Dwayne & Bolivar: After Nine Years Together, Married Maine Couple Heads to Immigration Court on May 17 to Fight DOMA Deportation

Almost a decade ago, I finally escaped one of the most discriminatory countries in Latin America for gay men — Venezuela. Being gay in Venezuela was never an option for me, and it never will be.

On August 18, 2002, I was lucky enough to find myself in Ogunquit, Maine. I was lucky, because on that day I met Dwayne. I had been dancing at one of the local clubs when I bumped into him. We talked, exchanged phone numbers, and planned to go on a date. Unlucky for me, the next day I came down with one of the worst sore-throats I have ever had. I went to the hospital and was discharged — everything was okay, but my date with Dwayne would have to be cancelled (I didn’t want Dwayne to catch my cold.)

How could I have known that Dwayne would catch my heart forever? Dwayne did something very special that night; barely knowing me, and knowing that I was home sick with a cold, he surprised me by coming over anyway. I opened my apartment door to see Dwayne with a smile on his face, groceries in one hand, flowers in the other. He made me homemade soup. My heart turned into jello.

We dated non-stop for the next two months, so much, that my roommate, at the time, was jealous of the time I was spending with Dwayne, and he asked me to leave. When I told Dwayne, I was a little scared. What if I had to move farther away, where we couldn’t date anymore? But Dwayne had another idea in mind, “Well, if you don’t mind a hairy dog…” You can come live with me, he said.

I didn’t mind.

At first, things weren’t easy. Dwayne and I went through struggles in our first two years of dating, but it made us so much stronger. At the time, I was working in Portland, ME, and Dwayne was working in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Our home was in Lebanon, Maine, a good hour drive to Portland one way and forty-five minutes to Portsmouth.  Unfortunately, I had never learned to drive, or even had a car, and I was terrified at the  thought of either. Dwayne was so loving and generous to me, enough to wake-up every day at 4 a.m. and drive me to work in Portland, drive back to Lebanon to get ready for work, and then drive to New Hampshire. I would wait in the Portland Mall for five or six hours for Dwayne to pick me up after getting out of work himself, and for us to do it all over again each day of the week for two years. Yet, it was all worth it.

One day, suddenly, Dwayne pulled off the side of the road. He turned to look at me and told me: “You’re gonna learn to drive. You can do it.” And with that, he got out and came over to the passenger seat. Next thing I knew, I was driving a truck. Dwayne helped me study for the written permit test, and practice for my driving test, and after passing, I was able to drive. We refinanced our home, and bought a car for me. Dwayne’s days of endless traffic and freeway ramps were finally over (well, for the most part!).

I realized early on that I had to tell Dwayne of the situation regarding my immigration status. When we met I had been on a tourist visa (that would eventually run out), and I had no other options for lawful status at the time. With Dwayne’s help, I contacted lawyers who helped me to prepare an application for asylum. It was filed in April of 2007, only to be denied two years later. I remember the courtroom that day, the Judge had announced that my asylum application was denied, and then he told me that I had to leave the country within sixty days voluntarily or I would be deported. I looked to Dwayne in the back of the court, and then back at the judge and told him that I would never leave Dwayne.

So I filed an appeal of the Judge’s denial of my asylum application. The Board of Immigration Appeals re-opened my case and sent it back to the Immigration Court for another hearing.  I still face deportation, but with the help of the team at Stop The Deportations – The DOMA Project I am more optimistic than I have been in years. Dwayne and I are prepared to fight to be treated with dignity and respect as a married couple. I know, too, that I am one of the lucky ones; I am not detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement in some remote federal facility; I am employed and have an employment authorization card so that I help contribute financially to our household and continue to live with Dwayne in our home. We continue this fight for our marriage together.

Although I am allowed to stay in this country as long as my case is pending, I do not have the freedom to leave the country and re-enter. I am trapped here until this issue is resolved.  Dwayne and I cannot travel to other countries, and in the case of a family emergency, I cannot travel to Venezuela even for one day, or I will not be allowed back into the United States for ten years.  A few years into our relationship my father in Venezuela became extremely ill. The amount of pain I felt for my family, who I could not help, was immense. I could not visit my father, even for his funeral, when he eventually passed away a couple years ago. As happy as I am to live in a safe country where I can be open as a gay man and fight for equal rights for the LGBT community, I still miss my family.  On birthday celebrations and holidays, my family in Venezuela uses Skype so that we all can be together, even if it’s through a computer screen. My sister in Venezuela puts her laptop on the chair where I used to sit for holidays. When birthdays come around, I have cake sitting next to my computer and my family has one there. We count to three and cut the cake at the same time. This is the life Dwayne and I have been forced to live, cut off from half of our family simply beause the U.S. government does not recognize our marriage and give us the simple freedom it gives to all other married bi-national couples: a green card.

Daisy, the American Hound Dog

Last year, on April 29, 2011, we decided to get married. We had a small ceremony in Somersworth, New Hampshire. Dwayne and I (along with Daisy of course) have been living together for more than nine full years now. We’re a normal loving couple that contributes to our community.  I work for a company that does catering and banquets and Dwayne is an insurance professional. I am lucky enough to have a wonderful relationship with Dwayne’s family. Before his mother passed away I always called her my “American Mom.” She was very loving and supportive.

