Stop The Deportations Launches Facebook Page

Check out our Facebook page here.

Help us build support to end the deportations, separations and exile of lesbian and gay binational couples.  Click on “like” and then scroll down to the bottom left and click on “share” to send the link to your friends.

Help Us Stop The Deportation of Henry Velandia Sign Petition to DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano

Encouraged by the overwhelming support for their Facebook page, Josh Vandiver and Henry Velandia have started an on-line petition calling on Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to exercise “prosecutorial discretion” to halt the deportation of spouses of gay and lesbian Americans. More than 2,000 people have signed the petition already. Help us reach our goal of 10,000 signatories.

Sign this petition today and help us build a movement to stop the deportations, separations and exile that tear apart lesbian and gay binational couples.

A Mother’s Failing Health: Lesbian Couple Caught Between America and Australia

I am an American woman in love. While I have met my soulmate, I have also found that in my relationship with my country, my country seems to be rejecting me.

Mia and I started dating in August 2007 while I was living and working in Australia. By the time our relationship developed into a romantic one, we had already been friends for years. Mia is Australian. I was born in the United States and while I was living in Australia I became an Australian citizen.  My dual citizenship has given us some advantages over other binational lesbian couples. That is until unexpected crisis interrupted our peaceful lives and reminded us of the extreme cruelty of discrimination in American immigration laws that are meant to protect and unify families.

Our relationship from the very beginning was amazing. Mia is one of the most loving and caring people I have ever known. We spent years living together in Australia happy and content.  During these years I missed my mother very much. It was difficult for me to live so far away, but I knew that moving back home to the U.S. was not an option due to American laws excluding gay binational couples from family-based immigration. Sadly, I came to realize that I have more rights as a gay Australian than I do in my home country.

We took annual trips to the US and spent a month visiting with my family and friends. During these trips Mia became very close with my parents and began to understand how hard it was for me to be so far away.

In the past year my parents have had major health issues and it has made our distance more than just difficult, it became a crisis. My Dad had a stroke and was in the hospital for one month undergoing a major surgery. In February, my Mom had a heart attack and we came very close to losing her. My parents worried about me being so far away and tried to protect me from the truth about their health. When I finally discovered the extent of their health issues I spent many difficult months deciding whether to move back home to take care of them. What made this decision so difficult was the knowledge that it would put a lot of stress on my relationship with Mia because I was unable to sponsor her as my partner.  My parents’ health was in the balance. That my parents, aging and needing the help of their daughter, are now victims of the mean-spirited politicians who forced the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) on this country is appalling.  That law stands in the way of our family being together at a time of extreme stress and great need.  Why did Congress do this to our family?

In May 2010, I began making all of the arrangements to move my life and Mia back to the US. As Mia has two University degrees, I was hoping that she would be able to get an work visa. When we arrived in US things did not go as we had planned. Within three weeks of us arriving in the US we had to rush my Mom to hospital. She was in the CCU for four weeks and again we almost lost her. All together she was in the hospital for four months and both Mia and I were at the hospital every day with her. I am designated by her health care proxy to make sure she was receiving the best care. Mia was my rock during this time. If it wasn’t for her love and support I would have not made it through this critical time. My Mom has now been home for a little over one month and she needs a lot of assistance with medications, treating her pressure sore, cooking, cleaning, etc. Mia and I have spent most of our time taking care of my Mom.

Because it was so important for Mia to be there for me and for my parents in this difficult period, she selflessly put off looking for an employer to sponsor her for a work visa. I sit here now sharing my story with you knowing that in a few days my love will be getting on a plane to go back to Australia without me. We are hoping that she will be able to return in a month or two but there are no guarantees. I cannot imagine my life without her.  I should be able to petition for her as my spouse so that she is able to stay here with me for as long as we are needed here. That should be our choice, based on our family’s need. Instead, my own government does not allow me to keep my family together, while a binational heterosexual couple would never face this outrageous and inhumane situation. I am so sad and angry that my government treats my family this way.

I am now in a position, which no one should be put in. I have been forced to choose between taking care of my parents and being with my partner who I love and adore. It is more stressful and heart wrenching than any words could ever explain. And it must end. Congress has the power and the responsibility to repeal DOMA and must do so. This must be a priority for our community.

An American Grandmother and Her Wife, In Exile

Sally and I met in 2003 on an Internet message board at a time when we were both winding down marriages. I was in the process of a divorce after being married for 24 years and, defined for so long as wife and mother, I didn’t know what I was going to do with the rest of my life. One of my best friends told me to plan on being alone for the rest of my life as men for women my age were in short supply.

