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President Unveils Historic Immigration Reform That Includes Provisions for Gay and Lesbian Couples (UPDATED)

President Obama Inaguration 2013

Today, President Obama announced his plan for comprehensive immigration reform in a speech in Las Vegas, Nevada. In advance of the event it had been reported that the President will call for broadly inclusive immigration reform that includes provisions for same-sex binational couples (“Obama Will Include Same-Sex Couples In Immigration Plan“). The President did not disappoint.  The speech itself described the broad outlines of new humane, fair and practical immigration policies, with the same basic underpinnings as the Senate plan released yesterday. White House staffers distributed a detailed plan to streamline legal immigration by “Keeping Families Together” that would broaden the family unification provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act to provide for the immigration of same-sex partners of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents.  This new policy, never before advocated by a sitting President, hews closely the language of the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA), and its predecessor, the Permanent Partners Immigration Act.

The proposal seeks to eliminate existing backlogs in the family-sponsored immigration system by recapturing unused visas and temporarily increasing annual visa numbers.  The proposal also raises existing annual country caps from 7 percent to 15 percent for the family-sponsored immigration system.   It also treats same-sex families as families by giving U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents the ability to seek a visa on the basis of a permanent relationship with a same-sex partner. The proposal also revises current unlawful presence bars and provides broader discretion to waive bars in cases of hardship.

DOMA Project co-founders, Lavi Soloway and Noemi Masliah, who, in 1999, helped draft the same-sex partner legislation now known as the UAFA, have called for its inclusion in any comprehensive reform package.  Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) the bill’s chief architect and long the most vocal advocate for lesbian and gay binational couples in the House, re-iterated his belief that immigration reform will not pass without a provision inclusive of LGBT families. Yesterday, the Senate unveiled a bipartisan blueprint for immigration reform that provided little detail and omitted mention of same-sex binational couples. Reacting to the Senate plan, Congressman Nadler said it would be “madness” to advance immigration reform that did not include protections for same-sex couples, adding “I feel certain that Democrats would not move forward with a bill that was not fully inclusive.”  Today the President seemed to assure Congressman Nadler that he will fight for this provision.

On January 21, 2013, President Obama made history as the first President to acknowledge the rights of gay and lesbian Americans at a Presidential Inauguration. His call for equality for gay and lesbian Americans on that auspicious occasion was consistent with stated position that lesbian and gay couples should have the right to marry and that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional:

It is now our generation’s task to carry on what those pioneers began.  For our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts.  Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law — for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.

President Obama’s call for equality for lesbian and gay couples, as he stood just a few feet from all nine justices of the U.S. Supreme Court, is another important milestone in the fight against DOMA. We must continue to urge the President to use the power of his office to develop and implement policies that protect lesbian and gay binational couples and our families now.  To have the unequivocal support of the president should be celebrated, but we must continue to demand and expect concrete actions to follow this soaring rhetoric.

Today, tens of thousands of same-sex couples in America continue to be denied security for their family and their future. The love and lives of same-sex binational couples are often strained because these couples are forced to live apart from one another, in exile from their home countries, or in hiding because the Federal Government will not recognize their marriage and commitment.

“Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity”

The President should follow his public declarations of support for LGBT families with action, by directing the Attorney General and Secretary of Homeland Security to implement an abeyance policy for petitions by same-sex binational couples.

Please sign our petition to President Obama asking that the government stop issuing denials to green card petitions from same-sex couples. Your support means standing up for every couple whose marriage is rendered invisible under the law by the Defense of Marriage Act. President Obama has taken his stance for equality and we urge you to join us in holding him to that promise.

“My fellow Americans. We are made for this moment, and we will seize it – so long as we seize it together.”


The DOMA Project Continues Press for Abeyance: Cathy and Catriona Attend Green Card Interview in Denver

C&C at USCIS 625

Arriving at USCIS Denver Field Office

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.


Catriona and Cathy with DOMA Project co-founder, attorney Lavi Soloway, and Congressman Jared Polis in Boulder, Colorado

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.

Cathy Catriona and the kids 625

“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.”

