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!
VICTORY! Immigration Judge Delays “DOMA Deportation” for Gay Couple for a Third Time, Giving USCIS Another Chance to Approve Their Green Card Petition
DOMA Project participants, Brian and Alfonso, were due in San Francisco Immigration Court today to face the Immigration Judge, again. Back in March 2012, at their first hearing, Alfonso faced deportation after being stopped for a traffic violation and being placed in the custody of Immigration & Customs Enforcement. Brian filed a green card petition for Alfonso based on their marriage, and decided to fight for that green card. Bravely and defiantly, Brian and Alfonso told their story over and over. Alfonso was brought to the United States from Mexico when he was only 14 years old by his parents and has always lived in the San Francisco Bay Area. The rest of his family members obtained green cards or U.S. citizenship, but Alfonso was left behind as he aged-out of provisions meant to keep parents and children together.
Alfonso and Brian met in 2001 and have been together as a committed couple for almost 12 years. In March 2012, surrounded by the media outside the Immigration Court, Brian and Alfonso celebrated their first victory, when the Immigration Judge agreed to postpone proceedings for seven months to allow USCIS to process the green card petition. Despite DOMA, both the government prosecutor and the Judge appeared to support the couple’s determination to fight for full equality. When October 2012 rolled around, USCIS still had not made a decision on the green card petition, so Brian and Alfonso, through their attorney, DOMA Project co-founder, Lavi Soloway, asked the Immigration Judge to delay the case again. She agreed. The new hearing date, May 2, 2013 was put on the Court’s calendar.
Brian and Alfonso waited anxiously for a decision from USCIS. They were disappointed when the San Francisco District Office of USCIS denied the petition on the basis of DOMA last November without even giving them the respect and dignity of the green card interview they deserved. They quickly appealed to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA). In March, with a deportation hearing just about a month away, they decided to ask the Immigration Judge to delay the case again. The couple knew that delays of this nature were highly unusual. It was already a year since their first appearance in Court and they were not sure the Immigration Judge would agree to delay the case further now that USCIS had denied the petition.
In their latest request to the Judge, they asked for more time, pointing out that the BIA was rejecting all denials of green card petitions decided by USCIS on the basis of Section 3 of DOMA and that the BIA was re-opening those petitions and sending them back USCIS ordering full adjudication including interviews. The Immigration Judge appears to have sided again with Brian and Alfonso, providing enough time for the BIA to rule on their appeal and for the USCIS to finally approve their green card petition before the next hearing date. Brian and Alfonso are confident that the BIA will soon re-open their green card petition, and send it back to USCIS for complete adjudication. They see the light at the end of the tunnel in their fight for equality.
With the Supreme Court ruling on DOMA less than two months away the climate has shifted considerably in their favor. At the last minute, the Court called to inform Brian and Alfonso that the Judge had agreed to postpone proceedings until November 2013. When they go back to Court this fall, Brian and Alfonso expect the deportation proceedings to be terminated so that Alfonso can finally receive his green card.
John and Shaun Attend Their Green Card Interview, Determined to be Treated Like All Other Married Couples
Ever since we married in January 2012 and later decided to file a green card petition – the same way an opposite sex couple would- we knew, if we were lucky and our case was not denied outright because of DOMA, that we would have to face a green card interview. We spent the last year working closely with The DOMA Project, visiting both of our U.S. Senators and our Representative, to educate them and their staff on the issues married same sex couples face under current immigration law. We fought to win their support to have an abeyance policy implemented, so couples like us could have our marriage based green card petitions placed on hold, until DOMA was finally struck down. (Below is a short video of our wedding reception in January 2012, narrated by our attorney, DOMA Project co-founder, Lavi Soloway.)
Outside of that, our life was just like any other newly married couple. For the first time in more than 11 years, we no longer had to face constant separations when Shaun had to leave the US and return to the UK for months at a time, because we made the decision that he would not leave again and that we would not be separated. Instead, we decided that we would fight for the green card that should be ours, the future and stability that should be ours and the respect and equality under the law that should be ours. Aside from this legal process, for the first time we spent all our time together uninterrupted by travel after a short visit, we established a more robust social life and adopted two orphaned kittens. Our house became a real home and finally we had a true sense of being a family. Imagine that for 11 years we made do with visits and separations and had such a fractured life as a couple. We now had a home. For sixteen months, Shaun and I have experienced what so many other couples in our situation are denied because of DOMA: the simple right to be together in this country, in our home.
