dire need to make up for time lost. Our lifetime of shared experiences is fractured year after year because of discrimination built into the laws of this country. There can be no reason for our own country to be tearing apart our family.

I want my brother to have the choice to come home with Maxi. These laws are inhumane. I am thankful every day that Jesse and Maxi have found a way to be together when so many binational gay couples have been torn apart for good. But the price has not been small. In order for Jesse and Maxi to stay together they are banished into exile. They are not free to come home and be with their family. Jesse should be able to sponsor Maxi for a visa so that they can come back to the U.S. and marry and so that Maxi can be given a green card based on their marriage. There is only one reason that is not happening right now: the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). We must end discrimination by the federal government against gay and lesbian couples.

Until DOMA is repealed, my family will continue to suffer. My parents save their hard earned dollars to make the expensive journey to Europe once a year to see Jesse and Maxi, while we otherwise satisfy ourselves on their ability to make infrequent visits here. This injustice must end. I join other family members of binational couples who fight against this discrimination. I encourage others reading this to help join us in our effort to bring our loved ones home.

See also: Forced Into Exile, Jesse & Max Fight To Return: File Fiancé Visa Petition and Challenge DOMA, November 15, 2010
Another Thanksgiving Without Jesse & Max A Mother Speaks Out Against DOMA, November 21, 2010.

Josh & Henry Reach 10,000 Supporters As They Continue The Fight To Save Their Marriage

Learn more about Josh & Henry’s struggle to stay together in this country by visiting their Facebook page. Help them by signing this petition calling on DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano to halt the deportations of spouses of gay and lesbian Americans.

DEPORTED: Forced into Exile, Tom & Emilio Fight to Return But DOMA Stands in Their Way

Tom and Emilio met in 2001 in New York City. A year earlier, like so many other gay men from his country, Emilio had left Venezuela in search of a better life in the U.S.  As Tom and Emilio fell in love and set out to plan a future together as a couple, they abruptly ran into the cold, hard brick wall reality of anti-gay discrimination in U.S. immigration law. For nine long years they have been deprived of a basic right that most families take for granted. Tom and Emilio have been denied the right to live together in this country. They have been denied the opportunity to build a life together with the support of Tom’s supportive and loving extended family in New Jersey. Although Tom is an American citizen, he and his husband, Emilio, have been forced to start a new life in Canada far from Tom’s family in New Jersey.  And because of Emilio was deprived of the usual path to lawful status, sponsorship by his American spouse, he was deported from the United States. That deportation means that Tom and Emilio cannot return for at least 10 years.

Tom writes:

On our first date at the VIP Diner in Jersey City, Emilio explained at some length the process of employment-based sponsorship. He explained to me that he was trying to obtain permanent resident status (a “green card”).  The complexities of the laws were new to me. As an American I had no idea how difficult immigration was.  As Emilio described the challenges he faced because of American immigration laws I could not have possibly imagined that I would be embarking on the bitter realization of my own second-class citizenship. In the not too distant future, my country’s government would spend a great deal of time, money and energy trying to rip my family apart.

After Emilio lost his work sponsorship we looked into other options. It was then that I learned that from the perspective of the American government, Emilio and I were effectively two strangers under the law. Even though over the years we owned a home together, shared our income and expenses and showed our commitment by entering into a New Jersey Domestic Partnership and a Civil Union, none of that mattered. During the six years of endless hearings with the Immigration Service and the Immigration Court in Newark, New Jersey I was never given the opportunity to do what every other American citizen can do quite simply for his or her non-citizen spouse: I was never able to sponsor Emilio for a green card. Only because we were a gay couple was our committed relationship denied recognition.  The frustration we felt at this time was overwhelming.

