Binational Couples Forced to Choose: Love or Country?

Los Angeles Times: Same-Sex Couples In Exile Find Rough Road to Immigration, Featuring DOMA Project Participants

Los Angeles Times reporter Paloma Esquivel worked for months interviewing binational couples in exile who are participants in our project to fight back against DOMA. She has featured the stories of Jesse and Max in London and Linas and Jan in Stockholm. The full article is here. Read latest update on Jesse and Max here.

Jesse & Max Celebrate Their Tenth Anniversary

This month we proudly celebrate our tenth anniversary.

It’s been an amazing decade, for which we thank all of our friends and family who have nourished our relationship through the years. That nourishment was essential, given the obstacles imposed by the United States government. We never had the luxury to ease into our relationship as we were forced to face stark realities very early on.

It’s ironic that on the one hand we feel stronger as a committed couple (and we love each other more than ever) but on the other hand the US government does not recognize our commitment. This leaves us in an unrecognizable “limbo” the all-too-familiar world of gay  and lesbian binational couples. To survive as a couple in this limbo is not an easy task.

Luckily, we currently live in London where we are recognized as a couple and do not face the same discrimination.  Over the last few weeks we have found ourselves looking back on all these years thinking about our love, commitment & perseverance. The issue of not being able to return to the United States is often the most difficult one.

On the day of our anniversary, we gave each other a long hug and acknowledged how far we have travelled (both literally and figuratively) and knowing there’s so much more to come … for which we are prepared.

Thank you to everyone for your continued support for this fight for justice.

Jesse & Max

We are proud to stand up and demand the dignity, respect and equality that is rightfully ours. This is the receipt for our pending Fiancé Visa Petition. We look at it as a historically significant document because it embodies our hope that the U.S. government will soon end the discrimination against same-sex binational couples. This petition is a tool with which we assert full equality.  We call on the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services to approve this petition and cease enforcing the inhumane and unconstitutional Defense of Marriage Act.

Learn more about Jesse & Max’s journey through three countries in ten years as they continue to fight to return to the United States. Find out how you can become more involved by contacting us here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.)

Forced Into Exile, Jesse & Max Fight To Return: File Fiancé Visa Petition and Challenge DOMA

I never imagined that what began as a typical night out on the town in Manhattan would mark the beginning of a most amazing journey with the love of my life.
On that magical night in January 2001, I met Max in a nightclub. When he told me that he was visiting from Argentina and that it was his first day in New York I offered him a tour of “my city.” We felt very comfortable with each other, very quickly, and I wanted to share everything (stories, favorite places, and friends). During those initial weeks he met my neighbors, friends and even my parents. I’ll never forget how he gave them such a warm embrace upon meeting them. They immediately loved his open spirit and warmth. It’s a Latin thing.
Shortly after, Max returned home to Argentina leaving me with an invitation to visit him there. As soon as I could I made the trip. I traveled to Buenos Aires for the first time and Max and I were reunited. This time he showed me his country, his life and introduced me to his family and friends. We realized that our relationship was getting more serious, and fast. We spent the next 12+ months traveling back and forth between the U.S. and Argentina and between those visits we kept in touch by endless phone calls and e-mails. During this time I met and got to know Max’s parents, Marta and Carlos, and his brothers Pablo, Matias and Sebastian, as well as many of his close friends. His family welcomed me with open hearts. We were young and falling in love. To have both families across the world from each other embrace us as a couple was wonderful.

During this time, I joined a binational couples group at the Lesbian & Gay Community Center in Greenwich Village. I had never been so head-over-heels in love; at the same time, I realized that we had a practical challenge: the person I was falling for was from another country. I knew there would be a lot to learn (and laws to navigate) in order for Max and I to live together in New York. I remember being astonished to discover just how difficult it was for other gay binational couples to make a life together. Max and I were enjoying those early “honeymoon” days of a relatively new relationship and I was already confronted with numerous stories of couples whose relationships had ended. This was because they could not find a solution around the discriminatory laws that prevented them from living together in the U.S. I was determined that we would meet this challenge head on and that we would not be broken up because of the arbitrary reality of borders or citizenship.

In February 2002, Max obtained a 3-year work visa in the U.S. and we were finally able to live together under one roof; no more long e-mails and late night phone calls. We lived in Greenwich Village, the same neighborhood that witnessed our first kiss. As happy as we were, we were constantly aware that being together depended on Max’s job and his work visa. Without a job his visa would be terminated and he would have to leave. This reality became an enormously stressful experience. We were grateful to have worked out a temporary solution, but a dark cloud lurked as we wondered how we could make this more stable.