Then we received our interview date, and reality set in. We were not like other families. No one had introduced a bill to defend our marriage, or to ensure Shaun would be able to stay here. Even after 13 years together and a legal marriage, we had to once again be reminded that in the eyes of the federal government, we are no more connected than two strangers on the street.
As we gathered all we needed on the night before the interview, we were tense. I tend to withdraw under stress and Shaun snaps easily. We ended up having one of the first arguments we had since we married. The pressure and fear of the unknown, of being one of the first same sex couples to attend this kind of interview, really got to us. By the time we arrived for the interview the next day, we were both emotionally on edge.
Our appointment was set for 1:30 pm. We sat waiting with our lawyer Lavi Soloway, who always helps relieve our anxiety. For many binational couples like us, our relationships are sustained by years of visits. Each visit depends on the judgement of an immigration officer at the airport when the foreign partner lands and seeks entry as a visitor. Those experiences are stressful for both of us. We never knew when it might be the last time Shaun would be permitted to visit me. So when it comes to facing an immigration officer, we experience tremendous anxiety. Everything rides on it. Shaun had many bad experiences with immigration officers in the past. Some had been rude and did their best to be intimidating. Having our lawyer with us yesterday as we waited to be called for the interview made Shaun feel like the little kid bringing his big brother along to defend him against the bullies.
After waiting a short while, Shaun’s name was called and we were led to one of the interview rooms. We sat in a pleasant, brightly lit room. No bars on the windows, no lights ready to be shined into our eyes like interrogations on TV cop shows. We were politely asked to take seats while the officer briefly read through our file. One of our fears was that they would ask me questions about events that happened so long ago, and that I would not recall exact details; those fears turned out to be groundless. They did not ask the color of his shirt on our second date. They did not ask him what the shoe sizes of my parents were. We laughed after that we had been worried about those things.
We went to the interview with photos, bank statements, utility bills, letters from friends who vouched for our relationship. We brought all the evidence we had to prove that we had a real marriage, that we lived together, and that we lived our lives as a married couple. This is the process for all other green card marriage interviews, and it was in a way comforting to be able to go through this process and have our marriage treated like all other marriages, in this way, even if we could not leave that day with an approval of our green card petition. The officer looked through our photos with all the captions showing our lives together from our first date in 2001 to the present and he asked a few basic questions about how we met, how much time we had actually spent together. The majority of the time he reviewed through our petition and application that we had filed with the Immigration Service in February 2012 and reviewed our joint legal documents, insurance policies etc. He asked Shaun a series of questions to determine his eligibility to be an immigrant to the United States. He reviewed our financial documents and Shaun’s medical exam that had been submitted previously. Throughout the whole 45-minute interview the officer was polite and respectful to us. There was no language used that treated us differently from an opposite sex couple. In fact our sexuality was not mentioned and DOMA was not referenced at all.
During the interview we knew that we were not alone. We knew that we were there representing tens of thousands of gay and lesbian binational couples who are engaged in a fight every day for the right to be together with the person they love. We knew that the world was changing outside the four walls of that office and that change did not happen on its own; the momentum toward equality resulting from the courage of so many who came before us. That courage and that momentum toward equality was also with us during the interview. In a sense, DOMA was with us as well, though it felt very much that the old statute from 1996 was on its last legs.
At the end of the interview our lawyer went over some legal and technical aspects of a same sex marriage application with the officer. We were the first gay couple interviewed at this particular office. The DOMA Project has filed green card cases for approximately 70 same-sex couples since 2010, some have been denied earlier in the processing when it is discovered that they are a same sex couple, and others made it to an interview. Of those who were interviewed, some were denied at the interview itself. We knew we were lucky that we had made it to this stage. We knew that The DOMA Project had won 10 cases at the Board of Immigration Appeals ordering the Immigration Service to re-open denied cases and conduct interviews where they had not taken place.
All that being said, we know that at any time after our interview we may receive a letter in the mail denying the petition based on Section 3 of DOMA. Despite what some people think, the Obama administration is still not willing to do what is within their power to do: to hold all same sex applications in abeyance, pending the Supreme Court’s ruling on DOMA. With our entire future in the balance, and we continue to speak out and encourage others to join in the fight to defeat DOMA.