Dwayne is my husband. He is the man of my dreams, he is the man that I adore, and he is my world. The thought of being separated from Dwayne is more than frightening.  This entire immigration ordeal has been a nightmare for both of us. There is no way that I could return to live in Venezuela, where I have been taken into custody, extorted, forced to give money to the police, or risk being pulverized by the police—only for appearing to be gay. Because of Venezuelan immigration laws, needless to say, Dwayne couldn’t follow me there even if he wanted to.

Now with the help of Lavi Soloway and The DOMA Project, we filed a petition for a marriage-based green card based on my marriage to Dwayne.  If it weren’t for the Defense of Marriage Act, this would lead to a green card for me.  However, due to the discriminatory law that prevents the federal government from recognizing our legal marriage or our nearly ten years together as a couple, Dwayne’s petition was denied. We are left in limbo, waiting for the Board of Immigration Appeals to decide our appeal of the denial of our green card petition while I fight deportation to Venezuela.

We are encouraged by President Obama’s recent statement that he supports same sex marriage and hope that he will build on last year’s immigration policy developments.  We will work to convince USCIS to re-open our denied green card petition, and put their final decision in abeyance until DOMA is stuck down by the Supreme Court or repealed by Congress.  Though only a green card will give bi-national couples lke us the security of true permanent lawful status, the Obama administration can implement an abeyance policy immediately, putting our petition on hold while DOMA works its way through the courts and the legislative repeal process.  We are joining this fight to make sure that no couples are torn apart. I want nothing more than any other married couple wants; I want to be allowed to stay with my husband, so that we can live our lives as Dwayne and Bolivar, together forever.

Senator Kerry Calls on Obama Administration Not to Deny Green Card Petition Filed by Jackie & Gloria, Seeks to Prevent Deportation to Pakistan: VIDEO

Last November, Jackie and Gloria shared their story with The DOMA Project.  Jackie and Gloria met when they were college students, after Gloria came to the United States from Pakistan on a student visa. Now a happily married couple in their twenties living in Massachusetts, the two women are struggling to build their lives together facing an uncertain future because of the DOMA.

Since last year, even after announcing its position that DOMA was unconstitutional, the Obama administration has steadfastly refused to protect married binational same-sex couples. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services continues to deny marriage-based petitions filed by gay and lesbian Americans for their spouses, rejecting calls from advocates and elected officials to hold final decisions on those cases in “abeyance,” which would allow married binational gay and lesbian couples to be remain together in the United States without forcing the foreign spouse to lapse into unlawful status. Jackie and Gloria have bravely stood up to defend the rights of lesbian and gay Americans to sponsor their foriegn spouses for green cards and to build futures together without fear of being torn aapart.

In March, Jackie filed a marriage-based green card petition for her foreign-born spouse, Gloria, and joined an advocacy campaigned aimed at persuading the U.S. Customs and Immigration Services to delay making a final decision on their petition until DOMA has been struck down by the courts, so that Gloria can stay in the United States, obtain employment authorization, and eventually, a green card.

They also reached out to their elected officials and to the media to share their experience and highlight the impact of DOMA on married lesbian and gay binational couples.  U.S. Senator John Kerry (D-Mass) wrote to Department of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano on the behalf of Jackie and Gloria, raising the issues they face because DOMA prevents recognition of their marriage, and asking the Secretary to direct USCIS to hold their petition in abeyance.

Gloria and Jackie have recently spoken with local news and press in the area as well.  A local newspaper first ran a news story on Jackie and Gloria.  Both CBS and ABC, local affiliate stations in Boston, Massachusetts have interviewed the couple and reported on their fight to stay together in this country.

Watch Gloria & Jackie interviewed on CBS news

Watch Jackie and Gloria interviewed by ABC news

Married Gay Couple, Sean and Steven, Fights DOMA Deportation in NYC Immigration Court

Sean and Steven preparing this morning for tomorrow’s hearing

Tomorrow Sean and Steven will appear before a New York Immigration Judge to argue that Steven should not be deported to his native Colombia, where he has not lived for more than 12 years. (Read Sean’s original post here: “Eight Years After First Meeting, Sean and Steven Marry and File Green Card Petition, Joining Fight Against DOMA“).  In November 2011, Sean filed a green card petition for his husband on the basis of their marriage. Just a few days ago, the petition was denied by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services solely because of DOMA. The couple has filed an appeal of that decision.

Meanwhile, Steven has filed an application for cancellation of removal. Cancellation is a form of relief from deportation that results in a green card for a individual who has been present in the United States for more than 10 years, is of good moral character and can show that his deportation would cause extreme hardship to a “qualifying relative.” In this case, Steven argues that his deportation would cause extreme hardship to Sean. However, like Sean’s green card petition, the application for cancellation requires that the Immigration Judge recognize Sean as Steven’s spouse for all federal law purposes. Unlike Sean’s green card petition, the cancellation application directly implicates the Matter of Dorman, a case with similar facts still pending before the Board of Immigration Appeals. The U.S. Attorney General, Eric Holder, intervened last year in Matter of Dorman to ask that panel for a ruling as to whether the extreme hardship to a same-sex “partner” could be considered where a “spouse” could not be recognized due to DOMA, specifically in the context of a cancellation application. Sean and Steven will argue that this issue is as yet unsettled law and that no final decision should be made until it has been resolved. Sean and Steven are resolute that they will not be separated after 8 years. They join dozens of other couples who have demanded to be treated equally under the law, and who have joined the Stop The Deportations campaign.

