USCIS Approves 2010 Green Card Petition for Pioneering Gay Couple Who Stopped the First DOMA Deportation

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Josh and Henry photographed in May in New Jersey’s Liberty State Park (Jonathan Ystad/GetEqual)

In the summer of 2010, Josh and Henry married in Connecticut, eight years after Henry first arrived in this country with his mother and sister from Venezuela. A failed employment-based immigration case filed by an unscrupulous lawyer had resulted in Henry being placed into deportation proceedings. After approaching the law firm, Masliah & Soloway, they joined our newly-formed campaign, The DOMA Project.

Masliah & Soloway filed one of their first green card petitions for a married same-sex couple on behalf of Josh and Henry. They then set off on a program of public advocacy that stretched from mainstream television and print to social media. On September 26, 2010, with Henry’s mother, Luz, and attorney Lavi Soloway, The DOMA Project attended a rally for Marriage Equality in lower Manhattan with other binational couples, for the first time fighting to “Stop The Deportations.”

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And that is how it all started. What followed was a three-year campaign in Immigration Courts, USCIS offices and in the Court of Public Opinion, engaging the White House, U.S. Senators and Josh and Henry’s strongly supportive Congressman, Rush Holt.

Josh and Henry, who have been together since 2006, not only inspired hundreds of other couples to join the campaign and take a more direct approach, but also proved by their actions that a small group of committed individuals could bring about change.

In the spring of 2011, Josh and Henry won a major victory when ICE agreed to stop deportation proceedings against Henry, and for the first time the government agreed to close proceedings acknowledging that this deportation would not be taking place if not for DOMA. We salute them today and look forward to sharing more good news here about other couples who are finally experiencing what it means to win equality and end discrimination against LGBT families in US immigration law.

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This week, Josh and Henry learned that their green card petition filed in 2010 in defiance of DOMA has been approved exactly three years after it was filed. During these three years, Josh and Henry’s narrative inspired hundreds of other binational couples to join a public fight for equality by sharing their own stories with their communities, with their elected officials, and with the media.

As Josh and Henry’s story comes full circle, our work continues to make sure that all lesbian and gay binational couples are swiftly reunited and able to move forward with their future with security and full protection of the laws.

23 Years Together, Raising Four Children, Mark and Frédéric Rejoice at Their Approved Green Card Case

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In Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Mark Himes and Frédéric Deloizy, stepped up to the front lines of the fight against DOMA early on in 2011 by filing a marriage-based green card petition and advocating for full equality for their family. As a foreigner, Frédéric, a French national, had seen both his work visa and his student visa expire, and the time he had left to share with his family was limited under DOMA.

Frédéric and Mark were wed in California in 2008, 18 years after they first met. In two decades together, they have adopted four beautiful children. They welcomed their two oldest, John and Claire, just days after their respective birthdays in 2000 and 2003. On their 19th anniversary in April 2009, Fred and Mark welcomed Jacob and Joshua, both four years old at the time.

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Mark and Frédéric have put countless efforts over the past few years into staying together as a family in the United States: building their home, and putting down their roots. On January 11th, last year, they appeared before a Philadelphia Immigration Officer for a “Green Card” interview to put forward the evidence of their two-decades relationship and their marriage to be allowed to stay together with their children in this country.

After twenty-three years together for Mark and Frédéric, this family of six in Pennsylvania was notified that Fred and Mark’s green card case was, at last, approved. Despite the hurdles they faced to stay together as a same-sex binational couple, Fred and Mark decided that they must fight for the green card based on their marriage and today that fight was won at long last.

We rejoice with Mark, Frédéric, John, Claire, Jacob and Joshua, as after a long struggle, this family can resume their lives, treated equally under the law.

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Mark, Frédéric, John, Claire, Jacob and Joshua at the White House Easter Egg Roll in 2010

 

Green Card Granted: Victory over DOMA for Becky and Sanne in North Carolina

Late Sunday night, DOMA Project co-founder, immigration attorney Lavi Soloway, boarded a red eye flight from Los Angeles to Charlotte, North Carolina, to witness the equal protection guarantee of the U.S. Constitution work its magic for a married binational lesbian couple, Becky and Sanne, and their beautiful daughter, Willow.

 Becky & Sanne en route to green card interview w/ atty Lavi Soloway

Becky & Sanne en route to green card interview with attorney Lavi Soloway

Although North Carolina voters passed the infamous anti-gay state constitutional “Amendment 1″ in May 2012 that bars The Tar Heel State from recognizing and performing marriages or civil unions of same-sex couples, Masliah & Soloway clients, Becky and Sanne, who married in the Netherlands, were treated just as any other married couple as they arrived at their green card interview on Monday, August 5th, at 10 a.m. at the USCIS office in Charlotte. The Officer thoroughly reviewed the journey of their relationship which began in India and included time spent in Belgium and the Netherlands as well as Africa. The Officer was satisfied that they had provided sufficient evidence of the bona fides of their marriage and officially re-opened the denied green card application (the Board of Immigration Appeals had already ordered the green card petition to be re-opened) and adjudicated it at the same time.

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.)