I grew up in a family that was extremely bigoted and homophobic. There were openly gay men on both sides of my family, and they were constantly the object of jokes and obscene comments. I had always had very strong attachments to my female friends and never had those same attachments to men I dated. I didn’t know what that meant though. I had never had any lesbian role models growing up, and assumed that all females fantasized about having sex with other females. I was quite naïve!

I responded to a post on the message board titled “Am I Gay?” because I had begun finally acknowledging to myself that I might be gay, a prospect that was terrifying to me. I wanted to see what advice others had to offer. One day Sally privately messaged me on the board that she was involved with a woman and would be happy to talk to me about my feelings if I ever wanted to talk.  We spent months communicating via private messages on the board, then e-mail, and ultimately through instant messages.  As odd as it may sound, we both realized that we were falling in love and finally after 8 months of talking to each other online and on the phone, I traveled to England to meet her in person.  When we did meet in person, it was as if we had known each other all of our lives.  We continued to travel back and forth to see each other.  I would go to England one month and Sally would travel to the US the next month.  We alternated who traveled to try and cut down on the immigration problems.

In July 2004, with our divorces finalized, we traveled to Canada, Sally from England and me from the US, and married.  It was absurd and tortuous to separate after honeymooning in Mexico, but as a lesbian couple we had no choice. Borders and passports trumped our love for each other. With heavy hearts, Sally returned to England and I returned to the US. It would be weeks before we were able to be together again.

We spent the next year and a bit traveling back and forth, trying to spend as much time together as possible.   Some trips were only for one night.  I moved to New Jersey to make the trips back and forth a bit cheaper and a bit shorter. I would fly out on Friday night after work, arrive in Manchester on Saturday morning, and fly back to the States on Sunday so that I could go back to work on Monday morning.  It was horrendous, exhausting and extremely expensive.  We were spending about $1,000 each month on travel expenses. Our phone bills exceeded $2,000 each month, until I figured that with VoIP and could get a virtual England number so that Sally and I could call each other for almost nothing. The financial burden was staggering.

We searched relentlessly for every option that would permit Sally to move to the US or allow me to move to the UK.  As so many thousands of binational gay couples before us we learned the cold hard truth: there was no way for Sally to move to the US without me sponsoring her and that was impossible because the US did not recognize our legal marriage.  The UK Civil Partnership Act was not effective at the time, and the only option available to me to move to the UK was to apply for a visa under the UK Highly Skilled Migrant Programme.  I met with an immigration lawyer in Liverpool who filed the application for me in August 2004, but it was denied on our first try because the attorney hadn’t supplied all the necessary information.

In April 2005 Sally traveled to the States for a 90 day visit.  When she arrived in the States, she was pulled aside at immigration for additional questioning because she had been to the States so often.  She was intimidated by the immigration officers and, after a more than an hour-long interrogation, she was finally told that they would allow her in to visit but that she wouldn’t be allowed back to the US for a year.  We were elated to be together for more than a few days at a time, but heartbroken at what the future held for us.   I was beginning to get questioned at immigration control when I came to England and even when I arrived back in the States. To be questioned on both ends, as though we were common criminals, when all we wanted to do is build a life together… it was almost too much to bear. It was certainly almost impossible to explain to others what we were enduring.  We are truly each other’s soul mate and we couldn’t bear the thought of being apart for months at a time. So we kept trying.

While Sally was in the States, she took the UK visa denial letter and put together a new application with all of the supporting information that had been left out the first time around.  This time we were pleasantly surprised. On Sally’s birthday in July 2005 we received the wonderful news that my visa to the UK had been approved. Two months later, I moved to the UK.

It has taken me years to rebuild my career here in the UK. Even in a booming economy at the time, it took months for me to find a job with no UK experience. However, I finally did get a job, and have worked for the past 5 years to get my career and income back to the level it was in the US.

I pay taxes to the UK government, but still have to file a tax return for the US government. I pay a higher tax rate here in the UK than I would earning the same income in the US, which means that I don’t have to pay additional taxes to the US on my income. However, I would be quite disappointed if I had to pay additional taxes to the US as I don’t get to file as a married US citizen. And I don’t get the same rights, particularly with regards to immigration. Needless to say, if I had married a British man rather than a British woman, my marriage would be recognized and not only would I be able to file my taxes as a married person, I would have the right to sponsor my spouse for immigration. Instead, I have been forced into exile.