Ironically, Newark is the city where my parents were born and where their immigrant ancestors came to start a new life in the 1800s. Now, generations later, in that same city, Emilio and I fought in vain to keep our family together.  Emilio decided to apply for asylum because of his fear of persecution as a gay man from Venezuela.  I was not even allowed in the room when Emilio testified in his asylum hearings. The government prosecutor’s position was that I was of no relation to Emilio and therefore both my presence and my proposed my testimony were irrelevant to the case.  The cruelty seemed gratuitous at times.  The stress and aggravation was driving us both crazy; it’s hard to live a normal life when every official letter in the mailbox or unexpected knock on the door arouses the fear that my own government is going to take my life partner and soul mate away from me.  Even today, years later, I still feel residual anxiety when I receive a notice for a certified letter. The impact of those days have not yet receded. To add insult to the injury we were paying for this mental torture with our taxes and paying for our defense with paycheck after paycheck.


After years of hearings we finally had reason to celebrate. We were joyful when the immigration judge ruled in our favor and granted Emilio asylum.   This meant that Emilio could stay in the United States indefinitely and in a year he would be able to apply for a green card.  In a cruel twist of fate, however, it turned out that our joy was premature. The government prosecutor appealed the Immigration Judge’s decision. With our energy and finances drained, we could not fight any longer.  For years we had hoped to be able to live a normal life together in the United States but the mental anguish and practical considerations of years of legal battles compelled us to abandon hope.  We quite simply could not take it any more.  We decided to abandon the case and applied for residency in Canada. The way I saw it, I was choosing my spouse over my country. I hated this choice, but I was forced to make it.  Anyone reading this who has ever done it will know that moving to another country is not an easy task. We had to leave everything familiar to us: our family, friends, neighbors, and especially our beloved home that we had so proudly worked on together every weekend.  All, gone.

We have tried to remain optimistic. We started a new wonderful life together in Canada. We are fortunate to live in such a progressive city. We love living in Toronto and shortly after arriving here we got married at the top of the CN Tower. The symbol of our new home high in the sky. We are proudly and happily married and yet our marriage certificate does not allow me to sponsor Emilio.

You would think once we moved to Canada in December 2007 that all our problem with the United States government would be over. But that would not be the case.  U.S. law poured salt into our wounds by banning Emilio from re-entering the US for ten years, on the grounds that his departure in the midst of the government’s appeal counted as a self-deportation.   The idea that we have been forced out for at least ten years or possibly forever, sickens me. This was never more true than a few weeks ago when we watched as the Ugandan legislator, David Bahati, obtained a visitor’s visa to visit the US in December. Bahati is the  author and proponent of the infamous bill in the Ugandan Parliament that calls for gay people to face life imprisonment or, even, execution if they are convicted of having practiced homosexuality.  And our government gave Mr. Bahati a visitor visa, despite protests to Secretary of State Clinton to deny his application because of his advocacy of anti-gay hate and capital punishment for gays and lesbians. And at the same time, my darling spouse, Emilio, who has the kindest heart of any person that I know, is unable to obtain that same visitor’s visa.  We are unable to return to New Jersey for Christmas or Thanksgiving. We cannot visit my siblings or parents. It is all off-limits to us.  I have more rights as a permanent resident in Canada than I ever had as a United States citizen.

As we enter the new year, Emilio and I are now completing our applications for Canadian citizenship. This in a way caps our nearly decade long quest for equality. As Canadians we will not suffer the legal discrimination by the federal government that all gay Americans are forced to endure. I hope one day that we will return to the United States, equal under the law.

Recently we joined the effort to Stop The Deportations of gay and lesbian spouses of American citizens. With the guidance of my attorney, I filed a Petition for Alien Relative for Emilio. We intend to advocate for the approval of that petition by reaching out to our elected officials in New Jersey.  We understand that the federal government takes the position that it cannot recognize our legal, valid marriage. However, there is a higher principle of fairness and justice that will eventually bring a new reality to bear. The Defense of Marriage Act which dictates that the U.S. government cannot recognize the marriages of gay and lesbian couples, must be fought resolutely and aggressively and it must be defeated. To be sure that no other couple ever goes through the hell we experienced, to be sure that no more families are torn apart, and to be sure that all Americans are treated equally regardless of their sexual orientation, we must engage in this struggle.