Separated from his Husband Juan by the U.S.-Mexico Border, Brian Joins DOMA Project Rally at Supreme Court
Our story begins in February 2011 with a trip to Mexico that changed my life. I remember as if it were yesterday. I had planned a trip to Mexico City and I had planned to meet this wonderful guy I met on line at a karaoke bar in Zona Rosa, a gay neighborhood in the capital. I was waiting outside the bar when I heard my name being called. I turned and there he was, the guy I just knew would be special to me. We talked outside for a minute and then walked into the bar. He loves to sing and put his name down for a couple of songs. As he sang, he looked at me and it was as if he was singing directly to me. I had a feeling this guy would somehow always be in my life. We had a wonderful weekend together seeing the sites of the big city. I didn’t want that weekend to end but the day came that I had to leave. We sat at the airport talking, wondering where to go from here. We both had fears of trying to take this somewhere further due to distance and cultural differences not realizing what other obstacles lie ahead. We parted with a “maybe some other time”.
Over the next couple of months we continued to talk, seeing each other occasionally on video chat. Something was forming between us, something real and something unexpected. I had to see him again. I agreed to come back for Gay Pride in June. This was a defining moment of our relationship. He was proud to introduce me to his friends and family. We decided we both wanted to be together despite cultural differences, distance and the discriminatory laws of the U.S. that would deny us the chance to be together.
For more than two years, I have traveled to see Juan once every two months, a costly and frustrating part of our relationship, but very necessary nonetheless. We have discussed the future we would want to have together, the hardships and the frustrations of being a gay bi-national couple. We decided we would endure whatever obstacles would be thrown our way. The relationship advanced even with these obstacles.
On September 19, 2012 Juan and I were married. Juan became my legal husband under Mexican law, in a ceremony performed by a civil judge. I will never forget the judge saying that it had been years since she had seen two people so in love. She said she was honored to be able to perform our marriage. The reception had to come later since traveling to Mexico so often while keeping up with the financial burdens of our respective households left us with limited savings.
On January 19, 2013 we held a big reception to celebrate our marriage. It was beautiful. The venue exquisite, overlooking a historic Catholic church. With our family and friends we celebrated our union and our promises to each other. The celebration included traditions of a Mexican wedding ceremony depicting the strength we will have with our family and friends beside us and the dedication they have to ensure it. The family plays a very important role in the strength of a Mexican marriage.
So here we are, legally married in Mexico yet still our marriage is not recognized by the federal government under U.S. law. This horrible DOMA, which defends no marriage but seeks to destroy ours, keeps us apart, unable to be together, unable to live and enjoy life together in this country, unable to continue on our journey. DOMA is discriminatory and harmful; it doesn’t allow us to be together because I can’t sponsor him as my husband. Juan has little chance of getting a visitor visa anyway, this is true for most Mexican citizens. He will have an even harder time overcoming the presumption of immigration intent that all Mexican applicants for a travel visa face. Thus, it is unlikely that the U.S. Embassy will even issue him a travel visa to visit me here in the U.S. Hillary Clinton, as Secretary of State, did nothing to help our partners access visitor visas even when they could demonstrate absolutely that they would comply and return home at the conclusion of their visit.
According to DOMA our love is not equal, we are not equal, we are “less than.” I don’t want to leave my country. We have plans, desires, and dreams of our future including living here in the U.S. until my retirement and then perhaps moving to Mexico and enjoy the rest of our lives together. But DOMA forces me to think of exiling myself from my country and my family so that we can be together now. I pray every day that DOMA will be found unconstitutional and we will be allowed to continue our journey. I believe we can bring about that change and that is why I have done everything I can to participate in this incredible, empowering movement for equality.
Our marriage is a traditional marriage. In fact the word “traditional” has no meaning in this context except one: a marriage based on love. Our love is just as precious, and real; and our will to be together, as determined as an other couple. Our marriage is not perfect; no marriage is. We have our differences just as any couple does. But we are strong. I believe our simple troubles are magnified immensely because of DOMA, the financial frustrations of being forced to live apart and constant worries of our future with DOMA in place. Honestly, there is no difficult issue that we face today that doesn’t lead back to DOMA and the discriminatory immigration policies of this country.