The DOMA Project participants, Becky and Sanne had been on the forefront of the fight for equality, filing for a green card last year and telling their story in print and on screen. Just before Mother’s Day Becky and Sanne had 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. Today, in the post-DOMA reality for which they so visibly and zealously advocated, Becky and Sanne finally had their long-awaited interview with the USCIS Charlotte office.

At the conclusion of the interview, the USCIS Officer announced with a smile that Sanne was now a lawful permanent resident of the United States, and Becky and Sanne shared a hug and tears of joy. Just 75 minutes after the interview began, USCIS ordered production of the actual green card which is expected to come by mail the next week. The USCIS Officer made the extraordinary gesture of placing into Sanne’s passport a red stamp, indicating that she was a “Lawful Permanent Resident” secured by the official seal of the USCIS in order to facilitate her need to renew her expired driver’s license and “get on with her life” without further delay. As Becky and Sanne parted ways with their attorney at the Charlotte airport a few minutes ago, there were hugs and more tears. “We did it!” they all seemed to say in unison.

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Becky and Sanne are living a tangible, genuine triumph of the Windsor case: post-DOMA‬ reality. Thanks to Edie Windsor’s incredible determination and courage and their own resolve to be treated equally, Becky and Sanne are well on the way to build a better future for themselves and their daughter in North Carolina.

This is what equality looks like.

Rick & Gonzalo: Same-Day Green Card Approval for Married Gay Couple in San Francisco, Just Hours After Interview

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In 2012, after years of fighting DOMA as a binational couple from Argentina and San Francisco, Gonzalo proposed to Rick with two dozen beautiful red roses, along with chocolate, a large red heart, and a card that said, “You are the man I want to spend the rest of my life with. Will you marry me?!” Rick cried tears of joy. Yes, he said.

Rick and Gonzalo were married in 2013: they called the New York Blizzard of 2013 the icing on their wedding cake. It was then that Rick and Gonzalo joined the other binational couples with The DOMA Project and put their faith in The DOMA Project’s ground-breaking strategy to fight the Defense of Marriage Act by filing for their green card even when their case was not yet approvable.

In March 2013, Rick filed a green card petition for Gonzalo, just like any other American citizen would do for his foreign-born spouse.

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Today, as Rick and Gonzalo attended their marriage-based green card interview, their attorney Lavi Soloway‘s eyes welled up with “happy tears” as they presented the evidence of their relationship: the interview was the first one that he had attended with a married gay couple since the Supreme Court struck down DOMA, a historic milestone in a twenty-year career as an immigration lawyer working with LGBT families.

The USCIS officer, as expected, treated Rick and Gonzalo exactly as she would have treated any other married couple. She noted the historical nature of the event, but proceeded to review the evidence of their relationship and their marriage thoroughly.

Just five hours after the interview, Rick and Gonzalo learned that their green card case was granted in record time. USCIS notified their attorney by e-mail and he called to relay the unexpectedly fast decision.

Today Rick and Gonzalo were treated as though DOMA never existed. After more than five years spent traveling between Buenos Aires and San Francisco and often separated for long periods by U.S. immigration law, they finally have the green light to build a future together here.

This is what equality looks like!

USCIS Finalizes Formal Procedures for Reopening, Processing, and Approving Green Card and Fiance(e) Visa Petitions Previously Denied Due to DOMA

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Just a month after DOMA was struck down by the Supreme Court, The DOMA Project advocacy yielded USCIS procedures for reversal of denied green card and fiancé(e) visa petitions. USCIS formally announced that:

USCIS will reopen those petitions or applications that were denied solely because of DOMA section 3.  If such a case is known to us or brought to our attention, USCIS will reconsider its prior decision, as well as reopen associated applications to the extent they were also denied as a result of the denial of the Form I-130 (such as concurrently filed Forms I-485).

The courageous couples who joined our campaign and boldly filed marriage-based petitions beginning in July 2010, will now have all those denied petitions reversed by USCIS. Congratulations to the hundreds of couples who forged ahead in the challenge against the Defense of Marriage Act!

Now let us work to ensure that DOMA’s legacy does not keep any families apart. We must keep up the fight until the last exiled couple is able to return home. Our empowered community of binational couples has shown that change can happen when we stick together and hold government accountable. Let us work together to achieve full equality for ourselves, our community, and future generations.

GREEN CARD GRANTED: Tom Bercu and Claus Andersbo of Los Angeles

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Tom Bercu and Claus Andersbo of Los Angeles become the fourth same-sex couple in the nation to receive a marriage-based green card after the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act last month. The DOMA Project participants, Tom and Claus, who originally comes from Denmark, have filed their green card application earlier this year in anticipation of the Supreme Court decision and as a statement to the government that they will fight for their right to be treated equally as a family.

Tom and Claus follow in the footsteps of several DOMA Project couples, in Florida, Colorado, and California, in Los Angeles, and Toronto. Just two days after the Supreme Court decision that struck down DOMA, the first “stand alone” green-card petition was approved on June 28, 2013, for another gay couple working with The DOMA Project: Julian Marsh and Traian Popov of Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Five days after the Supreme Court decision, Cathy Davis was granted a green card, becoming the first immigrant to become a permanent resident through her same-sex marriage to Catriona Dowling of Colorado.