As we begin a new year living in forced exile simply because we are gay, we continue to fight so that we can return to our life in the United States.  We urge those reading our story to learn how you can get involved to support this effort.

Binational Lesbian Couple of 19 Years, Forced Return to the Netherlands after Deportation

It has been a year since Jenny and Ottie were forced to leave their home in Delaware and return to The Netherlands. As we close out the year, we thought it was only appropriate to recall their tremendous effort to raise awareness of the plight of binational couples. We wish Jenny and Ottie well as they celebrate their 20th year together. The following excerpt first appeared on the website of the group Love Exiles, an international organization of binational lesbian and gay couples.

From Delaware Online:

“Phipps returned to the states about four years ago to help her brother, who was diagnosed with lymphoma. She was the only sibling able to donate stem cells to help treat him. But the illness got worse and her brother died after a year. That’s when Phipps decided she needed to be close to her parents and siblings.”

From LoveExiles:

“A woman with the family commitment and ultimate generosity to give up her life in the Netherlands, donate stem cells to her brother, and stay near her parents and siblings after her brother’s death.  On November 17, 2009 Jenny and Ottie left their home in Delaware. They don’t know when and if they will be able to return. Thanks to Jenny and Ottie’s efforts, Judiciary Committee member Senator Kaufman (D-DE) came out in support of the Uniting American Families Act.”

Gay American “Punched in the Gut” – Consulate in Casablanca Rejects His Moroccan Partner

“The good news is that gay Americans can now openly fight and die for their country in the military. The bad news is we are still treated as second-class citizens when it comes to the civil marriage law.

I will always remember the day, and the face of the U.S. government that told me I am not equal to other Americans, that my relationships are not as worthy as those of other Americans.”

Read the full article here.

Binational Couple Torn Apart: Gay Peruvian Man Deported After Two Months in Detention

Deportation is every binational couple’s nightmare scenario. Stories like the one depicted in this excellent article serve to remind us of the reality of deportation. The couple pictured here, Richard and Jair, waged a courageous and exhausting fight to stay together.  Their fight would have been unnecessary if lesbian and gay couples were afforded equal rights under our immigration laws.  We must fight for legislative action and for an immediate halt to deportations.

On December 17, as the U.S. Senate voted to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Jair Izquierdo was enduring his 58th day in an Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facility. That morning, he spoke by phone to Richard, his partner of five years. The couple was hopeful that last minute efforts by Senator Robert Menendez would at least delay the deportation, but it was too late. Within hours, Jair was abruptly taken to a plane and flown back to his native Peru, the country he had fled in 2001. An outstanding removal order from 2009 was enforced against Jair and the couple was powerless to stop it. The deportation will mean at least a ten-year bar on returning to the United States.

In 2008, Richard and Jair celebrated their relationship by entering a “civil union” under the laws of New Jersey.  Despite this, U.S. immigration law did not provide an avenue for Richard to sponsor Jair for legal status. Like so many binational couples they reached a dead end after pursuing every route to legalize Jair’s status over the years. They lived with the constant threat that one day Immigration and Customs Enforcement would come for Jair and enforce that removal order and that day came on October 20.  As the article reports, the couple mounted heroic efforts but they were not able to slow down the deportation process.  The consequences for them are devastating.

This heartbreaking story, transpiring as it did just before Christmas and on the very day we achieved a milestone victory for equality, illustrates why we desperately need leadership on this issue.  Most urgently, the executive branch of our government must put in place a policy that halts the deportations of spouses and partners of gay and lesbian U.S. citizens until a change in the law brings same-sex binational couples into the family-based immigration system.

There are no quick fixes for binational couples, as any veteran of the long struggle for immigration equality can attest.  While work continues to ensure that family unification—the bedrock policy of our immigration law—extends to all Americans,  Department Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano must stop the deportations.

Another gay couple in New Jersey who are fighting deportation, Josh Vandiver and Henry Velandia, have taken a lead in this effort. They have set up a petition (“Save Our Marriage, Stop the Deportation of Henry Velandia”) calling on Secretary Janet Napolitano to exercise prosecutorial discretion for gay and lesbian binational couples. Please sign this petitionand share it with others.