Our Canadian marriage was automatically recognized here in England as of December 5, 2005 under the UK Civil Partnership Act. We enjoy the same rights and responsibilities of a heterosexual married couple in the US. The mundane becomes so comforting when you are treated equally and with dignity. When we have to fill out paperwork – mortgage applications, next of kin information at hospital and doctor appointments – there is a matter of fact acceptance of our same sex relationship. If I hadn’t been able to come here on my own visa, once the Civil Partnership Act was in effect, Sally could have sponsored me for immigration purposes into the UK. People here refer to same sex couples just as they would heterosexual couples – we are wives and gay men are referred to as each other’s husbands. It is hard to express in words what it is like to live in a world where being equal is simply the everyday norm.

I have two grown daughters, a 26-year old who works with hearing impaired children in a Texas school, and a married 28-year old who lives near Houston, where she works as a customer services rep for an IT company. My older daughter gave birth to my first grandchild, an amazing little boy in January 2009.  She is pregnant again. My second grandson is expected to arrive on my birthday in March 2011.

Unfortunately, because of what happened to Sally at immigration before, she is terrified of going into the US, making every trip extremely stressful. We miss our American family, but it is very expensive for us to visit as often as we want. We are rarely able to go back to the US, and I have now not seen my daughters in 15 months. By the time I can visit again, it will have been 19 months. Every mother and grandmother reading this will understand what that forced separation from my daughters and my grandson has meant for me. I have only seen my grandson twice in his life. I am thankful for free video chat options we have and as a result, he does know who I am, although he occasionally confuses me with his hero, Sponge Bob Square Pants! While I am exiled from my family, Sally is also deprived of the opportunity to spend these years getting to know my daughters. She is their stepmother and yet we have had so little time with them.

My mother is deceased.  My father had a lung transplant in May 2004 and was on the mend, but he chose to end his life earlier this year. Because of the problems we have going in and out of the US, I could not to go back for a memorial service that was held for him. Apart from my wife my only family are my daughters, son-in-law, and my grandchild. It is painful for me to be forced to live on the other side of the world from them, but it would be unbearable to be separated from Sally. I should not have to make that choice.

What stands in the way of my family’s happiness is a very simple law called, in mock seriousness, “The Defense of Marriage Act.” What this law does is that it creates two classes of marriages. One group of married couples (heterosexuals) have all the full rights, benefits and protections of federal law. The other group, legally married gay and lesbian couples, have nothing. According to this law, they are not husbands and wives, but legal strangers to one another.

No matter the depth of our love, no matter the literal distance we have traveled to make a life together, no matter how supportive and compassionate our friends and family are, we are treated as strangers by the U.S. government.

Another American family is torn apart by DOMA. A mother is kept from holding her daughter’s hand as she gives birth. A grandmother is kept from seeing her grandson take his first steps.

Members of Congress who passed this law in 1996 did so before same-sex couples could even marry. When you think about it, that is some determined effort to discriminate and cause havoc. Discriminating against Sally and me, causing so much pain to our families, can be undone. Repeal the Defense of Marriage Act now, and we can live together in the United States. Ironic, perhaps, that the main proponents of DOMA are those anti-gay legislators who are the first to say that government must be small and not intrude in our lives. And yet look at the terrible mess they have made of our lives, government making choices for us that we should have every right to make for ourselves.

Andrew Sullivan: The Spousal Diaspora

Andrew Sullivan writes very powerfully about DOMA and the exile of gay binational couples:

More and more Americans are being forced by the US government to emigrate because the Defense of Marriage Act will not allow their legal spouses to remain in America. Why? Because the spouses are not US citizens. For ever, the US has acknowledged, perhaps excessively, that marriage and family trump everything in immigration law. As long as the marriage is valid, and sincere, no questions are asked. Why? Because we collectively acknowledge something profound about the decision to commit legally to one other person for life, and respect it. We do not force someone to emigrate from the US because he fell in love with a woman from, say, Spain or force the repatriation of an American because she swooned for a Russian.

But for gay couples, it’s so different. It is difficult for a government to express more contempt for a citizen’s human dignity than asserting that it is completely indifferent to his or her being able to live in America with the person he or she loves. And this inhumanity is compounded by the fact that in some states and the capital city, Americans can lawfully wed someone of the same gender but of a different nationality. So they are lured with the chimera of equality only to discover that, if they are to remain together, they will have to leave the country.