Cathy Catriona on Set 625

“Love Stories: Binational Couples on the Front Lines Against DOMA”

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




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

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

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

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


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



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


You can help by:

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


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


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Gay Binational Couple Challenges the Obama Administration: End DOMA Exile, Let us Come Home for the Holidays

VIDEO: Gay Couple Challenges Hillary Clinton’s Pledge to Protect Human Rights of LGBT Persons Around the Globe

LGBT Organizations Call on Secretary Napolitano
to Bring Exiled Lesbian and Gay Couples Home
Thousands of Binational Lesbian and Gay Couples
Remain Exiled or Separated Due to DOMA

NEW YORK, NY — This holiday season, while millions of families across the country come together to celebrate, some Americans will once again watch from afar while living in exile. For binational couples —- lesbian and gay Americans with spouses or partners from other countries —- this holiday season is a reminder of the discriminatory U.S. law that tears families apart, and results in the forced exile of thousands of American citizens.

Join the fight to bring Jesse & Max home!

Because of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) lesbian and gay Americans cannot sponsor their partners or spouses for fiancé visas or green cards like all other Americans, and are instead forced to live apart from the person they love, or forced to expatriate themselves and live thousands of miles away from their families. The Obama administration has said that DOMA is unconstitutional and has refused to defend the law in federal court, yet it has failed to take action to protect LGBT Americans from its most devastating effect in the immigration context.

In an effort to bring national attention to the horrifying choice between love and country forced upon these binational gay and lesbian couples, LGBT organizations including GetEQUAL, Stop the Deportations, and Out4Immigration are calling on Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano to immediately reunite these couples with their families in the United States. The Obama administration could easily bring these couples home for the holidays by simply granting temporary “humanitarian parole” to the foreign spouses or partners of U.S. citizens, allowing them to enter the United States with that temporary status until a permanent solution can be achieved.

Earlier this month, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivered a powerful and historic speech to the United Nations, calling on the international community to respect the human rights of all LGBT people, and instructing U.S. embassies across the globe to do everything in their power to assist all LGBT persons abroad. While the unprecedented, electrifying speech was watched around the world, LGBT Americans who have become refugees from their own country were hopeful that changes would come that would allow them to return home or bring their spouses or partners home for the holidays. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano now has the opportunity to fulfill the core promise of that speech for all LGBT Americans.

Watch the video of Jesse and Max.

Sign the petition at GetEqual

The video campaign features Jesse Goodman, an American citizen from New York, and Max, his partner of more than 10 years who is a citizen of Argentina. Jesse and Max are currently living in exile in London due to Jesse’s inability to sponsor Max for a green card because of the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Jesse has been forced to live thousands of miles from his parents and sister year after year, missing every holiday and family celebration. There are thousands of binational LGBT couples who are dealing with similar situations — forced to live in separate countries and see each other once or twice a year, or forced to find a home in another country that allows them to live together, that recognizes their relationship but leaves them far from the family they have left behind in the United States.

In a follow-up statement to the White House’s LGBT Pride Reception over the summer, the Obama Administration said that the President believes that “Americans with partners from other countries should not be faced with a painful choice between staying with their partner or staying in their country.” Lesbian and gay Americans across the globe rejoiced at this statement of support, but have not yet seen changes to laws or policies that would reunite lesbian and gay Americans with their families and provide a means for same-sex binational couples to be together in this country.

“Couples like Jesse and Max are forced to make the choice between love and country — to leave their extended families behind in order to stay together and preserve their relationship,” said Lavi Soloway, co-founder of Stop the Deportations-The DOMA Project. “It’s a horrifying choice that no American should be forced to make —- and one that could be solved tomorrow if Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano chooses to take action. Exiled lesbian and gay binational couples have spent many holiday seasons away from their families and friends, only because of U.S. laws that discriminate against them and refuse to recognize their relationships. We urge the administration to put its words into action, to end this forced exile immediately so that these lesbian and gay Americans are able to celebrate the holidays reunited with their families.”