A second “stand alone” green card petition was also approved for Tom Smeraldo, a gay American living in forced exile in Canada with his Venezuelan husband, Emilio Ojeda. They left the U.S. six years ago to avoid the deportation of Ojeda to Venezuela.

Additionally, the second green card was granted on July 12 to Shaun Stent, based on his marriage to John Catuara, residing in Los Angeles. On the same weekend, Judy Rickard and Karin Bogliolo, a lesbian couple residing in San Jose, California, had also learned that their green card had been issued.

Read more about The DOMA Project victories on the following page.

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Lesbian Couple in San Jose, CA Receives The Third Marriage-Based Green Card After Supreme Court Strikes Down DOMA

USCIS Issues Green Card to U.K. Spouse of Award-Winning Activist and U.S. Citizen

On July 15, 2013, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued a green card to U.K. citizen, Karin Bogliolo, 72, based on her marriage to U.S. citizen Judy Rickard, 65, making Karin the third gay immigrant in U.S. history to become a lawful permanent resident on the basis of a same-sex marriage.

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Judy Rickard and Karin Bogliolo

Statement by Lavi Soloway, Attorney and Co-Founder of the DOMA Project:

“The issuance of this green card to Karin Bogliolo is the culmination of a two-decade grassroots movement in which lesbian and gay Americans fought for the right to sponsor the person that they love for permanent resident status in the United States.

Lesbian and gay binational couples and their families celebrated the Fourth of July this year with the Supreme Court decision in US v. Windsor fresh in their minds: having achieved freedom from a cruel law that has torn apart loving, committed couples, forced lesbian and gay Americans into exile to be with the person they love and has resulted in the unconscionable deportation of partners and spouses of lesbian and gay Americans. The long nightmare is over.

In striking down DOMA, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy held that, ‘[DOMA] tells those couples, and all the world, that their otherwise valid marriages are unworthy of federal recognition. This places same-sex couples in an unstable position of being in a second-tier marriage… And it humiliates tens of thousands of children now being raised by same-sex couples. The law in question makes it even more difficult for the children to understand the integrity and closeness of their own family and its concord with other families in their community and in their daily lives.’

By issuing a green card to Karin on the basis of her marriage to Judy, the U.S. government is finally recognizing the inherent dignity of this family, and giving tangible meaning to Justice Kennedy’s ruling.”

Judy Rickard and Karin Bogliolo joined The DOMA Project and filed a green card petition based on their marriage in January 2012 to bring an end to their separation. Because the Federal Government previously refused to recognize their marriage, Judy was forced to take an early retirement and spend six months of each year outside the U.S. to be with Karin, due to the limitations of Karin’s tourist visa.

Judy and Karin 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 deal. On Valentine’s Day in 2007 they became domestic partners, and in April, 2011 they married in Vermont before a justice of the peace.

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Judy and Karin celebrating their marriage with wedding cake in Vermont, April 6, 2011

Judy recalls their celebration in Vermont writing on The DOMA Project website:

“All we could think of then was to get married soon – after being told for years that getting married would cause problems for Karin every time she returned from the United Kingdom on a visitor visa… For me, what matters is Karin. I know she thinks I am what matters. It’s not even about our rings, the paper, the ceremony. We have lived it for years and we know it just by looking in each others’ eyes… Of course Karin and I have considered ourselves ‘married’ all the time we have been together, even before the ceremony and formal paperwork. We were married in our hearts when we had to be separated for months at a time while she dutifully obeyed the rules imposed on temporary visitors and returned to England after visiting me in California.”

Judy and Karin describe their experience as “love exiles.” They were not considered married in the eyes of U.S. government and were not permitted to live together as a family in the U.S.

“We didn’t have the kind of marriage that would satisfy Uncle Sam and so we had to follow those general guidelines for visitors. We were driven out of the U.S. for six months at a time, unable to return until we were sure Karin would be permitted to visit again. We could not live like this any more. In retirement, we yearn for tranquility and stability. We want to be left alone to enjoy our golden years together and take care of each other.”

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Judy Rickard and Karin Bogliolo at the Torn Apart book launch party in Hollywood, May, 2011

The Vermont ceremony was a deciding moment for Judy and Karin, as they filed for a green card based on their marriage and stood up for every binational same-sex couple demanding equality under the law.

Judy is the author of Torn Apart: United by Love, Divided by Law (Findhorn Press, 2011), a collection of stories about the experiences of binational same-sex couples under DOMA. Inspired by her work on the book and her own personal experience, she and Karin joined The DOMA Project. Through the extraordinary power of sharing personal stories of lesbian and gay couples and their families, Judy and Karin embodied the injustices of DOMA in our national dialogue on marriage equality and gave a voice to the need for social justice.

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Challenging DOMA: Judy and Karin attended a green card interview in September 2012

For years, Judy and Karin told their story to anyone who would listen: from grocery store clerks and neighbors to their elected officials. This video of Judy and Karin is part of the series of short films called ‘Love Stories: Binational Couples on the Front Lines Against DOMA,’ produced by Brynn Gelbard and The DeVote Campaign in collaboration with The DOMA Project.

