Mother’s Day Present for North Carolina Lesbian Couple: BIA Rejects USCIS “DOMA Denial” of Green Card Petition
Just before Mother’s Day this North Carolina family learned that the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) rejected the denial of the marriage-based green card petition they had filed last year. The BIA sent the case back to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Field Office in Charlotte, North Carolina for further processing with orders to conduct complete fact-finding, including an interview, to determine whether they would be eligible for a green card if not for Section 3 of DOMA. This is the thirteenth time that a married same-sex binational couple, participating in The DOMA Project’s pro bono legal challenge to DOMA, has received a “remand” from the BIA after the USCIS denied their green card case because of DOMA. The DOMA Project has filed 45 appeals filed on behalf of married lesbian and gay couples never once has the BIA ever upheld the denial of a green card petition by USCIS. All the appeals that have been decided to date have ordered the USCIS to re-open the cases and fully process them to determine eligibility, clearly anticipating, it would seem, a post-DOMA future.
Becky, Sanne and their daughter Willow live in Asheville, North Carolina. They first joined The DOMA Project in July 2011 when they shared their incredible, moving story, “Ten Trips, a Wedding and a Daughter: Exiled Binational Couple Finds a New Life in Belgium.” In 2012, Becky and Sanne settled down to a life in North Carolina. They married and filed a green card petition on the basis of their marriage. They also participated in our short film series, “Love Stories: Binational Couples on the Front Lines of DOMA,” which was produced by The DOMA Project in collaboration with Brynn Gelbard and the DeVote Campaign. (Read more about our collaboration on this series here.)
So what is next for Becky , Sanne and Willow? As the BIA has rejected the denial of their green card petition, they anxiously await news from the Charlotte, North Caroline Field Office of USCIS and hope that their long-awaited marriage-based green card interview will take place next month just in time to coincide with a ruling from the Supreme Court striking down DOMA for good. We wish Becky and Sanne a Happy Mother’s Day!
VIDEO: From Seneca Falls to Selma to Stonewall to Asheville, North Carolina: Becky and Sanne Fight for the Right to be Together in this Country
President Obama, meet Becky and Sanne, and their 2-year-old daughter, Willow. Becky, who was born in this country, is a middle school teacher. Sanne comes from the Netherlands, the first country in the world to allow same-sex couples to wed.Sanne could have sponsored Becky as her spouse for the Dutch equivalent of a “green card.” Instead, they chose to live in America, where federal law refuses to recognize their marriage at all, including for immigration purposes.
President Obama, meet Becky and Sanne, and their 2-year-old daughter, Willow. Becky, who was born in this country, is a middle school teacher. Sanne comes from the Netherlands, the first country in the world to allow same-sex couples to wed. Sanne could have sponsored Becky as her spouse for the Dutch equivalent of a “green card.” Instead, they chose to live in America, where federal law refuses to recognize their marriage at all, including for immigration purposes. Fighting for their right to be here together as a family has become part of their daily lives.
Becky and Sanne settled down in Becky’s home state of North Carolina, where, last spring, a majority of voters passed an amendment banning same-sex marriage (and all other legal forms of same-sex unions). Gay and lesbian couples were already barred from marriage by law in North Carolina, but 61% of voters decided to enshrine discrimination in the state constitution anyway.
Perhaps you are wondering why Becky and Sanne chose to live where they do, considering that most North Carolinians do not see them as devoted and loving wives and mothers worthy of equal protection under the law.
For them, it was a no-brainer. First, they simply wanted to raise their daughter near the friends, family, and mountains they love. Plus, there was no way they were ever going to live overseas and wait for change to happen before following their hearts home. Rather, they were determined to be in the thick of the fight for equality, advocating for the kind of world any parent, gay or straight, would want to raise their child in – one characterized by respect and equal opportunity.
Becky and Sanne are living their lives unapologetically and by example where change is needed most. They are literally on the front lines sharing their story with whomever will listen, making their case in the most influential court in the land: the court of public opinion. They are as strong and positive as people in their position could ever be. But they are struggling not knowing if they will be able to reap the benefits of their tireless work.