“Secretary Clinton’s speech to the U.N. was incredible — and the Obama Administration has an opportunity right now to give shape to those words by proving to the LGBT community that it values and supports our relationships,” said Robin McGehee, director of GetEQUAL. “We’ve heard a lot of nice words from this Administration — now it’s time to move beyond words to action, and to bring these couples home for the holidays.”

Background on Jesse and Max’s story can be found here.

Permission is granted to use all photos found at, only if properly credited “courtesy Stop The Deportations”

Jesse and Max, and other binational gay and lesbian couples involved in the “Home for the Holidays” campaign are available for comment.

Press Inquiries to attorney Lavi Soloway,
or Project Associate, Derek Tripp.
Phone 323-599-6915
[email protected]
[email protected]

Founded in 2010, GetEQUAL is a national grassroots organization whose mission is to empower the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) community and our allies to take bold action to demand full legal and social equality, and to hold accountable those who stand in the way. For more information, go to,, or

Stop the Deportations, Separations and Exile – The DOMA Project is a campaign launched in October 2010 by a group of married binational couples working with attorneys Lavi Soloway and Noemi Masliah, who are founders of Immigration Equality and partners in the law firm Masliah & Soloway. The campaign’s purpose is to raise awareness of the cruel impact of the “Defense of Marriage Act” on married gay and lesbian binational couples and bring an end to that discrimination.

Out4Immigration is a volunteer grassroots organization that addresses the widespread discriminatory impact of U.S. immigration laws on the lives of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and HIV+ people and their families through education, outreach, advocacy and the maintenance of a resource and support network.

GLAAD Launches Call To Action: Tell President Obama to Stop The DOMA Deportations, Enforce His Promised LGBT-Inclusive Guidelines and Keep Brian & Anton Together

Sign the petition to President Obama today. Time is running out for Brian & Anton. Share this link with your friends. We must stop this deportation!

Sign Our Petition To Stop The Deportation of Sujey Pando

On August 19th in Denver, Violeta and Sujey Pando will face the worst nightmare for any lesbian or gay binational couple: a final deportation hearing in an Immigration Court. They are legally married, but Violeta, a U.S. citizen, cannot sponsor her spouse, Sujey, who is from Mexico, because of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). In fact, because of DOMA, this loving, committed couple of five years, who married last year in Iowa, may be torn apart by a judge’s order next Friday if action is not taken to prevent it from happening.

The President has said that DOMA is unconstitutional and has endorsed its repeal. The President must immediately direct the Department of Homeland Security to halt all deportation of spouses of lesbian and gay American citizens to prevent DOMA from destroying marriages. If Sujey Pando is deported she will be barred from returning to the U.S. for ten years.

None of this would be happening to an opposite-sex couple in the same situation.

Urge President Obama, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, and Attorney General Eric Holder to take action: exercise prosecutorial discretion, respect Violeta and Sujey’s marriage, and prevent this married lesbian couple from being torn apart.

Sign our petition to the President and send a message that we need immediate executive branch action to protect all lesbian and gay binational couples.

To help Sujey and Violeta further:

  • Follow STOP THE DEPORTATIONS: The DOMA Project for further updates

  • Call your elected officials to urge them to help couples like Violeta & Sujey Pando before Sujey’s final hearing on August 19th
    U.S. Representative Diana DeGette: 202.225.4431, Denver 303.844.4988
    U.S. Senator Michael Bennet: 202.224.5852, Denver 303.455.7600
    U.S. Senator Mark Udall: 202.224.5941, Denver 303.650.7820

  • Share our petition urging the officials to halt DOMA deportations. To share this petition via email, facebook, or twitter, use the buttons below.

Video: Stop The Deportations Rally Across From San Francisco Immigration In Support of Doug & Alex

Thanks to Sean Chapin for putting together this video montage of our July 13 rally. The result was a big victoryfor Doug and Alex.

Join us! Rally for Doug & Alex Wednesday July 13, 7:30 am San Francisco Immigration Court, Stop DOMA Deportation

For more information see this Facebook event page. Sign our petition to stop this deportation here.

PROTEST DOMA DEPORTATION! Save Doug & Alex’s Marriage, Rally at San Francisco Immigration Court July 13

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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.