José and Steve: Running Out of Options

 
José and Steve’s wedding rings

Steve and I came across your website and wanted to share our story. Understanding the struggles of binational couples means also learning about the endless, complex journeys of immigrants to the United States.  The defeat of the DREAM Act in the Senate on December 18 was a crushing blow to us and to all young men and women brought to the United States as children by their parents.   As a gay couple, we know that the solution for us lies with the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act.

I was just seven years old when I was brought to the United States. My parents decided to leave Peru to move us out of harm’s way. Sendero Luminoso or Shining Path was an active Maoist Peruvian terrorist group known for its brutality and violence. My parents felt it was no longer safe to raise me and my two-year-old sister in Peru. We moved to Miami, Florida were we were all granted legal status because of my dad’s work visa.

Growing up, I was taught that if I worked hard the  opportunities would be endless. I quickly mastered English. I was in gifted classes in elementary school and I spent my summers at school. I got so far ahead in mathematics that I had to take one class (Algebra 2) at the high school before coming back to middle school for the rest of the day. I was admitted to a Magnet science and math high school and graduated with a 4.9 GPA. I participated in everything from Model UN, Performing Arts, to the Swim Team. I was Editor-in-Chief of the Yearbook. I competed in every academic competition, often winning, and I was a even a State Officer for one of my clubs. I was part of the Duke University Talent Identification Program. I was a National Hispanic Merit Finalist and AP Scholar.  I went to the State Science Fair and won a Silver Crown for our Yearbook.  I was doing everything I could to ensure that I would go to a good college and secure my future.

And then the other shoe dropped.

I started applying to go to schools. Turns out, as a child whose status was derived from his parent’s non-immigrant work visa, I lacked sufficient immigration status to qualify for any federal aid or help. My dream of attending Duke University or Columbia evaporated.  I had excellent grades and high SAT scores, but I would have to apply as an international student rendering me ineligible for any financial aid. At that time, my mother’s brother, a U.S. citizen, petitioned for us to get permanent resident status (“green cards”), but that process that was estimated to take 10+ years.  Unexpectedly, a short term solution gave me some reprieve. The University of Florida awarded me private scholarships to cover all my tuition. I was still considered an international student, but they used private money to ensure I would get my education. I graduated in 2006 with a Bachelor’s of Science in Environmental Science.

While in school, I battled depression. I knew I was gay, but I had not come out to my friends or family. Separately, I wanted to get internships in my field, but as an international student they were out of reach. I put on a good face and tried to hide my sadness. To my fraternity brothers, I was just happy old me, but inside I felt lonely and hopeless. Near the end of school, I withdrew for a year due to my many issues, but I went back. I changed my major from Environmental Engineering to Environmental Science because I knew I would run of money before completing the longer engineering degree.  In the back of my mind was the realization that even when I graduated I wouldn’t be able to do anything with my degree because of my immigration status. Lacking any choices or any plan for my future, I pushed on anyway. My family kept pressuring for me to find the right person and get married, like my sister did. Of course they knew that if my life progressed that way my immigration status would also be resolved. I knew that I could never do that. I pushed back, but I couldn’t say why. They still didn’t know I was gay. Everything finally got to me and right before I graduated I sunk to my very lowest and most desperate state.  Feeling trapped by these circumstances, I needed a change.

I graduated, sold my truck and left Florida and headed to the Pacific northwest. It was about as far as I could go to start a new life.  I had no friends, no family, and no job. Intentionally, I set out to start over. I slowly came out to my family and to my friends. I met Steve (an American citizen) and we fell in love. I felt for the first time that I had met the person who I had needed my whole life. Even though I had always been surrounded by friends and family, I had always felt lonely – I finally started feeling happy.

While I was waiting for my the sibling petition filed by my uncle for my mother to become “current,” Steve and I became closer and closer as a couple. This past spring, after being together for 3 years, we married in Greenwich, Connecticut.  It was the happiest day of my life. We followed that with a beautiful ceremony a few weeks later with many of our friends and family. Then we traveled to Florida where we celebrated with many of my friends.