These are our feelings and this is our life. Two years have passed. Two years I have traveled to Mexico to be with the man I love at enormous financial cost. For two years we have lived apart, missing birthdays, holidays, and the difficult moments when all one of us needed was a comforting hug from the other. I want to wake up every day next to my husband and fall to sleep at night with him in my arms. I have hope that someday soon this will become reality.
We have sacrificed, yet we have had to say goodbye time and time again. We have suffered financially, emotionally, and mentally. We have cried. We have been angry. Yet, we are still as determined as ever to wake up next to each other every morning. If this isn’t real love then I really don’t know what is. Love is love; it comes in many forms. This is ours and the outcome of our lives and our love will not be undermined by archaic discriminatory laws and those that support them.
Last week, I joined the thousands gathered to rally outside the Supreme Court as the 9 Justices of the Court heard oral arguments for and against Section 3 of DOMA in Edie Windsor’s case for equal treatment under the law. Like Edie, I trust in the principles enshrined in our Constitution. I too believe that justice will prevail.
However, this land of freedom and equality does not yet live up to its promise. With much hope and determination, I am fighting so that some day very soon we will achieve true equality. I am an American through and through, but I am ashamed of how gay and lesbian binational couples are treated under current immigration law and DOMA. We are better than that. It is time for us all to join our family, friends, and community in urging our leaders to hold true to our founding principles. Though today we were outside the Supreme Court, our message was no doubt heard by millions over the news and social media. A message this large cannot be ignored, certainly not by the 9 Justices of the Supreme Court. Please join me in spreading this message around the country. You can do your part by sharing our story or even sharing your own. Together, we will make a difference in the court of public opinion, helping to shape the Supreme Court’s decision, and ultimately our post-DOMA future.
WATCH OUR POWERFUL VIDEO: Winning the Future, LGBT Americans Produce Groundswell of Support for Marriage Equality in Advance of Supreme Court Rulings
In the last week we passed some incredible milestones in the fight for marriage equality. First, Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) became the first sitting Republican U.S. senator to declare his support for marriage equality, and after a career of voting against our rights, no less. Then, by video, Hillary Clinton endorsed the right of same-sex couples to marry, and it was the strongest such endorsement by any American political leader so far. Finally, an ABC News/Washington Post poll found that support for marriage equality has skyrocketed in just two years, with a staggering proportion of every demographic supporting equality for lesbian and gay couples. Overall, 58 percent of Americans polled said that they support our right to marry (previous polls had been creeping above the 50-percent line, but this was the first dramatic leap toward 60 percent). A third of Republicans, nearly two thirds of independents, almost three quarters of Democrats, about half of senior citizens and an astounding 81 percent of young voters polled said they support marriage equality.
What to make of this surge forward on marriage equality? There can only be one conclusion: LGBT families are standing up, assuming equality and challenging everyone to see their humanity. By reaching out to our neighbors, families, co-workers, fellow congregants, employers and friends, and by living open and honest lives, we have changed the hearts and minds of more than 100 million Americans, but we must keep up this pace. We have work left to do.
Love Stories: Binational Couples on the Front Lines Against DOMA is a series of short films produced by the DeVote Campaign and the DOMA Project, featuring lesbian and gay spouses discussing life under the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which prevents the federal government from recognizing their marriages for immigration purposes. For many in the U.S., DOMA is an obscure law that has no effect on them, so they don’t even know what it is, but for the couples portrayed in these pieces, their entire lives are at stake because of it, but they are fighting back by sharing their stories while ultimately ensuring that their lived experiences are archived as history never to be forgotten or repeated.
We must defeat DOMA so that our marriages are recognized at the federal level, putting an end to the catastrophic discrimination faced by countless same-sex spouses, including binational couples, who are denied green cards despite being legally married. We must demand that our federal government, like all our state and local governments, treat our families with dignity and respect, and that our laws do the same. We have come a long way in a short time because we have truth on our side. Ultimately, however, our success is not the result of momentum inevitably moving in our favor. Rather, it is the collective voices of LGBT Americans and their allies that are changing our world.
Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker Brynn Gelbard started the DeVote Campaign in 2010 after having to cancel her wedding because of the passing of Proposition 8. For more, visit devotecampaign.com, facebook.com/devotecampaign and twitter.com/devotecampaign.
