Dwayne & Bolivar: After Nine Years Together, Married Maine Couple Heads to Immigration Court on May 17 to Fight DOMA Deportation
Almost a decade ago, I finally escaped one of the most discriminatory countries in Latin America for gay men — Venezuela. Being gay in Venezuela was never an option for me, and it never will be.
On August 18, 2002, I was lucky enough to find myself in Ogunquit, Maine. I was lucky, because on that day I met Dwayne. I had been dancing at one of the local clubs when I bumped into him. We talked, exchanged phone numbers, and planned to go on a date. Unlucky for me, the next day I came down with one of the worst sore-throats I have ever had. I went to the hospital and was discharged — everything was okay, but my date with Dwayne would have to be cancelled (I didn’t want Dwayne to catch my cold.)
How could I have known that Dwayne would catch my heart forever? Dwayne did something very special that night; barely knowing me, and knowing that I was home sick with a cold, he surprised me by coming over anyway. I opened my apartment door to see Dwayne with a smile on his face, groceries in one hand, flowers in the other. He made me homemade soup. My heart turned into jello.
We dated non-stop for the next two months, so much, that my roommate, at the time, was jealous of the time I was spending with Dwayne, and he asked me to leave. When I told Dwayne, I was a little scared. What if I had to move farther away, where we couldn’t date anymore? But Dwayne had another idea in mind, “Well, if you don’t mind a hairy dog…” You can come live with me, he said.
I didn’t mind.
At first, things weren’t easy. Dwayne and I went through struggles in our first two years of dating, but it made us so much stronger. At the time, I was working in Portland, ME, and Dwayne was working in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Our home was in Lebanon, Maine, a good hour drive to Portland one way and forty-five minutes to Portsmouth. Unfortunately, I had never learned to drive, or even had a car, and I was terrified at the thought of either. Dwayne was so loving and generous to me, enough to wake-up every day at 4 a.m. and drive me to work in Portland, drive back to Lebanon to get ready for work, and then drive to New Hampshire. I would wait in the Portland Mall for five or six hours for Dwayne to pick me up after getting out of work himself, and for us to do it all over again each day of the week for two years. Yet, it was all worth it.
One day, suddenly, Dwayne pulled off the side of the road. He turned to look at me and told me: “You’re gonna learn to drive. You can do it.” And with that, he got out and came over to the passenger seat. Next thing I knew, I was driving a truck. Dwayne helped me study for the written permit test, and practice for my driving test, and after passing, I was able to drive. We refinanced our home, and bought a car for me. Dwayne’s days of endless traffic and freeway ramps were finally over (well, for the most part!).
I realized early on that I had to tell Dwayne of the situation regarding my immigration status. When we met I had been on a tourist visa (that would eventually run out), and I had no other options for lawful status at the time. With Dwayne’s help, I contacted lawyers who helped me to prepare an application for asylum. It was filed in April of 2007, only to be denied two years later. I remember the courtroom that day, the Judge had announced that my asylum application was denied, and then he told me that I had to leave the country within sixty days voluntarily or I would be deported. I looked to Dwayne in the back of the court, and then back at the judge and told him that I would never leave Dwayne.
So I filed an appeal of the Judge’s denial of my asylum application. The Board of Immigration Appeals re-opened my case and sent it back to the Immigration Court for another hearing. I still face deportation, but with the help of the team at Stop The Deportations – The DOMA Project I am more optimistic than I have been in years. Dwayne and I are prepared to fight to be treated with dignity and respect as a married couple. I know, too, that I am one of the lucky ones; I am not detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement in some remote federal facility; I am employed and have an employment authorization card so that I help contribute financially to our household and continue to live with Dwayne in our home. We continue this fight for our marriage together.
Although I am allowed to stay in this country as long as my case is pending, I do not have the freedom to leave the country and re-enter. I am trapped here until this issue is resolved. Dwayne and I cannot travel to other countries, and in the case of a family emergency, I cannot travel to Venezuela even for one day, or I will not be allowed back into the United States for ten years. A few years into our relationship my father in Venezuela became extremely ill. The amount of pain I felt for my family, who I could not help, was immense. I could not visit my father, even for his funeral, when he eventually passed away a couple years ago. As happy as I am to live in a safe country where I can be open as a gay man and fight for equal rights for the LGBT community, I still miss my family. On birthday celebrations and holidays, my family in Venezuela uses Skype so that we all can be together, even if it’s through a computer screen. My sister in Venezuela puts her laptop on the chair where I used to sit for holidays. When birthdays come around, I have cake sitting next to my computer and my family has one there. We count to three and cut the cake at the same time. This is the life Dwayne and I have been forced to live, cut off from half of our family simply beause the U.S. government does not recognize our marriage and give us the simple freedom it gives to all other married bi-national couples: a green card.
Last year, on April 29, 2011, we decided to get married. We had a small ceremony in Somersworth, New Hampshire. Dwayne and I (along with Daisy of course) have been living together for more than nine full years now. We’re a normal loving couple that contributes to our community. I work for a company that does catering and banquets and Dwayne is an insurance professional. I am lucky enough to have a wonderful relationship with Dwayne’s family. Before his mother passed away I always called her my “American Mom.” She was very loving and supportive.
Dwayne is my husband. He is the man of my dreams, he is the man that I adore, and he is my world. The thought of being separated from Dwayne is more than frightening. This entire immigration ordeal has been a nightmare for both of us. There is no way that I could return to live in Venezuela, where I have been taken into custody, extorted, forced to give money to the police, or risk being pulverized by the police—only for appearing to be gay. Because of Venezuelan immigration laws, needless to say, Dwayne couldn’t follow me there even if he wanted to.
Now with the help of Lavi Soloway and The DOMA Project, we filed a petition for a marriage-based green card based on my marriage to Dwayne. If it weren’t for the Defense of Marriage Act, this would lead to a green card for me. However, due to the discriminatory law that prevents the federal government from recognizing our legal marriage or our nearly ten years together as a couple, Dwayne’s petition was denied. We are left in limbo, waiting for the Board of Immigration Appeals to decide our appeal of the denial of our green card petition while I fight deportation to Venezuela.
We are encouraged by President Obama’s recent statement that he supports same sex marriage and hope that he will build on last year’s immigration policy developments. We will work to convince USCIS to re-open our denied green card petition, and put their final decision in abeyance until DOMA is stuck down by the Supreme Court or repealed by Congress. Though only a green card will give bi-national couples lke us the security of true permanent lawful status, the Obama administration can implement an abeyance policy immediately, putting our petition on hold while DOMA works its way through the courts and the legislative repeal process. We are joining this fight to make sure that no couples are torn apart. I want nothing more than any other married couple wants; I want to be allowed to stay with my husband, so that we can live our lives as Dwayne and Bolivar, together forever.