Shortly after, the “priority date” on my uncle’s petition finally became “current.” However, I now learned that during that long wait I had irreversibly “aged out” after turning 21. I could no longer derive permanent resident status through my mother, because immigration viewed me as an adult, and not as a “child.”  This news was devastating. In a single moment, I went from waiting to get my “green card” to having no options. I don’t have work authorization and we are running out of time. If I were straight, my marriage would have been all it took to fix this, but I am not.  Because of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), our legal marriage is worthless to the federal government. I cannot miss the fact that four years ago my sister received her green card on the basis of her marriage. The contrast between my situation and hers reinforces the feeling that Steve and I share, that we are devalued by this country, discounted as less equal and less deserving simply because we are gay. Yet, the people that know Steve and I know that our relationship and our commitment to each other is no different than any other. We love each other, we are happier together than we’ve ever been before.

My entire life is in this country. I had no input in my parents’ decision to bring me and my sister to this country when I was a child. I did everything right to try to achieve this American Dream and in the end I am left empty-handed.  My husband is treated as a second class citizen and is helpless to change these circumstances. If it wasn’t for the love of my family and friends – I don’t how we would go on. We cling to the hope that we will be able to make a future together despite this seemingly insurmountable obstacle.

Peru may be where I was born, but ironically America is the only home I know. I say ironically, because the problems Steve and I face are entirely because of this country’s discrimination against us as a married gay couple. We must fight for our right to be together. We cannot give up because Steve and I have nowhere to go. We are desperate for DOMA to be defeated. We are afraid that I could be deported to Peru, a country of which I have no longer have a strong connection and where gay men are persecuted.  We are hoping that by lending our voices to this effort as a married binational couple we can help others understand the way in which DOMA threatens to destroy our family. We ask everyone reading this to join in the effort to repeal DOMA and help end the cruel discrimination again gay and lesbian binational couples that tears apart American families.

Inger and Philippa Prepare for Another Christmas on Webcam: Love Without Borders

At the end of a visit, Philippa hugs their ten-year old
daughter who knows her as Mum

Here we are, with the holidays quickly approaching. My daughter and I are trying to prepare and take pleasure in the season. Sounds happy enough, except for the fact that my wife, the woman my daughter calls “Mum,” is 5,000 miles and 7 hours away from us in the UK. The emptiness that is a prevailing theme as we pick out gifts and drag out decorations is almost palatable. Even the littlest things, like having to think again about sending packages overseas and wondering if they’ll arrive in time reminds us of what is missing. The knowledge that it will be another Christmas on webcam takes much of the joy out of the situation.

My name is Inger. I am a US citizen and my partner, Philippa, is British. Together we have a 10 year old daughter who knows Philippa as her Mum.

We have been struggling to find solutions to the inequalities in the US Immigration system for about 2 ½ years. In that time, Philippa has been here 6 times and my daughter and I have been to the UK twice. The longest we have managed to spend together in one sitting is 89 days. That’s just under 3 months. When you think about it, that’s no time at all, especially when this person you haven’t seen for more than 89 days is your spouse. It’s hard to create a home and raise your family and be part of “normal” everyday life when that life depends on telephones, computers and the occasional visit lasting, usually, between 8 to 23 days. When we had a commitment ceremony, and our daughter gave me away, it was a beautiful thing and one of the proudest days of my life… less than 2 weeks later she was gone.

The United States of America is very big on the idea of family; however, it seems hypocritical to tell me that my family isn’t “the right kind.” Those who express bigotry against lesbian and gay Americans seek to deny us our basic human rights. As an American in a binational relationship I am encouraged to leave my own country as a solution to our immigration woes. The purveyors of the Family Values propaganda are not the ones who have to hold their young child at night when she wants her mum; to try to explain and to rationalize why her mother has to leave after 3 weeks when it’s been 6 ½ months since we’ve seen her last; to keep her feeling safe when she knows that we don’t know when we’ll be reunited next; and, above all else, to keep her faith and trust in us that we are doing everything we possibly can to fix this.