In 2010, with his law partner, Noemi Masliah, Lavi Soloway launched the DOMA Project, a campaign to stop the deportations, separations and exile of binational lesbian and gay couples. For more, follow domaproject.org, facebook.com/thedomaproject and twitter.com/gaybinationals.
After an anguishing recent 15-month separation, both of our families could see how hard the time apart was on us and insisted on providing us with the funds we needed for Claire to come for Christmas and New Year holidays. Our families suffer right along with us; our pain is their pain. Claire arrived December 12, 2012 and was due to return to the U.K. on January 8, 2013.
Both of us are in financial dire straits, mine being fixed disability retirement while still supporting our college-student daughter and Claire’s being unemployed and, at over age 50, categorized as ‘low priority’ by ‘employment services’ in the UK. Nothing about our situation will change any time soon and we both were fighting severe depression. As stress exacerbates my flare-ups and diminished immune system, I remained ill most of the 15 months we were parted.
We are acutely aware of the years that have passed us by and the many milestone experiences unshared. After 5+ years of legal marriage and 7+ years as a committed couple, we have reached the point where we can no longer live apart. Enough is enough. Our health and age are constant reminders that time is precious and now is all we will ever have.
Claire is still here legally under the visa waiver. We are scared, excited, and honored to join other couples in fighting for full equality.
When last I wrote, one year ago, we thought we had a workable, interim plan. I would go to the UK every 6 months for 3 months at a time. This plan ran its course. We could not manage the separation, the travel and the cost any longer. And so we have made the decision to file for a green card. To put this decision into perspective, we share with you a post we wrote in February 2012.
I did return to the UK in June 2011, in time to celebrate my wife’s 50th birthday with her and my wonderful in-laws. This trip, I felt better prepared. I had made sure the wheelchair I needed was ready and waiting before even deplaning. I had everything available to show that I was in full compliance with the 6 month limit on my Visa waiver. Going through security would be a breeze. I watched a family ahead of me zip through the process, under 5 minutes for a family of 5. Yes, this would be so much better. The young man pushing my wheelchair through the airport wheeled me to the only agent working at that time. I am a disabled 56-year-old woman, rather conservative and conventional in my appearance. I have just spent 18 hours getting to this point and am in incredible pain and I’m exhausted. I am pleasant and polite.
I presented my passport and had my itinerary for my return flight handy. I had only stayed 85 days on my previous trip, so I wasn’t really worried about the fact that I was staying 90 days this time—still within the 6 months allowed. The agent never met my eyes, asking why I was returning so soon as I had only left 3 months previously. I answered honestly, “Visiting family and friends.” He challenged me about how I could afford to stay for 3 months and I explained about my disability direct deposit and my debit card. He did not seem satisfied. I offered to provide proof of my income, he declined. He needed Claire’s name and address, which I promptly provided. Every question he asked, I answered. I was starting to get concerned when he still refused to look at me and just kept looking at my passport and the other documents he requested. After what seemed hours, but was actually only about 45 minutes, he told me he would let me enter the country this time, but I would not be allowed to return to the UK again. Period (or, as Claire says, “Full Stop”). Not just, give more time between visits or stay out of the UK longer than I am in the UK or anything that was open to interpretation. This was the last time I would be allowed to enter the country. I was fighting tears as we wheeled away. My helper was appalled by the way I was treated and asked that I not judge all British by this experience. I was shaky, but I thanked him for his kindness.
We finally reached my beloved Claire, who was getting increasingly worried as everyone from my flight had long since passed and there was still no sign of me. When she saw my face, she knew it had been bad. Still, the long taxi ride to Peterborough was joyful–we were together and had the whole summer ahead of us. I arrived on Wednesday and Claire’s 50th birthday was the Saturday. Her mum and step-dad joined us to celebrate, my first meeting with my in-laws. To say we got along well is an understatement. I could not be more blessed and delighted to call them “family.” I’d spoken with them many times by telephone, but to finally meet them in person–it felt like it was my birthday! I only wish I hadn’t been so tired and still jet-lagged…. Still, it was wonderful, feeling the love and support from Mum and Dad. Our three-months flew as quickly as the previous stay and I had to leave my love the day before our 5th anniversary. (We count the date of our commitment ceremony, 7 September, 2006, as our official anniversary, even though we legally married in Canada 1 year and 1 week later on 15 Sept, 2007.) Leaving her this time was the hardest–we had no way of knowing when we would next be able to be together. It’s been nearly 6 months, now, and we still wait. Knowing I am unwelcome to visit the UK and having no recourse except to apply for a visa as a civil partner is hard. However, as soon as we are in a position to do so, we are applying for a Married Partner (spouse) Visa for me to be able to return to the UK and resume our interim plan.