After all, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is still in full effect, ensuring that even though these upstanding and dutiful women are married, Becky cannot sponsor Sanne for a green card to live and work in the United States, as is possible for opposite-sex couples. Without a green card, Sanne has no legal status in the United States, despite having entered legally. Raising a family solely on Becky’s modest middle school teacher’s income is almost impossible. Both women are desperate to “root down” and plan their future, for themselves and for the well-being of their beautiful daughter. Instead, even the most basic decisions such as whether to splurge on a new kitchen table, are soured by the inevitable question: “what if?”
When you announced that your administration would no longer defend DOMA in federal court, Becky and Sanne hoped that you would take steps to ensure that they were recognized as deserving of the same rights and protections of all American families — especially the right to be secure in calling this country home. Like so many other binational same-sex couples, they know that you can implement interim solutions offering them at least a temporary reprieve from the anguish and uncertainty that haunts their every day. Now more than ever, executive branch action in defense of families like Becky and Sanne’s is an imperative.
As President, you have championed equality for gays and lesbians, including the right to have our marriages treated equally under the law by the federal government. In your recent inaugural address, you noted that “if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.” The love Becky and Sanne share is inviolable, strong, and precious. It is equal and it must be protected.
Taking no action is inconsistent with the ideals fought for by brave citizens at Seneca Falls, Selma, and Stonewall. If we are to carry on the fight for civil rights, every day counts. Becky and Sanne are doing their part. As President, you can ensure that their green card petition is not denied, but instead put on hold until either the Supreme Court strikes down the Defense of Marriage Act or Congress passes an immigration reform bill that includes the gay partner provision you put forward.
You are the President who spoke of change. These are your faithful warriors. Help them get to the promised land.
The video posted here is the second in a series of short films titled Love Stories: Binational Couples on the Front Lines Against DOMA produced by The DOMA Project in collaboration with the DeVote Campaign.
Becky & Sanne: Ten Trips, a Wedding and a Daughter. Exiled Binational Couple Finds a New Life in Belgium.
One moment has the power to last a lifetime and change the course of a life. September 30th, 2008. I was in Northern India leading a group of young adults on an alternative educational journey. She was there on an art internship. We had both—me, with the group and her solo—registered with an Ashram where we would attend an intensive 8-day yoga course. Introductory evening: she is called Sanne. She comes from the Netherlands. I am Becky; I come from America. We are certain…Our gazes open doors to places that have no borders. The world is small, but the heavens not.
It is India, so we are cautious. Though it is hard to hide what seems to be bursting forth with such gusto and intent. One of my students says to me, in a hushed tone, just three days after Sanne and I meet, “Becky, it seems like you are in love.” It’s true. I am—deeply and in ways I had only dreamed of.
Eighteen days later, Sanne and I part. My group is off to another part of India. Sanne is making her way south to Mumbai, her point of exit back to the Netherlands. We have no idea when we will see each other again. I tell her I will find my way back to her.
I am in between groups, but I must see her. I squeeze sixteen days in the Netherlands. I feel I have known Sanne forever. Her family feels like my own.
I have finished my stint in Guatemala with the next group. Sanne is rooted to her place in the Netherlands as she finishes art school. Even though I know her, I want to get to know her. I have a little less than two and a half months left on my tourist visa for this six-month period. We learn what life is like on a daily level. Again, we are certain; we want to build a life together. I go back to America in May just biding my time until we can reunite. My life feels empty there without her.
I have just seven days left as a “tourist.” I stay exactly the alotted time in order to attend Sanne’s art exhibition and graduation.
It’s Sanne’s turn to be a “tourist.” It is much more difficult for her to come to America than it was for me in the Netherlands. Americans are suspicious: of everyone. Her grandma deposits a lump of money into her account, so she can show that she has enough to stay for the maximum six months. We make some semblance of a life for ourselves in Milwaukee where my twin sister resides. We know this arrangement will be short-lived, and we must come up with a plan if we are to remain together. In the meantime, I have one of those dreams that I know can only be my soul speaking. I am meant to carry a child in Africa. Again, for a fleeting moment, our world is borderless.