Family Values rhetoric has been enshrined in our laws, and those laws deny us the right to live together as a family. You might say we are lucky to have the option to move to the UK, where same-sex binational couples have had immigration rights since 1997. However, we cannot move to the UK because my daughter’s father lives here in Colorado. It would be wrong to deprive my daughter of her relationship with her father. That is a choice we should not have to make, because Philippa should be able to move here and live with us. But the U.S. government does not see it that way. The Defense of Marriage Act denies access to the protections of U.S. law including the family unification policy of immigration law through which all other Americans in my position would simply sponsor their spouse for a green card. The Defense of Marriage Act wages a war of cruel consequences against us. It was passed in the name of family values. Whose family? The proponents never said. This law must be repealed in the name of fairness and justice. And in the name of valuing family.

When I describe our situation to others they are appalled. Philippa is willing to give up her whole life, leave everything she knows and has in the UK so that she can be with us and yet she is made to feel unwanted by the country of The Great Melting Pot and The Land of Opportunity. She is educated, industrious, moral and kind and would be an asset to our community. With her by my side, we would live happier and more productive lives. What child wouldn’t thrive in a home with loving caring and supportive parents? Philippa has to view our daughter’s triumphs and hard times through email, or video instead of being able to cheer her on in person or hug her fears away. When our girl asks a seemingly simple question of “When is Mum coming home?” Would you want to be the one answering those questions, looking into that confused and trusting face, seeing it crumble and fall? No one would want to fall in love, only to feel that they have caused pain to the rest of their family. But we could no more give up on each other, than breathe water or sprout wings. And so, we carry on. Facing each new day as it comes, knowing that still in our trying situation, we are luckier than so many others.

I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that I in Philippa I have found my life mate, my forever one, the only person with whom I could ever truly raise my life’s work, our daughter. I will wait and fight and petition and call and volunteer and cry and shake my fists at the heavens until my beautiful and most precious wife is safely home and we are all united. Permanently. A simple thing really. No fireworks, no fanfare…just to be together…just to be. What I wouldn’t give.

In the mean time, we waffle between celebrating and forgetting that we are missing birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, milestones and every precious minute we are apart. Vowing never to waste a moment when we can finally stop the clock that is slicing our days together into moments left. To silence that ticking that underscores everything. Just to be. Together. Whole. Always.


The Ballad of Linas & Jan

Don’t get me wrong: Stockholm is a lovely place to live. The city is beautiful, it’s hip, it’s incredibly pleasant, and the summers are unsurpassable. But despite its many charms, Sweden isn’t home.

If you had told me ten years ago that I’d be living in Sweden because I had to, I wouldn’t have believed you. Ten years ago, I was graduating from college and moving to Manhattan, the magical place where I’ve wanted to move ever since my childhood in Cleveland, Ohio. I had the world (a.k.a. “New York”) right in front of me, and Sweden barely registered on my mental map. In fact, before I arrived at Stockholm’s airport in February of 2005 with no intention of using the second half of my roundtrip ticket, I had never even seen pictures of the city. The passport control agent flipped through my passport several times before asking, “I see you have a residency visa, but when was the last time you were in Sweden?”
“Never!” I replied cheerily. “I hope I like it!”

So how did I get here? And why am I still here?

Linas and Jan with family members at their wedding in Stockholm, September 2009

Well, like all the best stories, mine involves a sailor. A captain, actually. On a chilly November evening in 2003 in Midtown, I was chatting away with friends at a magazine party when the open bar began charging for drinks. The crowd converged on coat check, eager to move someplace else. Hundreds of people pressed forward uncomfortably, so I hovered near the edge of the crowd, waiting for it to settle down and start thinning out. The next thing I know, some guy is pulling me into the melee, saying in a slight foreign accent, “You have to push forward, or you’ll never leave.” (Words to live by, as it turned out.)

My first thought: ‘Who is this random dude, and why is he hitting on me in coat check, of all places?’
My second thought: ‘Why am I giving this handsome guy such a hard time?’