Five Binational Couples File Lawsuit Challenging DOMA in Federal District Court in New York: Will Obama Administration Finally Implement Abeyance Policy?

 

DOMA CHALLENGE BY FIVE BINATIONAL COUPLES FILED IN

FEDERAL COURT IN THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK

OBAMA ADMINISTRATION SHOULD IMMEDIATELY PUT A HOLD ON

ALL “DOMA” GREEN CARD CASES UNTIL CASE IS DECIDED


Obama DOJ Likely to Again Enter This Litigation on Behalf of Plaintiffs and Argue that DOMA is Unconstitutional 

Will the Administration Finally Agree to Hold All “DOMA” Green Card Petitions in Abeyance?


For the third time in a year, married same-sex binational couples who have been denied green cards are going to federal court to challenge the constitutionality of Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). DOMA has already been struck down by federal district judges in several non-immigration related cases since 2010, and this new case would join the growing queue of such challenges. (See note below regarding the two DOMA challenges filed last year by binational couples in Los Angeles and Chicago.)

Today, five married gay and lesbian binational couples filed suit in the Federal District Court in the Eastern District of New York against the Attorney General, Eric Holder, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary, Janet Napolitano, and others, arguing that denial of green cards for the spouses of gay and lesbian Americans pursuant to Section 3 of DOMA constitutes a violation of the Equal Protection guarantee of the U.S. Constitution.

Five Binational Gay Couples File Lawsuit Challenging DOMA. - Andy Towle (www.towleroad.com)

Lawyers for Stop the Deportations – the DOMA Project, which represents three dozen married binational couples who have filed for green cards, repeated their call for the Obama Administration to implement immediate moratorium on the denial of any green card petitions filed by married same-sex couples until this case has been fully litigated and there has been a final judicial determination on DOMA Section 3.


STATEMENT FROM STOP THE DEPORTATIONS – THE DOMA PROJECT:


Lavi Soloway, attorney and co-founder of the DOMA Project:

With the filing of this lawsuit, the Obama Administration has a clear opportunity to re-evaluate their policy of denying green cards on the basis of DOMA. The administration should immediately put on hold all green card petitions filed by gay and lesbian Americans for their foreign born spouses.

With the filing of this court case, all pending marriage-based petitions for gay and lesbian couples should be held in abeyance while the Department of Justice argues that DOMA is unconstitutional as applied to immigration benefits.

Stop the Deportations – the DOMA Project has called on President Obama and Secretary Janet Napolitano of the Department Homeland Security to ensure that all green card cases filed by lesbian and gay couples are fully adjudicated to determine that all eligibility criteria have been met. Once DHS has determined that these green card petitions would be approved but for DOMA, a final determination should be held in abeyance until a final judicial determination has been reached in the litigation announced today.

The bedrock foundation of our countries immigration law is to keep all families together; for too long, DOMA has undermined that principle, tearing apart LGBT families.

The White House website states: ‘President Obama believes [that]… Americans with partners from other countries should not be faced with a painful choice between staying with their partner or staying in their country.’  The administration’s current policy of denying green cards and refusing to hold cases in abeyance destroys marriages and tears apart families.

“Abeyance would mean that USCIS does not approve petitions, as DOMA prohibits approval, but also does not deny petitions. By abstaining from a final decision, most especially in light of the pending legal challenge to DOMA, USCIS would allow legally married lesbian and gay spouses to live together legally and safely within the United States. Abeyance would not contravene DOMA, and it is a reasonable and respectful policy until there is a final resolution of DOMA especially in light of the filing of the lawsuit today.”

Note: In January 2012, Chicago Federal District Court Judge Harry Leinenweber handed a victory to a married gay binational couple challenging DOMA when he denied the Motion to Dismiss filed by the Obama administration which argued that the case lacked “subject matter jurisdiction.” Judge Leinenweber allowed the case to proceed, and allowed the lawyers hired by House Republicans to defend the Constitutionality of DOMA in this case. In 2011, the Obama DOJ filed a brief in support of a gay binational couple in Federal District Court in Los Angeles in which it argued that denying a green card to the spouse of a U.S. citizen violated the constitution.


For more information contact Lavi Soloway, founder of Stop The Deportations – The DOMA Project.