For her efforts as an immigration reformer, Judy Rickard was honored as a Cesar Chavez Champion of Change by the White House in March this year on the same day that the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the Marriage Equality cases. Judy and Karin have fought tirelessly for the simple right to grow old together as a married couple. Karin says it best in the closing frames of the “Love Stories” video of them:

“I want to be with my partner: do the cooking, see friends, and I would love that for all the couples like us. All they want is just to live a life, a happy family life, people who have children, people who’ve been together maybe twenty-thirty years. We don’t want anything more, or special. Just, you know, what everybody else has.”

Judy and Karin attended a “green card” interview with USCIS on September 7, 2012. The interviewing officer put the case on hold at the request of the couple’s attorney, DOMA Project co-founder, Lavi Soloway, rather than issuing a denial.  To their credit, USCIS San Jose Field Office conducted a full and thorough “green card” interview of Judy and Karin, and treated them like all other couples.  Then, they held the file for ten months, defying specific guidance from the Obama administration that green card petitions filed by same-sex couples must be denied on the basis of DOMA in the normal order of business.

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Karin Bogliolo and Judy Rickard featured in short film, “Love Stories”

Speaking from their home in San Jose, California, Judy and Karin reacted to the joyful news of their victory, as they learned that the green card they had long fought for was finally granted. Karin, speaking through happy tears, said:

“At last, after so many years of struggle, huge expense, fear, and separation I can at last believe I am home. I have a home. I can believe I have a home. I am no longer afraid of being separated from the person I love most. At last I feel we can grow old together.”

Next on her agenda? A visit with her wife to their family in Europe that they haven’t been able to visit for nearly three years.

“We feel vindicated!” Judy smiled.

“With DOMA defeated and this green card issued, we can celebrate that we are now, finally, being treated as equal under the law.  As of today, I can proudly say that my government recognizes our marriage is as valid as any other marriage.  Our love has triumphed over hatred and bigotry.  It’s been a long, hard fight to be together and stay together legally and safely. This fight is for us and every LGBT family torn apart, pushed into exile or living in fear of separation.  With DOMA gone, we need to get back to work with our allies in other communities to create a fair and humane immigration system that protects all families.  Thanks to all who have helped us win our battle.”

Judy and Karin will remain active in the fight for comprehensive immigration reform to ensure that policies are in place to protect all families.

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Judy and Karin in front of the White House after Judy spoke on a panel and met with President Obama in the Oval Office as a Cesar Chavez Champion of Change for Immigration Reform, March 26, 2013

Just last month, on June 26, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a law that prohibited the federal government from recognizing marriages of same-sex couples for all purposes including immigration benefits, as a violation of the equal protection guarantee of the U.S. Constitution.

Judy and Karin follow in the footsteps of several DOMA Project couples, in Florida and Colorado, in Los Angeles and Toronto. Just two days after the Supreme Court decision that struck down DOMA, the first “stand alone” green-card petition was approved on June 28, 2013, for another gay couple working with The DOMA Project: Julian Marsh and Traian Popov of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Five days after the Supreme Court decision, Cathy Davis was granted a green card, becoming the first immigrant to become a permanent resident through her same-sex marriage to Catriona Dowling of Colorado. A second “stand alone” green card petition was also approved for Tom Smeraldo, a gay American living in forced exile in Canada with his Venezuelan husband, Emilio Ojeda. They left the U.S. six years ago to avoid the deportation of Ojeda to Venezuela. Additionally, the second green card was granted on July 12 to Shaun Stent, based on his marriage to John Catuara, residing in Los Angeles.

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Judy and Karin in front of the Supreme Court during the oral arguments in Windsor v. U.S., March 27, 2013

Since it was founded in 2010 by attorneys Lavi Soloway and Noemi Masliah, The DOMA Project has filed almost 100 green card petitions for same-sex couples affected by DOMA. USCIS has announced that it will soon issue guidance for all DOMA-impacted immigration cases. The DOMA Project is working closely with members of Congress and with the Obama administration to ensure that all petitions and applications filed by lesbian and gay couples are processed as quickly as possible.


For more information or to schedule an interview, please contact Project Associate Derek Tripp or Lavi Soloway, attorney and co-founder of The DOMA Project.

Gay Couple in LA Receives a Marriage-Based Green Card Just Two Weeks After Supreme Court Strikes Down DOMA

USCIS Issues Green Card to British Spouse of Gay U.S. Citizen, Ending Their 13-Year Struggle to be Together

On July 11, 2013, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued a green card to U.K. citizen, Shaun Stent, based on his marriage to American citizen, John Catuara, making Shaun the second gay immigrant in U.S. history to become a lawful permanent resident on the basis of a same-sex marriage.  The couple have been together since 2001. They married in January 2012, and have struggled for 13 years to be together in this country.

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John Catuara and Shaun Stent during their green card interview on April 23, 2013

John Catuara and Shaun Stent joined The DOMA Project and filed a green card petition based on their January 2012 marriage in order to prevent their family from being torn apart and to join other binational couples in demanding equality under the law.