No other civilized Western country treats its own gay citizens this way. And yet it appears clear that the law will not change on this in the foreseeable future, as a more and more radicalized Republican party exercizes a veto over any equality for gay people, and as the Democratic party continues its defensive crouch in the face of religious intolerance and cultural panic.

This is not, in my view, a minor matter. In fact, very few issues demonstrate so starkly the inequality between gays and straights in America than this. Has any heterosexual American citizen ever doubted for a mili-second that he has a right to marry the person he loves and remain in the land he was born in? It is unthinkable. And yet what is unthinkable for 98 percent of citizens is mandatory for the tiny minority.

It hangs over a binational marriage like a sword; it eats away at you like a cancer; it terrifies and enrages and demoralizes. And, for so many, it is not going away.

BBC News: Gay Newlyweds Fighting Deportation

See full article on BBC News here.

A Border Keeps an American Woman From Her Partner During a Health Crisis

The author asked that the faces in this photograph be obscured to protect their privacy

I am an American woman. My partner of five years lives in Canada. I want to share our story to add a voice to this effort.

We first met on line 12 years ago, and gradually we got to know each other and fell in love. Five years ago we committed to each other as a couple, despite the challenges we faced to be together. Like so many other couples, we live separated by an invisible line seen only on maps and the stern faces of immigration officers. Each border crossing is a nerve racking experience. To cross the border is to be reunited with the other, but still it is an act filled with fear and dread. The greatest anxiety we feel is that on this attempt to enter, we will be denied. I never know if the Canadian officials will allow me yet another visit. She never knows if the Americans will permit her to come see me. It is in one word, crazy.

Right now my partner and the love of my life is battling lung cancer. She is undergoing chemotherapy and radiation therapy. My visits with her are rationed, and carefully planned and scheduled. The most important goal for me, given her health situation, is to preserve the opportunity to visit her. To maximize my chances, I go up only ever other week. We are both afraid that if I try to go more often I might be denied from crossing the border and unable to be with her. We are also afraid that if I am denied once, I may be denied again and again. This fear may not sound rational. Even though I only have an intention to visit her, the concern is that the Canadian authorities may conclude that I wish to stay there permanently. In fact that is not true. But still there is the worry. Will one visit too many result in an officer will put an end to these difficult but vital trips?

My partner agonizes, too, about whether she will be denied entry as a visitor when she is well enough to travel again to the U.S.

It hurts me and her that I can’t be with her while she is undergoing her treatment. It is devastating to think that I am stuck on one side of a border, by an invisible line that seems not to know about our humanity; this is never more upsetting than when is told she might not survive the treatment. She lives very far from her family who are on the other side of the country.

I am fortunate because my employer recognizes the issue has allowed me to work out a schedule so that I can go and be with her. Regardless, I am limited as to the amount of time I can take off form work. I also have to pay bills, take care of a home and take care of our pets. If the U.S. government would recognize our relationship I would be able to have her here with me and care for her 24/7 during this difficult time. Right now I worry about my not being there if something was to happen. I worry that I won’t be there when she needs someone to take her to the doctor or to the ER.

Through this awful experience, I learned knew things about people close to me. For example, I never would have thought my parents would have accepted our relationship but they surprised me. They welcomed my partner into the family just like they did my sisters’ husbands. I can’t help but think: if my parents with the good old southern up bringing can accept us and love us, why can’t my own government let us be together?

I am not much of a writer, I find it hard to convey our story for others to understand. But imagine your spouse fighting for her life and you can’t be there to hold their hand when they are getting sick from the chemo, give them a hug when it gets to hard to walk across a room, or fix them a meal so they can keep their strength up so they can go to another treatment. Imagine not being able to hold them and tell them you love them every day when the fear stalks you that it might be your last day to do so.

I cannot do this because we are a lesbian couple and the American government refuses to recognize our relationship. The state where I live does not permit same-sex couples to marry, but we would be happy to marry in one of the states that does allow it, or in Canada. But we need the United States immigration service to recognize that marriage. I must be able to sponsor her for a green card. This border should not be keeping us apart.

For now, I am grateful to be able to visit her every other week hoping and praying that nothing terrible happens during her treatments. She knows that I love her even though I am not there to hold her hand.

I am tired of being treated like a second class citizen.

Another Thanksgiving Without Jesse & Max A Mother Speaks Out Against DOMA

We are a small family, with very few close relatives, so I think that makes us unusually close to our children. We often say there is no one in the world we would rather spend time with, than our children, because we so enjoy their company. Given this, we are so deeply saddened that our son, Jesse, is not able to live in this country. Most people find it hard to understand that our son, who is an American citizen, is actually forced to be in exile so that he can live with his partner of ten years, Max.