Lavi Soloway – Phone 323-599-6915
Lavi.Soloway@stopthedeportations.com
Derek.Tripp@stopthedeportations.com

 

Sign Our Petition to President Obama: Stop Denying Our Green Card Petitions, Stop Tearing Apart LGBT Families

SIGN OUR PETITION BELOW TO SAVE BRIAN & ALFONSO’S MARRIAGE

TAKE A STAND FOR ALL COUPLES FACING 

DEPORTATION, SEPARATION OR EXILE BECAUSE OF DOMA

In San Francisco on March 22, Brian Willingham and Alfonso Garcia will face the worst nightmare of any gay or lesbian binational couple: a deportation hearing in a federal Immigration Court. Brian and Alfonso are legally married, but their relationship will not be recognized because of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Brian and Alfonso are taking a brave stand for their love and for all binational couples by demanding that their marriage be treated like any other married couple’s marriage!  Brian has filed a green card petition for Alfonso based on their marriage.  We call on the Obama administration not to deny this green card petition but to hold a final determination in abeyance until DOMA has been defeated.

An opposite-sex couple in this situation would easily win a postponement or even termination of deportation proceedings altogether to allow them to pursue the green card case based on their marriage, which Brian and Alfonso are hoping for this Thursday. If Alfonso is deported he will be barred from returning to the U.S. for ten years.

Alfonso has lived in the United States for almost 21 years, and Brian and Alfonso have been together for over 10 years.  If the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) agrees to hold Brian and Alfonso’s marriage-based green card petition in abeyance, Alfonso will be allowed to remain in the U.S. in lawful status.  Abeyance simply means that DHS would neither deny or approve this petition, or any other marriage based petitions filed by lesbian or gay American citizens for their spouses until DOMA is no longer in effect.

President Obama has said that he believes DOMA is unconstitutional and has endorsed its repeal. The President must immediately direct DHS and its agency, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), to hold green card petitions of same-sex spouses in abeyance.

UPDATE ::

March 23, 2012: Alfonso & Brian’s petition has received close to 1,300 signatures!  The DOMA Project thanks every signor for helping lift the message that all married couples should be treated the same.   There is still time to sign the petition, and we will update this post again before we send it to President Obama and members of his administration.

BRIAN AND ALFONSO’S MARRIAGE DESERVES RESPECT!

 

Sign below to tell President Obama, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, and Attorney General Eric Holder that you care about Brian and Alfonso and all same-sex couples hurt by DOMA. The Government needs to respect the marriages of same-sex couples, stop deporting the spouses of LGBT American citizens, and keep Brian and Alfonso together!

 

You can help by:

  • Signing this petition (scroll down) urging the officials to halt DOMA deportations.
  • Calling Brian & Alfonso’s elected officials in California and Washington, D.C. and urge them to help the couple before Alfonso’s hearing on March 22.
  • Sharing this post with your Facebook friends and Twitter followers to get out the message.  Our goal is 1,000 signatures before Alfonso’s hearing.
  • Reading updates on this couple and many others on the blog for STOP THE DEPORTATIONS: The DOMA Project.

 

U.S. Representative John Garamendi D.C.: (202) 225-1880 CA: (925) 932-8899
U.S. Senator Diane Feinstein D.C.: (202) 224-3841
 CA: (415) 393-0707
U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer D.C.: (202) 224-3553 CA: (510) 286-8537

 


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Brian & Alfonso Fight DOMA Deportation in San Francisco Immigration Court on March 22, After More Than A Decade Together

Photo by Steven Underhill

October 31, 2001

When I went into San Francisco that night I wasn’t planning on meeting my soul mate. My plan was to hang out with friends and enjoy watching all the party goers in their Halloween costumes. That all changed when I noticed a handsome man sitting in the corner. He had a gorgeous heart shaped face, puppy dog eyes, a brilliant smile and a laugh that cut through the tumult of the crowd. It took me about an hour to work up the courage to go talk to him, and when I finally offered to buy him a drink, he shot me down. Dejected, but not defeated, I retreated to the comfort of my friends. Later I noticed him again, he noticed me noticing him, and we traded smiles. So I offered him a drink, and he refused a second time but we did strike up a conversation. By the end of the night I had learned his name, Alfonso, we had exchanged phone numbers and then gone our separate ways.

A week later we met at a coffee shop for our first date and man was it ever awkward. I showed up excited to get to know him better. He showed up, but not alone – he had brought along his straight friend who did not know that he was gay and who had no clue that she was the third-wheel on our first date. We sat there chatting for hours until we were so full of coffee and cake that we couldn’t take anymore. So I walked them to their car and we again went our separate ways.

At that time I was living in the San Francisco East Bay, but working in Monterey. So I was only home on the weekends, which turned out to be an ideal framework for our relationship to take hold. We would chat by phone every night while I was away. And then we would see each other on Friday or Saturday for a date night. Soon that one date per week wasn’t enough, so we would spend Saturday and Sunday together. Then that wasn’t enough, so I gave Alfonso a key to my place and he would get to my house before me on Fridays when I came back home and wouldn’t leave until after I left for work on Mondays. And then we moved-in together and have been inseparable ever since.

From then on we have been living our lives together as any couple would. We adopted our wonderful dog, Maggie, from the local Animal Rescue Foundation. We go on vacations together. We host fabulous parties together. We support charities together. We’ve been back and forth to Missouri numerous times to spend Christmas with my family and friends. My family members frequently come to California to stay with us for a week at a time. Alfonso is an integral part of our family and is there for every joyous celebration. He was with me in Tennessee to celebrate Gramps’ 80th birthday with four generations of my relatives. He was with me when we took family photos to give to my parents in celebration of their 40th wedding anniversary. Last year we went on a family vacation to Disney World and all stayed together in a house for a week.