John shared the story of how they met on the DOMA Project website:

“By the time I reached my mid 50s, I had begun to let go the hope of finding a life partner. Maybe it was a combination of society’s views of gays, combined with the scars of a Catholic upbringing, that left me feeling I did not deserve what most people had. All that changed when Shaun entered my life.”

After an online friendship developed, they first saw each other in person in January 11, 2001. John wrote about that day:

“… when he first saw me he was a little afraid, as I was bouncing up and down with excitement. If I was, it was nerves. In person he looked even better than his photos. As we ate lunch my hand began to tremble with joy. He reached over, took my hand and looking directly into my eyes, he whispering in his British accent, “It is OK, just relax”. Our lunch went so well, that Shaun altered his plans and spent his final week with me. It was then that we knew that this was more than just friendship.”

For the next decade Shaun and John lived what they called two half-lives: one half together, and the other half alone. Shaun would spend three months in the U.S. and three months in the U.K., separated from John by 5,000 miles.

In 2002 Shaun was stopped on entry to the U.S. and detained. Immigration Officers questioned him for hours at the airport. Eventually he was allowed to stay for six weeks but told he would no longer be able to use a “visa waiver program” to visit. He was told that he must apply for an actual visitor’s visa at the U.S. Embassy in London. Shaun did as told, and he received the visa; but several more times he was detained, sometimes for as long as five hours. While Shaun was detained and interrogated, John would be left waiting at arrivals, without any news, each time not knowing whether Shaun would be allowed to visit.

Once an airline representative threatened Shaun, saying that he was going to be handcuffed, taken to a detention center and flown back to the U.K. the next day.
 Every time he was detained, Shaun cut back the time he would spend in the U.S. hoping this would better his chances for another visit.

Shaun would ask immigration, how long he could visit without it being a problem. He was told, “You are just coming here too often,” or “visit here less than expected.” He was never given a clear rule to follow and this ambiguity left him with no certainty and filled him with anxiety.

The trauma of the constant travel and separations, the confrontations with border officials, and the mistreatment he had suffered on occasion, had a serious effect on Shaun’s health. He would sink into deep depressions as his visits came to an end and his departure from the U.S. came nearer.  Before his next return trip to the U.S., his fear of immigration would consume him to the point of not being able to eat or sleep. Each time Shaun became convinced that he would be denied entry and banned from returning to the US for ten years.

Twice a year, for ten years, they repeated this grueling routine. Shaun would stand in a line and John would be left waiting, hoping that they would be allowed to continue their lives together. John and Shaun were both all too aware that at any time, a U.S. Customs and Border Protections officer could destroy what they had worked so hard to build together.

In 2011, John faced a cancer scare, with the possibility of surgery, and was forced to face it alone without Shaun by his side through the experience. In January 2012 they celebrated their 11th anniversary as a couple. To coincide with this milestone they traveled from LA to New York and were married. On a stop over during the flight home, they were subjected to questioning by TSA.

John writes about the experience:

“As an American citizen, I have never been questioned in that manner. It was intrusive and spoken with an intimidating tone. For the first time I saw a little of what Shaun has faced each time he entered the US.  Although we were not technically being interrogated by immigration officers, the worst fears ran through our mind. We both panicked, fearing that if they found our marriage license in our possessions Shaun may be sent to a detention center for displaying intent to remain in the United States while he was a visitor; we had read that had happened to others. The fear in Shaun’s eyes was so intense, that I made up my mind that this had to stop! We could no longer live this way.”

That encounter was the turning point that drove John and Shaun to speak out against the injustice by joining The DOMA Project and to file for the green card based on their marriage.

This short video of John and Shaun’s 2012 wedding reception was featured as the first installment in the series of short films called ‘Love Stories: Binational Couples on the Front Lines Against DOMA,’ produced by Brynn Gelbard and The DeVote Campaign in collaboration with The DOMA Project.

John and Shaun attended a “green card” interview with USCIS on April 23, 2013.  They were the first married same-sex couple green card interviewed at the Los Angeles Field Office. The interviewing officer put the case on hold at the request of the couple’s attorney, DOMA Project co-founder, Lavi Soloway, rather than issuing a denial based on DOMA.

On July 11 the USCIS issued an approval of Shaun Stent’s green card application and ordered production of the card itself. It will arrive by mail in a few days.

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Battling DOMA: John and Shaun, Married Gay Couple Fighting For Green Card in Los Angeles, Meet with Elected Officials to Urge the USCIS Not to Deny Their Petition.

On July 11, Shaun and John won their fight of thirteen years. Shaun Stent was granted a green card based on his marriage to John Catuara.

Speaking from their home in Los Angeles John and Shaun reacted to the news:

“We are both happy and relieved that our thirteen-year battle has finally ended. We have had so much support from people over the years and we want to thank them all. However, for us the victory will only be complete when all same-sex married binational couples are united and have the chance to enjoy the same peace of mind we now have.”

Just last month, on June 26, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a law that prohibited the federal government from recognizing marriages of same-sex couples for all purposes including immigration benefits, as a violation of the equal protection guarantee of the U.S. Constitution.