We wait for the economy to improve, DOMA to go away, the passage of UAFA, anything to finally allow us to live peacefully in the US near our family. We wait for our time to join those who are fighting for our families.
Judy & Karin: Lesbian Golden Girls Fight DOMA, Argue for LGBT-Inclusive Immigration Reform to Be Together
(cross posted from The Advocate)
Karin and Judy are two of approximately 35,000 binational same-sex couples living in America. They met online in a lesbian chat room nearly a decade ago. It was their first face-to-face date to a PFLAG dance that sealed the seal. On Valentine’s Day, 2007, they became domestic partners, and in March 2011 they married in snowy Vermont before a justice of the peace and the staff of their bed-and-breakfast, who were so moved watching these gushing grannies tie the knot that they bought them flowers and champagne and treated them to dinner at the most romantic restaurant in town.
When Judy and Karin returned to Northern California, on cloud nine after their whirlwind wedding adventure, they were not content to sit idly by while the tide of acceptance and equality slowly gravitated in their favor. President Obama had only just announced that his administration would no longer defend DOMA in court because he determined it to be unconstitutional. With that being the case, gay and lesbian Americans should have become eligible to petition for green cards for their foreign-born spouses. The White House made no provisions to ensure that this was possible, however, and has continued to enforce DOMA. As retirees whose simple wish is to enjoy their golden years together without fear of being torn apart or having to expatriate, Judy and Karin began publicizing the real-life struggles of same-sex binational couples who are fighting for the right to be together in this country and who need the president to protect them now.
They also joined the DOMA Project and became one of the first legally married same-sex, binational couples to hold the president to his word by applying for a green card. Unlike many other gay and lesbian spouses, whose petitions are still often flat-out denied, Judy and Karin were granted a green card interview, where they presented evidence of their genuine, long-standing relationship, just as any opposite-sex binational couple gets the opportunity to do. The immigration officer was very supportive and complimentary of their more-than-ample proof. But without direct orders from the president, and with DOMA still in place, their green card petition could not be approved. Instead, their case was held for further review while the government considered their request not to decide their petition until the Supreme Court or Congress determines the fate of DOMA.
For as long as Judy’s application for Karin is on hold, Karin can legally remain in the United States, but she is a prisoner here, unable to leave the country without likely being barred from returning. And this is why it was impossible for them to attend Michael and Shirley’s Scottish wedding.
The bride and groom, of course, understood and are so proud of Mum 1 and Mom 2 for all the work they’ve done and the sacrifices they’ve made while fighting for equality. Still, they think it’s absurd that such an inhumane law remains on the books in America, of all places. They think it’s outrageous that because of DOMA, Karin was detained in an immigration cell after flying into San Francisco International Airport, where she was interrogated for hours without water or the ability to make a phone call while Judy waited, terrified, not knowing what was happening to her wife. And they think it’s unfair that Judy then had to take early retirement to ensure that she and Karin could be together wherever they were, especially after immigration officials warned Karin that she was visiting this country too often and that she would have to leave indefinitely.
So often, the marriage equality movement focuses on paving the way for loving spouses who have their whole lives ahead of them. On this Valentine’s Day, which is also the anniversary of Judy and Karin’s domestic partnership, we are reminded that couples of all backgrounds and ages as well as their extended families are directly affected by DOMA’s discriminatory and destructive consequences and will continue to be until this unjust law is overturned. And when it is, it will be fair to say that one of the true inspirations for its demise were a couple of rambunctious grannies — or, as Judy lovingly says, “Golden Girls” — who made use of retirement by relentlessly fighting for equality.
BRYNN GELBARD, a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker, started The DeVote Campaign in 2010 after having to cancel her wedding because of the passing of Proposition 8. You can follow her on Twitter @BrynnGelbard.
LAVI SOLOWAY, with his law partner, Noemi Masliah, launched The DOMA Project, a campaign to stop the deportations, separations and exile of binational lesbian and gay couples, in 2010. Keep up with The DOMA Project on Facebook & Twitter @GayBinationals.