He has also been here to see me through the tough times in my life as I have been here for him. He was here to give me encouragement when I transitioned careers in 2003. His was the shoulder that I cried on when my best friend’s father died in an accident way before his time. He was here to console me when my grandmother passed away. I was at the hospital with him every day while his grandmother was in the Intensive Care Unit. When she passed, I was here for him at the funeral home to help him mourn the loss. Our lives are meant to be together – to be here for each other, like any couple.

Our life was on a happy, albeit somewhat boringly ordinary, trajectory until one fateful night last summer. That night and the events that followed have brought me to a whole new level of understanding about how precarious Alfonso’s life had been up to this point. That night we were pulled over for a routine traffic stop. The local law enforcement did their regular background checks and that is when the train went off of the proverbial rails. You see, the local authorities have been conscripted by the federal government in a weird, Orwellian, 1984, Big-Brother sort of way so that now the local authorities are forced to send information directly to federal agencies. Within a few hours I learned that something called an “immigration hold” had been placed on Alfonso’s file, so even though he was not charged with any crime by the local authorities and had no criminal record they were not allowed to release him. They took my husband away in chains and put him in a county jail. The day before I was going to have my first visitation they moved him to a different jail. Then the day before I was going to be allowed to visit him at the 2nd jail they transferred him to a 3rd facility, a federal immigration facility. It was there in San Francisco, a week after this nightmare began, that I was finally allowed to visit my husband for the first time since the nightmare began. Even though he is not a criminal, they brought him in to a tiny visitation booth in handcuffs and we sat there talking and crying until they took him away 10 minutes later.

I had retained an attorney in San Francisco who filed a request that Alfonso be released on bond, so I left that day thinking he would be home soon. That is when the train jumped even further off the tracks. For some reason, the immigration officials decided the smartest thing to do would be to spend tax payer dollars to put my husband on a prison jet that night and fly him to a facility out in the desert somewhere in Arizona. I had to start all over again with a new attorney in Arizona who finally was able to schedule a bond hearing that ultimately resulted in Alfonso being released two weeks after he was taken to Arizona. I flew to Arizona on the very first flight I could catch the day I heard that the bond had been approved. I had no idea where he would be dropped off. I only knew that he would be alone and that I had to get to him.  Finally, Immigration and Customs Enforcement allowed him to return home, but not before initiating formal “removal” proceedings to deport Alfonso to Mexico, a country has not lived in for more than 20 years. If the government succeeds in deporting him, Alfonso will be barred from returning for 10 years.

March 2012

So now we are reunited, living together in our home with our dog, surrounded by our friends and family. But for us the nightmare is far from over. Because of an archaic law called DOMA, the federal government will not recognize our marriage. We are Registered Domestic Partners in the state of California and we were lawfully married in New York, yet the federal government refuses to treat us all like any other married couple. As a gay American citizen the federal government offers me zero, zilch, nada, null access to the federal rights that all married couples have. This is not an issue of separate but equal. There are no separate federal rights for married gay couples. There are no rights at all. This is not a front of the bus, back of the bus issue. This is the federal government telling us to get the hell off of the bus. They called it the “Defense of Marriage Act” when they made it law in 1996 when I was only 22 years old. But now that I am 37 and I am being persecuted by the federal government, I can tell you that DOMA is more like “Destroy Our Marriage Aggressively.”  There is no other way to describe how I feel when my government puts my husband in chains, whisks him away to a remote detention facility, and tries to deport him.

Of the estimated 1,138 federal benefits that are granted to all married straight couples and denied to all married gay couples, there is one in particular that affects me and Alfonso. I am denied the right to sponsor my husband for a green card because of DOMA. So Mr. President I need your help. I am calling on you to stop the deportation of my husband. Not with vague references to a deportation policy that has been reformed to keep families together, but with explicit written directives to stop deportations of couples like, who but for DOMA, would have access to a green card.  I deserve to see that in writing. It is an outrage that the administration hides behind general language, and leaves it up to local ICE officials to implement “prosecutorial discretion” guidelines. I have filed a green card petition for Alfonso on the basis of our marriage. I understand that DOMA, though it is unconstitutional, may prevent my petition from being immediately approved. But Mr. President, there is no law on the books that says my petition must be rejected. I implore you to hold my marriage-based petition in abeyance until the day when true justice can be served and the petition can be approved. Please instruct Attorney General, Eric Holder, and Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, to hold in abeyance my petition for Alfonso and all green card petitions by married gay, bi-national couples. Alfonso and I have spent the last 10 years of our lives together in a loving, committed relationship. Please don’t force us to spend the next 10 years torn apart.

Portrait of an American Family: Brian's Parents' 40th Wedding Anniversary (Freedom Photography)

VIDEO: Satyam and Tonja, Lesbian Couple in Atlanta, Share Their Story, and Devastating Consequences of DOMA

Satyam and Tonja shared their video and this story with us recently.
It is cross-posted here with their permission.