This time, together, Sanne and I make the trip to the Netherlands. Now, we feel like partners. We are indeed partnering in our life. We intend to keep it this way. It’s a logistical trip as a result. How can we create a life with one another unbound by visa requirements?
Together, we have made our second trip. We are in Ghana now following our passions: Sanne is learning woodcraft from a local artist, and I am writing. We are both birthing something in ourselves before we take on the conception and birthing of our child. It’s a simple life in form, but complicated in relations. Sanne and I are relegated to tales of us being “real, good friends.” Wink Wink. Of course, we knew that coming into this. Same sex relationships are illegal in Ghana. You can even serve prison time.
A soul has chosen us. I am certain we are pregnant. Now, residency is imperative. Sanne has returned early to arrange details for my immigration. It will be difficult, but not impossible. Thank God the Netherlands recognizes my partnership. We are so blessed that we can create a life together in one of our countries.
I am back in the Netherlands. Those four weeks apart felt like an eternity. I just wanted to share this pregnancy with Sanne. We inform our families of our life, our plans. We will marry in September. We already know that ours is a Sacred Union that can’t be touched or influenced by anything outside of ourselves, but we want rights, too.
I have to leave again, otherwise the paperwork can’t be arranged in time to avoid “tourist”status. With my belly in bloom, I return to America to be amidst family and friends. My community is there. It’s bittersweet, really. I’ve found my life partner and so much is being created, but I must also leave so much behind. I feel heartache and love operating simultaneously. Sanne and I both know we would stay in North Carolina if we could. We both feel a connection to the mountains there and the people. One day, we think.
I am back. Things are becoming clearer, even if they are still tricky. To Belgium, we must go. Immigration law is less stringent there. We have concluded that immigration in the Netherlands is for people with money. In Belgium, you need less of it.
September 20, 2010. We marry almost two years, to the date, of our meeting. It’s simple. It’s sweet. It affirms what we have already commited to with one another. It feels different though, carries with it different implications. We are seen as a couple now— by the law and by immigration officials— a luxury not afforded to us back in the United States because of the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as a Union between a man and a woman.
Since we are talking about marriage here, I’ll be candid…I never imagined I would get married, at least not in the traditional sense. I had always envisioned some kind of commitment ceremony where friends and family would witness my partner and I sharing vows that we created— vows of conciousness and empowerment. Marriage, in my eyes, was the formality. It still is. Indeed, when Sanne and I got married, everything felt different. We had, after all, stated our vows (still our creation) in front of others. There’s power in that. But there is also power in having our Union recognized by our government. Especially now that immigration is dependent on it.
So, the paperwork is in order. We begin our life together. We find a home in the literal sense. In its figurative sense, we have learned that home is inside of us. But, we are realizing, with each passing day, there is something more to “home.” It’s not unlike a relationship in that way. Sometimes there is but one place (or in terms of a relationship, but one person) that really stirs something deep in our beings. A place (or person) that calls forth the bigger and brighter aspects of who we are because it just FEELS right. To Sanne and I, that place is the mountains of North Carolina. There’s a resonance we feel there that we haven’t known anywhere else. And now, as caretakers of our daughter, Willow, we have an even bigger responsibility to live where our hearts and souls desire. We are models for her of what it means to live life.
So Sanne and I are doing it. We are living life. We are listening closely, and we are placing our hearts out there— our story— with the knowledge that, just as our neighbors, we are humans with an equal desire to love and be loved. We don’t wish to meddle in politics or religion or the lives of others, for that matter. We are not activists. We are people, and all we desire is the freedom to be who we are, to live our life as a family, and in the place that feels home to our souls.
Together, let us work to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act. It only serves to reinforce the isolation and division too many of us— no matter the race, gender, creed, or sexual orientation— feel in our insides. Support Unity: family unity. Support Love. Support Life. Let our higher selves be the model we choose and live by— if not for ourselves than, at least, for our Gods and our children.
Thank you for listening. If you feel compelled, share this story: with like-minded folk or differing-minded folk. It doesn’t matter. It is all of our journeys, after all, to be fully who we are. I am called Becky. She is Sanne. Our daughter is Willow.