JUDY RICKARD is the author of Torn Apart: United by Love, Divided by Law, 2011, Findhorn Press.
Dario and I had something special from the time we met in July 2010. On that first date, we had an instant connection – sharing our histories, our passions in life and our hopes for the future. I had met a partner for life. When, the following month, I was unfortunate enough to get quite sick, Dario took care of me every day to see to my quick recovery. Seeing his compassionate face each day as I struggled to improve made me smile through the pain.
The first few months of our relationship were intense; we saw each other every day and slowly introduced our lives and friends to each other. We were committed to each other early on in the relationship and decided to further commit when we began living together later that year. Not only were we joining ourselves together under one roof, but our little family included our dogs as well.
It seems every day we learn more and more about each other, and gain a further appreciation for the other. Dario has introduced me to his friends both here in the U.S. and in Argentina, as well as the family he has left in Argentina. Dario would very much like to share with me his cultural heritage and introduce me to his friends and family in Argentina in person, but we are unable to at this time. Communications with family abroad must be done online, as it is impossible for Dario to leave the U.S. for fear he will be not be allowed to return. Fortunately, my parents and Dario have bonded on a number of occasions when they have visited us in New Jersey and when we have made extended summer visits to their home in New Mexico. Each year, when we visit my family there, we drive across the country hoping to minimize the risk that Dario’s immigration status may be discovered and he may be taken away from me. The stress of Dario’s inability to obtain legal status hangs over us. All we are doing is taking a family road trip, but anxiety and fear mars what should be a fun and relaxing adventure.
My family has come to love Dario, and considers him to be a part of the family. Last summer, we decided to further our commitment to each other by getting married in New York. With close friends present, we had tears in our eyes as the officiant presiding over the ceremony declared us to be married. I feel blessed to be able to marry in a state that recognizes my love and treats it as equal. On our summer trip to New Mexico in 2012, we had a gathering of friends from the area and our family from the West Coast to celebrate our union. In August we hosted a formal reception at our home with close to 70 guests – family, friends, and co-workers. It was truly one of the most special moments of my life to have all those close to me celebrating the love and commitment that Dario and I hold for each other.
My inability to petition for Dario’s green card based on our marriage, a right any heterosexual binational couple enjoys, has denied us the opportunity to make plans and build a future together. Our inability to travel together out of the United States means that we are often separated for weeks each year as my job involves a lot of foreign travel.
Dario and I have made a home together, and our commitment to each other continues to grow stronger. However, every day we struggle with the fear of the possibility that our home may be destroyed by the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act which prevents the federal government from recognizing our marriage, including for immigration purposes. Because of this cruel law, the government does not see the love we share or the home we have built together. As a couple, we are invisible.
Dario and I hope to purchase our first home together, and in this process we are reminded how much is at stake with the Supreme Court’s upcoming ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act. We know that unless it is repealed or struck down, we will eventually be forced into exile in Argentina. We have joined the DOMA Project because we believe that we must speak out about the injustice of DOMA in order to bring about change. Without this change our lives, like tens of thousands of other binational couples, are on hold. We urge you to sign The DOMA Project’s petition (click here) to President Obama asking that green card petitions filed by same-sex binational couples be put on hold until the Supreme Court ruling. This important step toward greater equality would protect couples like us in the short term and prepare for a day when our green card petition can be approved.
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.
The DOMA Project Continues Press for Abeyance: Cathy and Catriona Attend Green Card Interview in Denver
Last week The DOMA Project traveled to Denver, Colorado to join Cathy and Catriona, one of our many participant binational couples, as they attended a green card interview at their local USCIS office. Parents of three beautiful children, they were running out of options last year when Cathy’s H-1B visa petition was denied. They decided to join The DOMA Project, file a green card petition based on their marriage and assert their right to be treated equally under the law. As a result of that filing, Cathy received an employment authorization card and the couple was scheduled for an interview. The DOMA Project has attended green card interviews with married lesbian and gay binational couples at a variety of local USCIS offices around the country over the past two years. To the best of our knowledge, Cathy and Catriona were the first same-sex couple to be interviewed in Denver. After their green card interview, Cathy and Catriona visited their Congressman Jared Polis at his Boulder office and spoke with him and his staff about the need for USCIS to institute an “abeyance” policy that would ensure that green card petitions filed by lesbian and gay couples would be put on hold until the Supreme Court rules on DOMA in June.