Max is from Argentina. He came to live in this country to be with the person he loves, just like so many other people have done before him. He came to the U.S. on a work visa, and when he lost his job he lost his visa too, but more importantly he lost his ability to remain in this country with Jesse.

At that point, Jesse and Max had no other option but to leave. They were forced to live and work in Europe, where they could remain as a couple and build a life together. First they lived in Budapest, Hungary, and after a few years there, they moved to London.

They have been out of the country and separated from us for six years. When possible they have come back for brief visits. We have visited with them many times as well. These visits are no substitutes for the real thing. We are unable to be part of their daily lives, we are unable to celebrate milestones together. Each year, anniversaries, birthdays, holidays, all pass without their presence, which we miss so dearly. Jesse is also extremely close to his sister Sara, who shares a birthday with him, although they are seven years apart. For years they celebrated this special day together. Now of course they celebrate separately, and have a difficult time even seeing each other.

For Jesse and Max this separation from beloved family and dear friends was not a choice. It was forced upon them, because this country does not recognize that the love of two people of the same sex should be honored with the same rights and privileges that belong to a man and a woman when they fall in love and decide to make a life together. Since immigration laws do not protect binational same sex couples, in many cases these relationships do not last.

Although we feel deprived of the company of two people we love so dearly, we are grateful that their love has been able to survive as they have now relocated twice in Europe.

My husband and I have spent many sleepless nights worrying what will happen as we get older. Traveling abroad is expensive and stressful, and we know that if laws remain as they currently exist, we can never have the joy and peace of mind that comes from living near one’s children. Adding to that worry is the sorrow that when Jesse and Max decide to start a family, we will be separated from future grandchildren.

While we are well aware that in today’s global world, many people live abroad, far from family and friends, we do not feel as though we are experiencing a routine separation. Ours is a totally different situation that results from discriminatory and cruel laws. While other people can also make a decision to return home if they choose to, and that is not an option for binational same sex couples who are forced into exile. We are typical American parents: we worked hard to raise our children to value all other people equally, to care about the world around them, to contribute as members of their community, and to be independent and confident. In contrast, our government undermines our happiness. Our government has torn our son away from us and it has burdened us with the stress of separation and considerable expense of frequent travel, all because of discrimination motivated by homophobia.

Jesse is a tax-paying American citizen and he should be treated the same as all other citizens of this country, but he is not. We never thought that our child would reach adulthood with fewer rights than we have. It seems quite strange, that in the 21st century, in the United States of America, our son would have to leave his country and his family and friends, just to be with his partner. That is not a choice anyone should be forced to make.

Education is badly needed on this issue. Over an over again, well meaning people say to me in shocked tones, “What do you mean, your son and his partner can’t live in this country. Why can’t they just get married in Massachusetts?” The Defense of Marriage Act, which had so many politicians trembling in fear that it passed Congress by a wide margin fourteen years ago, is a distant memory even to many who are relatively aware of the fight for gay and lesbian civil rights. As an American and as a mother, I feel that it is important to add my voice to this issue and demand that my government cease discriminating against my son.

Like so many other issues, if one is not intimately connected to it, its impact on real people and real lives is hard to comprehend. So I explain, as many times as necessary, that that immigration law is federal, and no matter how many states allow same sex couples to marry, until federal laws change, my son and Max, and countless other binational couples, will not have the right to live together in this country. Meanwhile, real lives are hurt and damaged, sometimes forever.

(Jesse and Max’s story is here.)

Denver Post: Inger & Philippa Battle Separation

“I don’t want any special rights at all. All I want is to live with my family,” says Philippa, 33. Via Skype, she helps do homework with the 10-year-old who calls her “Mum.” People ask why they do it, pressing on with such a tough relationship. You can choose what you eat or wear, they answer. You don’t choose who you fall in love with. “We don’t want to keep doing this, shaking our fists at the sky wanting the world to be fairer than it is,” [Inger] Knudson says. “But we will, we will for as long as it takes to be together.”

“U.S. Policy and Same-Sex Love Are Oceans Apart,” Denver Post November 18, 2010. See full article here.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano: Stop the Deportation of Henry Velandia

Tomorrow, Henry Velandia will appear before an Immigration Judge in Newark, New Jersey.
Sign Henry’s petition here.  
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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.