John and Shaun follow in the footsteps of married lesbian couple in Colorado, Cathy and Catriona, who, last week, became the first same-sex couple to be issued a green card. They are also continuing the legacy of an 1975 binational gay couple, Richard Adams and Anthony Sullivan, the first to file green card petition and assert that their legal marriage must be recognized for purposes of immigration law. In 1975, Adams and Sullivan received a denial letter from the Immigration Service office in Los Angeles, where they lived, stating that “[Adams and Sullivan] have failed to establish that a bona fide marital relationship can exist between two faggots.”

It is the same Los Angeles office that granted a green card to Shaun Stent this week.

Although Richard Adams and Anthony Sullivan were unsuccessful in their lawsuit against the Immigration Service, they are widely respected as pioneers in the movement for marriage equality and immigration rights for lesbian and gay binational couples. Adams and Sullivan, who, like Shaun and John, lived in Los Angeles, were together as a couple for more than 40 years until the death of Richard Adams in December.  They blazed a trail for Shaun and John and inspired thousands of others who have taken up the cause of equality for LGBT families.

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John Catuara, Shaun Stent, Anthony Sullivan, the DOMA Project volunteer Donna Gough and The DOMA Project Associate Derek Tripp at Los Angeles Pride in July 2013.

Just two days after the Supreme Court decision that struck down DOMA, the first “stand alone” green-card petition was approved on June 28, 2013, for another gay couple working with The DOMA Project: Julian Marsh and Traian Popov of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. (Approval of a green card petition filed by a U.S. citizen is the first of a two-part process through which the spouse obtains status as a “lawful permanent resident” and receives the actual green card. Marsh and Popov will complete the second part and receive a green card later this year.)

A second “stand alone” green card petition was approved for Tom Smeraldo, a gay American living in forced exile in Canada with his Venezuelan husband, Emilio Ojeda. They left the U.S. six years ago to avoid the deportation of Ojeda to Venezuela.

Statement by Lavi Soloway, Attorney and Co-Founder of the DOMA Project:

“Fifteen days after the Supreme Court struck down DOMA, a green card has been issued to Shaun Stent, making him only the second same-sex spouse of an American citizen ever to receive a marriage-based green card. Shaun and John fought back by standing up to a powerful federal government agency that refused to recognize their marriage. After a decade of exhausting and expensive travel between the U.K. and Los Angeles that required long separations, the couple decided to fight back. They refused to allow the government to treat them as though they were unmarried, and refused to allow their family to be torn apart by a discriminatory law.

The issuance of this green card is the culmination of a two-decade grassroots movement in which lesbian and gay Americans fought for the right to sponsor the person that they love for permanent resident status in the United States. It is also the final chapter in a fight for equality that began in 1975 when the first married gay couple, Anthony Sullivan and Richard Adams, sued the U.S. government for a green card and lost.

For the first time in our nation’s history, lesbian and gay binational couples and their families celebrated the Fourth of July this year having achieved freedom from a cruel law that has torn apart loving, committed couples, forced lesbian and gay Americans into exile to be with the person they love and has resulted in the unconscionable deportation of partners and spouses of lesbian and gay Americans.

The long nightmare is over.

In striking down DOMA in United States v Windsor, Supreme Court Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy held that:

“The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity.”

By issuing a green card to Shaun Stent on the basis of his marriage to John Catuara, the U.S. government is finally recognizing the inherent dignity of this family, and giving tangible meaning to Justice Kennedy’s ruling.”

Since it was founded in 2010 by attorneys Lavi Soloway and Noemi Masliah, The DOMA Project has filed almost 100 green card petitions for same-sex couples affected by DOMA. USCIS has announced that will soon issue guidance for all DOMA-impacted immigration cases. The DOMA Project is working closely with members of Congress and with the Obama administration to ensure that all petitions and applications filed by lesbian and gay couples are processed as quickly as possible.

For more information or to schedule an interview, please contact Project Associate Derek Tripp or Lavi Soloway, attorney and co-founder of The DOMA Project.

COMING HOME! First Green Card Petition Approved for Gay Couple in DOMA Exile

Another first in the post-DOMA reality for binational couples: married, gay couple exiled in Canada becomes first to receive approval of green card petition that had been previously denied because of DOMA. Obama administration made good on the last week’s promise to review all green card petitions that had been denied based on DOMA. March 2011 denial of the green card petition filed by a gay married couple currently in exile has been reversed by the government!

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Tom and Emilio met in 2001 in New York City. A year earlier, like so many other gay men from his country, Emilio had left Venezuela in search of a better life in the U.S. As Tom and Emilio fell in love and set out to plan a future together as a couple, they abruptly ran into the cold, hard brick wall reality of anti-gay discrimination in U.S. immigration law.

For over a decade they have been deprived of a basic right that most families take for granted. Tom and Emilio have been denied the right to live together in this country. They have been denied the opportunity to build a life together with the support of Tom’s supportive and loving extended family in New Jersey.

Although Tom is an American citizen, he and his husband, Emilio, have been forced to start a new life in Canada far from Tom’s family in New Jersey. And because of Emilio was deprived of the usual path to lawful status, sponsorship by his American spouse, he was deported from the United States. That deportation meant that Tom and Emilio could not return for at least 10 years.