In 2001, Satyam came to the United States from Nepal as an international student to attend the University of Maine. Ultimately, she graduated with a Masters in International Development from American University. Satyam has been a strong advocate for women; helping refugee women start and strengthen small businesses in metropolitan Atlanta, help victims of violence gain control of their lives and stand on their feet financially, help immigrant and refugees bridge cultural and linguistic barriers and achieve their educational, business and social goals, and help establish an organization to support the survivors of violence from the gay and lesbian community.

Her experience of the United States has been sharply defined and limited by the immigration laws. As so many foreign students learn to their dismay, after graduation Satyam experienced the loss of growth opportunities in her professional career, financial hardship and homelessness that is directly related to the restrictions under immigration law. Even though she attended American University with full tuition scholarship, her career options have been limited to finding employers willing to petition for her visa. Employers on average have to spend between $2,000- $10,000 in immigration fees and lawyer fees to petition for their immigrant employee for the employment visa.

Tonja was born in Lincoln, Nebraska and has called Atlanta home for more than 20 years. She is an experienced fundraising and development professional. She has raised funds for various causes like early childhood education, domestic and sexual violence, immigrant and refugee communities and communities of color. She is a strong advocate for equality and justice, access to education and opportunities for all. She has worked for various community-based organizations in Atlanta. She has also worked as union organizer, taught political science to college students in LaGrange, Georgia, and currently works as the Annual Fund Manager for an early childhood education center that serves low income families in metro Atlanta. She graduated with a Masters degree in Political Science from the University of Nebraska – Lincoln. Tonja gained a deep understanding of the challenges immigrants face when she worked for the South Asian community based organization, Raksha, which serves domestic violence survivors. It became personal for her when Satyam lost her job.

As an American citizen, Tonja could not sponsor her Satyam. Denied legal recognition of their marriage by the federal government, Tonja petitioned for Satyam to work for the company she ran. This presented a temporary solution in the form of a short-term work visa.  Unfortunately, the couple hit a brick wall when the small but profitable company’s green card petition for Satyam was denied by the Immigration Service because they deemed it to be “not a viable business.” Tonja’s business remains successful and profitable to this day, though immigration guidelines on viability are so vague as to offer little hope for this employment-based immigration route.

Since Tonja and Satyam met in August of 2008 they have been a source of love and support for each other ever since. They have a community of chosen family and friends in Atlanta who value them deeply. When their video was posted, one friend wrote, “I want you to know how deeply saddened I am that you are going through this. I thank you for all you have done for our organization, but also, the community in your tireless work and commitment to the domestic violence movement, gay rights, the refugee and immigrant community, and animal welfare. You are both truly an inspiration and I want you to know how much you will be missed and the impact you have made. We will continue to fight for justice and equality because this is an outrage and cannot be tolerated. I am heartbroken and just wanted to express how sad, upset, and angry I am and to let you know what an impact you have had on this community.”

Satyam and Tonja were joined together in a commitment ceremony in Georgia in May 2011 among friends and family members.  They would like to marry in one of states where same-sex couples are permitted to marry, but even if they did so their marriage, despite being legal but it would not be not recognized by the federal government for immigration purposes. They share a home, 3 dogs, a cat and love for folk art, ethnic food and a strong desire to remain together in the community of their friends and family. They are one of 36,000 binational couples in the United States whose lives are thrown into turmoil because of the Defense of Marriage Act.  They encourage readers to contact their elected officials and the Obama administration and demand that the Department of Homeland Security stop denying green card petitions filed by married lesbian and gay couples.

The DOMA Project Teams Up with the DeVote Campaign to Create a Series of Video Vignettes of Married Binational Couples Fighting DOMA

Cross posted from The Devote Campaign:

“The DeVote Campaign is excited and honored to join forces with Lavi Soloway and The DOMA Project to personalize and publicize the plight of binational same-sex couples struggling to remain together in the U.S. as a result of the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). When opposite-sex binational couples get married, the American spouse can sponsor the foreign born spouse for a green card to legally remain and work in the U.S. Married same-sex couples do not have this option, since DOMA defines ‘marriage’ as a union between one man and one woman in all areas governed by federal law including immigration. While the Obama administration declared that it would no longer defend DOMA in February 2011, no blanket measures have been taken to stop the deportations and green card denials that thousands of committed couples continue to endure.

There are an estimated 36,000 same-sex binational couples currently living in America. Countless others have been forced into exile, live apart, or exist “under the radar” in constant fear of being discovered and torn apart. Nobody should have to choose between attending a parent’s funeral or staying in the U.S. with his/her spouse for fear of being denied re-entry, but one real example of the unbearable reality faced by same-sex binational couples under the dark cloud that is the Defense of Marriage Act.

Please consider donating to our joint efforts to record and publicize these personal stories far and wide. Help us not only inspire change now, but archive these stories of true love and commitment for future generations.

DeVote is fiscally sponsored by the Independent Feature Project. You can make a tax-deductible contribution by visiting www.devotecampaign.com.”

Since February, DeVote Campaign’s founder, Brynn Gelbard, and her crew have been shooting videos of binational couples as part of the The DOMA Project’s campaign to stop the denial of green card petitions filed by lesbian and gay Americans for their spouses.

For more information about The DOMA Project’s campaign to stop “DOMA denials” of green card petitions, contact us by email here.