During these years we grew as individuals and as a couple. We had many memorable times together in New York. Of course, it was not a completely smooth road. Aside from the up and downs every couple goes through we had the tremendous stress of Max’s unstable immigration status. Max’s reliance on a job and a visa meant that he did not share the same privileges that I did as a U.S. citizen. That created some tension, which we tried to acknowledge and work through as much as possible. But the reality was still there: Max had to sacrifice his career and accept any job that would sponsor him, incurring a small fortune in legal bills, and never knowing whether his stay in the U.S. would come to a crashing end at any moment. This stress almost overwhelmed us, but we managed to keep it from destroying the love we shared.

Jesse and Max with their dog Duncan and Jesse’s parents at Gay Pride in New York in June 2003

After 4 years of living with this constant instability and imbalance in our lives, we were forced to make a very difficult decision. With no route to a green card ahead and only a precarious temporary work visa, we realized that for us to continue our lives together we would have to find a new home outside the United States. We simply could not remain in a country that threw so many obstacles in our path. Our relationship was too valuable to us. We were both offered jobs in Budapest, Hungary. We informed our families and packed our possessions. We knew we were lucky. Despite being forced into this Hungarian exile, far from everyone who was dear to us, we also knew that many other gay binational couples find no way to be together at all and end up breaking up as a result.

Leaving our supportive friends and family behind was one of the hardest challenges we ever endured together. We left New York with some bags and our beloved dog, Duncan, with sadness but also hope that things will get better in another country. Leaving my family behind was much more heartbreaking than I allowed myself to realize, even though they knew that our move to Hungary was out of necessity not choice.

In 2007 Max and I celebrated six years together and prepared to move again. This time I was offered a job in London. It was a great opportunity and we were fortunate that the U.K. recognized Max as my partner and gave him a visa to live there as well. Soon Max found work as well and we settled down to new lives in London.

Max and I have never stopped yearning to return to New York. We cannot come back to the U.S. and live as unequal, unrecognized and marginalized human beings. We do want to come back but we want to live in New York legally recognized as a couple. We now live in a country, the U.K., that grants gay and lesbian couples legal status, but this is not our home. As the current law stands, the United States cannot be our home either.

This point always hits me the hardest when we arrive in the U.S. for a visit and we face the dreaded customs and immigration clearance. At that point we must separate and enter the United States through two different lines: citizens and non-citizens. I wait for Max to re-appear on the other side, never forgetting that he does not have the same right as I do to enter the United States. A small part of me fears that for some reason he may be held back and not permitted to enter. It is in these moments that everything becomes crystal clear to me: we must fight this injustice for all couples struggling to be together who may not be as fortunate as Max and I to have found a temporary refuge in exile.

Max and I joined this campaign because we want to return to the United States and marry, but we want to do so on our terms, with full equality and full dignity. Together we decided to put these words into action. For almost a decade, discriminatory laws have controlled us and have flung us around the globe like rag dolls forcing us to live thousands of miles from our families. We believe strongly that this must be challenged. With that in mind, I have filed a fiancé visa petition for Max.

Many reading this may not realize that U.S. immigration laws permit an American citizen to petition for his or her fiancé(e) … as long as the couple is heterosexual. In fact, U.S. immigration law elevates the status of heterosexual marriage to such an esteemed position that it actually offers a visa for a couple intending to marry specifically that they can be together to marry in the U.S. and reside permanently together. The only requirements are that the couple must prove that they have a relationship; that they have met at least once in the last two years; and that they have an intention to marry. In contrast to this simple process, it is outrageous that lesbian and gay binational couples struggle and fight to be together.

Because of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the federal government denies recognition to same-sex marriages and for this reason my request that Max be granted a visa to come to the U.S. as my fiancé is an uphill battle. But that will not stop me from trying. I am petitioning my government to give me the same rights as all other Americans and to end the senseless discrimination caused by DOMA. We know that this petition is a direct challenge to DOMA, but we see no alternative but to fight.

It is our dream to return to the U.S. and marry in Big Sur, California surrounded by our close friends and family, staying in one place…. once for all. We are prepared to fight to make that dream a reality.

© The DOMA Project

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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.