However, today’s approval of a green card petition that Tom filed for Emilio means that Tom and Emilio would be able to come home at last, after six years in exile!

PRESS RELEASE: Same-Sex Couple Raising Three Children in Colorado Becomes the First in the U.S. to Receive a Marriage-Based Green Card After Immigration Interview in January

USCIS Issues a Green Card to the Irish Spouse of a Lesbian U.S. Citizen

On July 3, 2013, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued a green card for Cathy Davis based on her marriage to Catriona Dowling, making Cathy the first immigrant to become a permanent resident in the U.S. through marriage to her same-sex spouse.

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Cathy and Catriona are raising three children together in Boulder, Colorado: Cian (6), Mardoche (11), and Angelina (9).

Catriona Dowling and Cathy Davis joined The DOMA Project and filed a green card petition based on their marriage in June of 2012 to prevent their family from being torn apart and to demand equality under the law. They were running out of options last year when the extension of Cathy’s work visa was denied. After filing the green card petition and the application to adjust status to permanent residence, Cathy received an employment authorization card which allowed her to work and contribute financially to support her family.  The couple was scheduled for a “green card” interview with USCIS in Denver on January 9, 2013. They were told by the Immigration Officer, who thoroughly reviewed their documentation, that their case could have been approved that day if they had been a man and a woman. However, the interviewing officer put the case on hold at the request of the couple’s attorney, DOMA Project co-founder, Lavi Soloway, rather than issuing a denial.

Speaking from their home in Colorado on July 3rd, Catriona and Cathy said:

“We’re very excited and relieved, we’re over the moon for ourselves and for all families seeking equality. We set up an InfoPass appointment because there had been no action on our case since the DOMA ruling by the Supreme Court a week ago. With the statement from Secretary Janet Napolitano in hand, we wanted to ask why our case had not yet been approved since DOMA had been the only obstacle. Our InfoPass appointment was for 10:45 a.m. We brought our children with us in the hope that we would walk out of the USCIS Field Office with good news and a future to plan. We entered the waiting room at 10:40 a.m. and waited with others to be called to a window.”

Catriona described what it was like the moment they were called to the USCIS window:

“At 10:55 a.m. we were called to the window. The officer at the other side of the window began to log our information into the computer when another officer appeared, introducing herself as the Supervisor, and declared that ‘as of one minute ago’ Cathy’s green card had been approved. The time was 11:00 a.m. I immediately yelled out and began to cry, Cathy was more stunned with the news and quiet for that moment, which led the Supervisor to assume that I was the immigrant spouse. She explained that production of the green card had been ordered and it would soon arrive by mail; she also explained that Cathy could apply for American citizenship in three years, on July 3, 2016.

When we’re asked why we took this route and fought for this green card with the help of The DOMA Project we say: ‘Family is worth fighting for, and our family deserves the same rights as all other families, it’s that simple. It doesn’t take courage to fight for your family, it’s a responsibility.’”

Earlier this year, Cathy and Catriona were featured among several other families in the series of short films called ‘Love Stories: Binational Couples on the Front Lines Against DOMA,’ produced by Brynn Gelbard and The DeVote Campaign in collaboration with The DOMA Project. The series focuses on lesbian and gay couples across America asserting their own inherent equality by petitioning for green cards based on their marriages and demanding that the U.S. government treat them no differently than opposite sex couples under federal law.

Just last week, on June 26, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a law that prohibited the federal government from recognizing marriages of same-sex couples for all purposes including immigration benefits, as a violation of the equal protection guarantee of the U.S. Constitution.

Just two days later, the first “stand alone” green-card petition was approved on June 28, 2013, for another couple working with The DOMA Project: Julian Marsh and Traian Popov in Florida. Approval of a green card petition filed by a U.S. citizen is the first of a two-part process through which the spouse obtains status as a “lawful permanent resident” and receives the actual green card. (Marsh and Popov will complete the second part and receive a green card later this year.) 

Cathy and Catriona are the first same-sex couple to have a marriage-based green card issued by USCIS. Cathy Davis will forever be the first person to have shattered this barrier.

Coincidentally, Richard Adams and Anthony Sullivan, the first gay couple to wage a fight against the Immigration Service were married in Boulder, Colorado, in 1975. They filed green card petition and assert that their legal marriage must be recognized for purposes of the immigration law.  Although they were unsuccessful in their lawsuit against the Immigration Service, they are widely respected as pioneers in the movement for marriage equality and immigration rights for lesbian and gay binational couples. Adams and Sullivan, who lived in Los Angeles, were together as a couple for more than 40 years until the death of Richard Adams in December.  They blazed a trail for Cathy and Catriona and inspired thousands of others who have take up the cause of equality for LGBT families.