The rest, as they say, is history. (Or as Elaine Benes might say to Jerry Seinfeld, “Yadda, yadda, yadda…”) His name was Jan, and he used to drive humongous cargo ships all around the world. For the past few years, he had taken a ‘desk job’ in New Jersey for his Scandinavian shipping company. Jan and I soon became inseparable. A year later, his company reorganized and moved his position to Stockholm, his hometown. I had just signed some book contracts – I am incredibly lucky to be part of a fairly mobile profession – so I quit my editing job, and within weeks I was smiling at the face of a bewildered passport agent. You see, at that point I was thinking, ‘Who knows? Maybe Stockholm is even better than New York! We’ll try it – say, for three to five years – and if we don’t like it, we’ll just move back.’ (If you could see me as I type this, you’d see me shaking my head and smiling ruefully.)

Within months, I was pretty sure that Stockholm would never make me feel the way New York does. I was genuinely homesick. And the professional drawbacks to living abroad were more significant than I had supposed. My thoughts started turning to a stateside return, but the reality of my situation gradually became clear.

To explain: Before this point, the whole issue of visas and residency permits just seemed like a question of bureaucratic maneuvering, perhaps because I had known so many people in college and in New York from so many different countries. If they had all done it, why couldn’t Jan? Moreover, moving to Sweden had been a breeze! In fact, based on my relationship with Jan, I could become a Swedish citizen in just three years.
Essentially, our situation boiled down to this: Jan could only move back to the United States if a company sponsored his visa. And there are so, so many complications embedded in that simple statement.

Today I can honestly say that Jan and I are happy in Sweden. He loves his job, we’re close to his family, and we’ve made lifelong friends here. We have a very blessed life, and we know it. But we don’t want to be forced to live here forever. All gay and lesbian people understand what it means not to belong, and on some fundamental level, I just don’t belong here. And if I were given the option of moving back with Jan, I’d do it – in a New York minute.

It’s painful to hear straight, binational couples casually talk about moving back to the U.S.; it’s an enraging reminder of how fairness doesn’t always correspond with law. My Swedish friends are invariably confused: “What do you mean, you can’t move back to the U.S. with Jan?” (And the unstated, implicit follow-up question, “With policies like those, why would you even want to move to such a backward country?”) My family lives back home, in the States, and living with Jan in Sweden means we are isolated from them and so many of my closest friends, unable to share life’s celebrations and challenges with them.

In my head, I understand the incredible odds against immigration equality. Binational gay and lesbian couples comprise a relatively small number of people trying to rally national political attention. But when it’s you whose life is being shaped and limited by heinous legislation, the statistics don’t matter as much as the principles at stake.

So I ‘push forward,’ adding my voice to this campaign to end discrimination and keeping in mind the wise words of Elie Wiesel: “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”

A native of Ohio, author, illustrator and editor Linas Alsenas has lived in Sweden for almost six years. During that time he has written and illustrated three picture books for Scholastic Press: Mrs. Claus Takes a Vacation (2006), Peanut (2007), and Hello My Name Is Bob (2009). He also wrote Gay America: Struggle for Equality (Amulet, 2008), an ALA Stonewall Honor book. He is hard at work on his next picture book, The Princess of 8th Street, due out in 2012. Linas and his husband, Jan, married in Sweden in September 2009, a few months after the country updated its laws to extend marriage to same-sex couples.

Chase Whiteside: Stop Deporting Gay Spouses

New Left Media‘s Chase Whiteside is writing as a guest columnist at LOGO On-Line’s 365gay.com this month.  He chose to focus on the challenge faced by gay and lesbian binational couples as his topic for this week’s installment. Read the complete column here.

“The United States lags behind 19 countries around the world that apply the same rules to same-sex couples for immigration purposes, including those with high immigration volume like Canada and the UK, whose systems are similar to ours. They have not experienced the increase in visa petitions or fraud that conservatives have warned of.  It’s time for the U.S. to catch up. And it’s time for the LGBT rights movement to prioritize this issue and press the government for immediate action.”

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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.