American Dream Interrupted: 18 Years After Arriving in the US, Jaime Marries Walid, But Now Fears They May Become DOMA Refugees

I came to the United States as a teenager escaping political persecution. My family and I escaped Cuba in the middle of the night by boat. My brother had also escaped Cuba in a boat a year earlier. We knew the trip was not going to be easy. My parents were very scared of what could happen to his teenage kids, my twin sister and I, in a small boat in the middle of the ocean. But staying in Cuba was out of the question. Luckily, we made it to land in the United States. We made it to the “Land of Opportunities.” And once again the family rejoiced in us all being together.

This country welcomed us with open arms, and I embraced my newly acquired freedom. I learned the language and the traditions of my new homeland. I worked two jobs and went to school. I excelled in college, obtained a Masters Degree from an Ivy League school, and attended a top-ten law school. I became an American citizen with much pride because I had made it; I was the American Dream. Later I learned that the American Dream was just that: a dream. I learned that we are not all free in the Land of the Free. We are not all equal.

Eighteen years after arriving to the U.S., and ten years a citizen, I begin to prepare mentally and physically to go into exile once again. The country that once welcomed me, now forces me out. Because of the Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”), I am not free to sponsor my husband after his work visa expires. So I, an American Citizen, have to choose between the man I love and the country I love. Because of DOMA, I, an American Citizen, have to choose between being separated from my husband or being separated from my family.

My husband, Walid, and I met at a friend’s party. He was spinning records and was wearing the most colorful shoes I have ever seen, so I had to talk to him. We chatted briefly and exchanged emails. A week later, I met a friend for drinks at a Brooklyn bar, and Walid was there too. One of our common friends recalls thinking at the bar that night that Walid and I were going to be together for a long time, even though we hardly knew each other at the moment. He recalls how the world seemed to have disappeared around Walid and me. We talked to each other all night, ignoring everyone else, not dancing, and not taking our eyes away from the other for a second. That night we discovered our common love for music and literature. A brief reference to Ulysses turned into an hour-plus discussion of James Joyce. We talked Genet and Proust, punk and classical composers.

We started dating right away. At first, we tried to find every possible excuse to not become “too serious too soon.” But as we got to know each other better, and we discovered our many common passions, it became obvious that we were a perfect match. To me, the most exhilarating aspect of our early relationship was to discover that we were so similar and shared so many passions, but at the same time we were different enough as to allow plenty of opportunities to learn from each other. For example, we discovered we both love literature, but I prefer modern literature, while Walid prefers post-modern. So we started reading and discussing books that we gave to each other, and in that way we learned a great deal about the other. Similarly, we discovered that we share a passion for Art Deco design and architecture, mid-century Scandinavian furniture, pre-prohibition era cocktails, gardening, cats (each of us have one, same age, same breed), little-known music from the 80’s (we both collect vinyl records), and countless other things.

So, in spite of our “holding back,” our relationship evolved quickly, and we moved in together. The only one thing that could have gotten in between us at the time was whether our respective cats got along. And they liked each other at first sight (a sign?)!  Now Walid and I, and the two cats, live in our quiet and beautiful apartment in Brooklyn with a beautiful backyard that we love gardening in the spring. Shortly after moving in together, however, the moment came for the big test: Walid was to meet my family.

My family and I were meeting in Orlando that summer for a family reunion, since we had not taken a vacation together in a few years, and Walid flew down to Florida with me to meet them. I swear that an hour had not gone by before my mother approached me to tell me how delightful a person, how sweet, and how funny Walid was. My twin sister also loved him at once. Now they talk almost as often as she and I talk. My brother found in Walid a match to his silly sense of humor; they alone laugh at each other’s jokes. And my father commented to my siblings that he had never seen me so happy. Walid passed the test. He is now a part of our family.

Later in the year, we spent Christmas with my family in Miami. Everyone was very happy that Walid came with me. I could not be happier, especially after Walid fell in love with Miami and agreed with me that we should move there. I told him that I would like to be closer to my parents, who are nearing 70 years of age. I want to be able to be there if they need me. I know that, in their old age, they want to see me more than a handful of times a year. I also want to see them often. And God forbid, in case of a medical emergency, I want to be there right away. Walid did not hesitate to agree. We decided that we would continue to develop our careers for three to five years in New York, and then move to Miami.

While discussing the possibility of moving to Miami, I confessed to Walid that he was a part in every dream I had for my future; I was ready to be with him for the rest of my life. In return, Walid confessed to me that he was also ready to be with me forever. I had equally become an essential part of his future.

Since then on, we dream together. We dream of an Art Deco house in Miami. It must have a large backyard for all the plants and eatables that we want to garden. We dream of getting a dog, one that loves cats, of course. And Walid laughs helplessly when I start numbering all the animals that I want to get—a pig, a goat, a cow.