Statement by Lavi Soloway, Attorney and Co-Founder of the DOMA Project:

“Seven days after the Supreme Court struck down DOMA, a green card has been issued to Cathy Davis. She is the first same-sex spouse of an American citizen ever to receive a green card, and as such she will forever occupy an important place in the history of our civil rights movement. She and her spouse, Catriona, did not wait for change to come. They fought back by standing up to a powerful federal government agency that refused to recognized their marriage or their family. They refused to allow the government to treat them as though they were unmarried, and refused to allow their family to be torn apart by a discriminatory law. They were determined to protect their children and build a future together in this country, and they succeeded in making history.

The issuance of this green card is the culmination of a two-decade grassroots movement in which lesbian and gay Americans fought for the right to sponsor the person that they love for permanent resident status in the United States. It is also the final chapter in a fight for equality that began in 1975 when the first married gay couple, Anthony Sullivan and Richard Adams, sued the U.S. government for a green card and lost.

Lesbian and gay binational couples and their families celebrated the Fourth of July this year having achieved freedom from a cruel law that has torn apart loving, committed couples, forced lesbian and gay Americans into exile to be with the person they love and has resulted in the unconscionable deportation of partners and spouses of lesbian and gay Americans. The long nightmare is over.

In striking down DOMA, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy held that, “[DOMA] tells those couples, and all the world, that their otherwise valid marriages are unworthy of federal recognition. This places same-sex couples in an unstable position of being in a second-tier marriage… And it humiliates tens of thousands of children now being raised by same-sex couples. The law in question makes it even more difficult for the children to understand the integrity and closeness of their own family and its concord with other families in their community and in their daily lives.”

By issuing a green card to Cathy Davis on the basis of her marriage to Catriona, the U.S. government is finally recognizing the inherent dignity of this family, and giving tangible meaning to Justice Kennedy’s ruling.”


ADDENDUM TO JULY 4, 2013 PRESS RELEASE

LOVE AT THE MOUNTAIN TOP: CATHY AND CATRIONA FIGHT FOR THEIR FUTURE AND THEIR FAMILY

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Cathy, Catriona, Mardoche, Cian, Angelina at the USCIS Office in Denver on July 3, 2013

Currently residing in Boulder, Colorado, Catriona and Cathy first met in 2006 on a mountain-climbing expedition in the Himalayas. Though Cathy lived in Dublin, Ireland, and Catriona lived in Colorado, they had an instant connection. After returning to their respective homes, they began a long-distance relationship, falling in love and visiting each other as often as they could. Their exhilarating reunions ended with tearful goodbyes, then long separations. As with many gay binational couples, it was only when they found themselves searching for a way to be together that they realized the severity of their situation. Until the Defense of Marriage Act Section 3 (DOMA) was struck down by the Supreme Court last month, U.S. immigration law did not provide any way for a gay or lesbian American to sponsor his or her foreign-born partner to live and work in the U.S.

Finally, after two years, Cathy secured a work visa when a hospital in San Antonio, Texas, sponsored her to work as a nurse. Cathy was promoted, and her employer petitioned for an extension of her visa.

In January 2012, the Immigration Service denied the extension of Cathy’s work visa, forcing Cathy and Catriona to make a heartbreaking choice: Either Cathy would remain in the United States without lawful status, or she would move back to Ireland leaving behind Catriona and the children. Unwilling to allow their family to be torn apart, Catriona and Cathy decided that Cathy would stay and that they would fight for the right for their family to be together.

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Cathy and Catriona on the day of their green card interview on January 9, 2013

Their first step was to get married. They could not do this in their home state of Texas. They had decided to relocate back to Boulder, but Colorado also has a constitutional ban in place against marriages between people of the same sex. In May 2012, Cathy and Catriona married in Council Bluffs, Iowa.

Catriona recalls,

“It was a very special day that allowed us as a couple to declare publicly what we had already declared in private six years prior: our love and commitment to each other.”

With their family settled back into their beloved mountain town, Boulder, Catriona filed a green card petition for Cathy, just as any other American would do for their foreign-born spouse. Despite the possibility that their case could have been denied due to the Defense of Marriage Act, they persisted, determined to protect their future as a family. With hundreds of other couples, they joined The DOMA Project to fight for a secure future for their family. USCIS interviewed Cathy and Catriona January 9, 2013 based on the green card petition filed by Catriona.

Shortly after the interview, Catriona shared her reaction with The DOMA Project:

“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.”

Earlier this year, Cathy and Catriona were featured among several other families in the series of short films called ‘Love Stories: Binational Couples on the Front Lines Against DOMA,’ produced by Brynn Gelbard and The DeVote Campaign and Lavi Soloway and The DOMA Project . The series focus on LGBT couples from across America asserting their equality by petitioning for green cards based on their marriages and demanding that the U.S. government treat them no differently than opposite sex couples under federal law.

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Since it was founded in 2010 by attorneys Lavi Soloway and Noemi Masliah, The DOMA Project has filed almost 100 green card petitions for same-sex couples affected by DOMA. USCIS has announced that will soon issue guidance for all DOMA-impacted immigration cases. The DOMA Project is working closely with members of Congress and with the Obama administration to ensure that all petitions and applications filed by lesbian and gay couples are processed as quickly as possible.

For more information or to schedule an interview, please contact Project Associate Derek Tripp or Lavi Soloway, attorney and co-founder of 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.