In Colorado we continued our collaboration with Brynn Gelbard and The Devote Campaign, shooting another short film for our series, “Love Stories: Binational Couples on the Front Lines in the Fight Against DOMA.” We spent a wonderful afternoon with Cathy, Catriona and their children exploring Boulder, Colorado. Their story begins when they met while mountain climbing in the Himalayas in 2006. They were both originally from small towns in Ireland that were just a few miles apart. Catriona is a naturalized U.S. citizen who came to the United States more than 30 years ago. Cathy, who was working as a nurse in Dublin, began traveling back and forth between Ireland and the United States until she obtained a temporary visa that allowed her to work as a nurse. Within a few years they had adopted a son from Guatemala and two daughters from Haiti. With all five members of the family born outside the United States, Cathy and Catriona represent the uniquely American experience of immigration: a convergence of individuals whose paths to this country differed greatly, but who have formed one solid, loving, and beautiful family.
And now they must fight to keep their family together.
Please sign The DOMA Project petition to President Obama (click here) urging the administration to stop denying green card petitions filed by same-sex binational couples and to hold them in abeyance until the Supreme Court rules on DOMA.
Cathy describes the experience of attending the interview with their attorney, Lavi Soloway, where the couple presented a voluminous file of supporting evidence proving that she and Cathy have a bona fide marital relationship:
“The days building up to the green card interview were nerve-wracking, filled with “what if’s.” We felt very anxious about the prospect of being rejected, refused, worse still, facing the very remote possibility of a deportation proceeding. We had no idea how we would be received or treated by the officer. We hoped for the best, but we prepared every category of evidence knowing that we might face a hostile officer. We knew that whatever happened, DOMA was our biggest obstacle. Despite our worries our conviction never wavered: we had every right to be there and to demand to be treated fairly and with respect. Furthermore, we had every right to make a request that our case be held in abeyance with the Supreme Court ruling on DOMA little more than five months away.
“We had an early start. With our champions, Lavi and Brynn, we set off before dawn for the USCIS Office in Centennial Colorado.
I couldn’t relax knowing that we were probably the first same-sex couple to be interviewed in Colorado in connection with a marriage-based green card petition. Our family’s future, like many LGBT families across the United States, depended on this process.
We proceeded to the waiting area and within a short period my name was called. I was a bundle of nerves, but reassured myself that we were doing the right thing. We were presenting an abundance of evidence proving we were a married couple with a family. We only had the discriminatory and unconstitutional law, DOMA, standing between us and our future staying together in the United States.
The interview itself was great. The interviewing officer was kind, respectful, courteous, and very understanding. All evidence was accepted and our file is now being held for further review.
We left on a high note, encouraged that we had not been summarily knocked down, or turned away with our hopes and dreams in shatters. Most importantly, we had not been denied. We left hopeful and optimistic as to the future. We are fully aware that the ultimate goal, approval of our green card petition cannot come until DOMA is gone, we believe it is an enormously important step for USCIS to be meeting with us and interviewing us about our marriage, in short treating us like all other married couples.”
Catriona notes that she was happily surprised that her worst expectations did not transpire:
“I must admit that I really expected a cold, officious reception with a high probability that we might not get to even sit down with an officer before being shown the exit door with a denial. I suppose I braced myself to be treated like an oddity that had no place in a process that allows only heterosexual couples to be successful. Boy was I wrong! The USCIS Officer was extremely gracious and welcoming and followed the interview process in a professional and courteous manner, kindly letting us know that, although we had more than enough evidence of a valid marriage, she informed us that she could not yet approve our petition because of the law. Of course we understood that going into the process, but in her respectful treatment of our case and her careful review of our evidence validated our effort to be treated equally. We understood that day that we were fighting for our family and for all other lesbian and gay binational couples. We left feeling that we had won another incremental victory in this civil rights struggle. It was empowering to meet with an officer and to make our case, and we realized more than ever that we were indeed holding the government accountable and pressing USCIS to do better than simply issue denials based on DOMA. This was a huge step forward for us. It really was a positive experience. We left the USCIS office a lot lighter in step with a lot more hope and optimism than before. We believe strongly that we must do our part to make change happen so that our three children grow up in a world in which all families are valued and respected. Last week we took a step in that direction.”