The difference between dreaming and planning for the future is how likely it is that the plans will actually materialize if one works hard enough. If plans are too fantastic, they are dreams. The reason we dream and not plan about our beautiful Art Deco house with flowers and a dog is because DOMA makes it very unlikely, nearing the fantastic, that our dreams may come. We have discussed the possibility of opening an Art Deco-themed bar in Miami to serve the pre-prohibition era cocktails that we love, but DOMA has reduced this plan to a mere dream. Or perhaps opening a plant and flower shop, in that way my parents can get involved since they too love gardening, but this is also a near-impossible dream. But there are some dreams that DOMA cannot frustrate. And despite DOMA, one of our dreams came true the night that New York State legalized gay marriage. That very same night, Walid and I decided to go for it.

It was an easy decision to make since the love and commitment were already there, yet ever growing. We both agreed that the love and commitment had been there since that night at the Brooklyn bar. My family had already taken him in, so I knew I had their blessings. So we got married. And not because it was our own wedding, but the ceremony was one of the most honest and heartfelt ceremonies we have ever attended. When we read our vows to each other, the minister cried.

There were two common reactions among our friends and family when we told them we were getting married. First, they were not surprised at all: “I saw it coming, you guys are perfect together,” most of them said. But most importantly, everyone, no exception, was so genuinely happy that we could get married, that New York had finally embraced marriage equality. Unfortunately, the federal government does not recognize us as equals.

The tremendous happiness we felt at our wedding day is thus tainted with the fear and anxiety of our expected expatriation. Walid’s work visa is coming to an end. Once his visa expires, he must leave, and I am powerless to help him stay with me because my government refuses to recognize our love and commitment. While heterosexual people can sponsor their foreign spouses to stay in the U.S., homosexuals cannot. This is discrimination. While men are allowed to sponsor their foreign wives, women are not. This is discrimination. While women are allowed to sponsor their foreign husbands, men are not. This also is discrimination. Thus, the federal government is discriminating against me by not allowing me to sponsor my husband the same way that women could sponsor their husbands or men could sponsor their wives.

Despite this, we will not go down without a fight. We are exploring other means to help him remain in the country legally. We have also joined The DOMA Project, and we will challenge the immigration service to do the right thing by sharing our love story and our hopes and dreams for the future. I am filing a green card petition for my husband, and I will force my government to be accountable if it chooses to treat us like legal strangers by ignoring our marriage. But the chances of expatriation are becoming more realistic, especially since, last January, the Obama administration pledged to continue denying green card applications filed by gay spouses. But one thing is sure, if he must leave, I will leave with him. One thing his deportation will not do is put an end to our love and to the promise that we made to one another: Until Death Do Us Apart.

But if we must leave, we do not know where to go. We are not welcomed as a couple in Walid’s also homophobic country. Walid is from the Middle East, and like I, he also fled his country. He came to the United States as a student hoping to be sponsored by an employer upon graduation, so he would not have to return to the oppression, discrimination, and violence to which gays are submitted to in his home country. But the financial downturn of the latter years has made it virtually impossible for him to be sponsored by an employer.

In his country, we cannot live as a couple. There, two thirty-something year-old men living together is unheard of, unless they are committing the crime of homosexuality. In which case, the neighbors will take care of keeping their community clean and safe by calling the police on us. We cannot admit to be married to one another in his country, or we would be confessing to a crime. So we would have to lie to the government every time we are asked for marital status. We will have to lie to our employers in their forms. We will be trapped in a situation where we either commit the crime of fraud and risk persecution or admit to the crime of homosexuality and risk persecution. Another difficulty in moving back to his country is that I am not guaranteed an entrance visa. Yes, I can go on a tourist visa, but I cannot stay long. I cannot work. And obviously, I cannot ask for a more permanent entrance so I can be with my husband. Thus, his country is out of the question.

What saddens me the most about our potential expatriation is that our plans to move to Miami to be close to my aging parents are likely over.  About the time we were thinking to move to Miami, we could be moving elsewhere, farther away from my parents and country.  My siblings are also devastated about this, especially my twin sister.  And I have not yet told my parents.  I know the longer I wait, the worst it would be for my parents to deal with the separation.  But I do not know how to bring it up; it breaks my heart.  My father lost his mother in Cuba while he was exiled in Miami.  He could not be next to her in her last moments or at her funeral.  I pray the same does not happen to me with my parents.

VIDEO: Brian & Anton: One Year After Stopping Valentine’s Day Deportation, the Couple Attends Green Card Interview Based on Their Marriage

Watch the video.  

Filmmakers, Gregory and Guillermo, traveled to Philadelphia last month to meet with Brian and Anton, a married binational couple, on the eve of a very important interview. Last year, Anton was scheduled to be deported on Valentine’s Day. After a last-minute decision from the Immigration & Customs Enforcement temporarily saved them from separation hours before his flight was scheduled to depart, the couple has continued to fight to stay together in the United States. This effort culminated with a green card interview on February 13, 2012 at the Immigration Service in Philadelphia where the couple was required to prove the legitimacy of their marriage. It was exactly one year since Anton’s deportation had been stopped, and again Valentine’s Day would be a celebration heavy with significance for this couple.  We are grateful to Brian and Anton for sharing their thoughts and feelings about this roller coaster ride. And we extend our thanks to the filmmakers for traveling to Philadelphia to create this moving video.

Filmmakers Gregory and Guillermo are a binational couple who shared their story with Stop The Deportations – The DOMA Project. See more of their work at The Other Half of the Orange.

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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.