Read full post here. Glenn notes:
I genuinely can’t comprehend how any person could watch this video — and there are tens of thousands of couples in the same situation — and support this outcome; that includes — perhaps especially — “small government” conservatives incessantly insisting that the Federal Government should not be intervening in people’s lives and making decisions for them.
Last year, Velandia, a dancer from Venezuela, and Vandiver, a Princeton graduate student, were legally married in Connecticut. But under federal law—the Defense of Marriage Act—immigration authorities don’t recognize same-sex marriages and Velandia was denied legal residency in the United States. But Judge Alberto J. Riefkohl granted an adjournment in Newark’s Immigration Court, according to Advocate.com, mentioning “the possibility that the definition of marriage may be changed or amended.”
Were you able to celebrate the judge’s ruling?
JOSH: We breathed a huge sigh of relief. We came very close to having our marriage destroyed. The judge could have issued a deportation order on that day. If Henry had been deported, we would have been separated for a minimum of ten years.
I can’t describe how it feels to sit in a court room and face a judge who could deport your spouse. I felt sick to my stomach. I couldn’t believe this was happening in America. The spouse of an American was about to be deported simply because we are a gay couple.
HENRY: I was able to breathe again. We had a special dinner that night with my mom and close friends, but we know that the storm just got quiet. There is much more to come and we need to be ready.
Why are heterosexual bi-national couples protected under immigration laws, but same-sex couples are not?
J: It is a very straightforward process for heterosexual bi-national couples to stay together.
The American citizen files an I-130 petition for alien relative with USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services) for the foreign-born spouse. As long as the couple can show the marriage is real, the petition is approved within months and the spouse becomes eligible for a “green card.”
I filed exactly the same petition for Henry, my spouse. But it was denied. USCIS cited the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) as the sole reason for denying the petition.
Our immigration laws are designed to bring and keep families together. But DOMA, a federal law enacted in 1996, bars the federal government from recognizing the legal marriages of same-sex couples. This is despite the fact that five states and the District of Columbia permit gay and lesbian couples to marry, and these marriages have been going on for years, beginning in Massachusetts on May 17, 2004.
Because of DOMA, the government acts like our marriage doesn’t exist. It treats us like complete strangers. As a result, I’m denied my right to sponsor my spouse to be with me here in my country. If we were a heterosexual couple, Henry would already be a permanent resident. Because we’re gay, he’s about to be deported.
How many couples are in the same situation as both of you?
H: There are thousands of couples suffering the cruel impact of DOMA, tearing families apart based on an unrealistic law. It is even causing a huge impact on the younger generations, destroying their dream of loving who they want to love and staying with who they want to stay with.
Lots of young gay and lesbian couples have shared with us their despair and sadness of not being able to stay together with the person they love. They’ve gotten in touch with us through our Facebook page (www.Facebook.com/SaveOurMarriage), which now has over 10,000 supporters.
J: Immigration Equality reports that there are over 36,000 same-sex bi-national couples in the U.S. Henry and I have personally gotten to know hundreds of couples like us, couples here in the U.S.who are facing deportation. And we’ve gotten letters from couples who have been forced to go in exile abroad in order to stay together.
Rather than be separated from their spouse, the Americans gave up their home here and became refugees. It’s very brave what they’ve done to be together. But it causes huge hardship. No American should have to go into exile to stay with his or her spouse.
The real culprit here is DOMA. It denies federal recognition to all same-sex married couples. Based on the last census it is estimated that there are 150,000 same-sex married couples in the United States. Every single one of those couples is denied the rights that non-gay couples receive. It’s not right.
In your view, what is the difference between same-sex civil unions and same-sex marriage?
J: Henry and I both wanted to get married. That’s why we went to Connecticut, as New Jersey only has civil unions at this point.
We got married because we love each other and wanted to publically commit to being together for the rest of our lives. I’m from Colorado and he’s fromVenezuela. In both our cultures, marriage is the ceremony in which you commit to your spouse before family and friends. And that’s what we wanted, too.
Our marriage certificate is exactly the same as every other marriage certificate in the United States. We believe very strongly in full marriage equality. Our parents and grandparents got married, and we believe we should be able to express our commitment to each other the same way. It has tremendous cultural and legal significance and it is in keeping with how we feel about each other.
H: I think all human beings have the right to say ‘my husband’ or ‘my wife’ and not ‘my civil union partner’. We don’t want to be second-class citizens. My husband, an American born and raised, shouldn’t be put in that category. He is a person, a citizen, and he deserves the right to love and have his love for me treated equally under the law.
You’ve got to return to court in December. What will happen then?
H: We are hoping that between now and December that there will be change, that a wake-up call will happen in America. We need immediate action from Secretary Napolitano to stop the deportations of same-sex spouses. I’m still in deportation proceedings, so I’m still at risk of being taken away from my other half, but I am not alone. The government needs to act to protect all couples in this situation.
J: Henry’s deportation looms over of us every day. We’d rather be planning the rest of our life together, just like every other newlywed couple. Instead, we are fighting these legal battles to stay together and keep our love and marriage alive.
What happens in December ultimately depends on the Obama administration. We are urging the administration to immediately halt the deportations of spouses of gay and lesbian Americans. President Obama and Attorney General Holder have determined that DOMA is discriminatory and unconstitutional.
So why are the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) attorneys still actively prosecuting the deportations of our spouses?
Secretary Janet Napolitano, as head of the Department of Homeland Security, of which ICE is a part, has the power to suspend these deportations.
Henry and I will be separated, and our marriage destroyed, long before DOMA is repealed by Congress or struck down by the Supreme Court. President Obama needs to instruct Napolitano immediately to protect couples like us from deportation and prevent the irreparable harm of being torn apart.
Based on what I read on your website (www.JoshandHenry.com) it seems that you were initially reluctant activists. What has being so public about all of this meant to you?
J: Neither of us wanted to be activists, that’s for sure. Henry is a professional dancer, and I’m studying to be a professor. But we had to fight for our love and our marriage.
As we heard from hundreds of couples like us, we realized that we had a duty to speak out for them too. It’s something we take very seriously. A lot of these couples can’t speak up, for fear of persecution, or they have been forced into exile and have no voice here at home.
We are trying our best to be their voice. Last summer we joined a group of bi-national couples like us who sought to challenge the Defense of Marriage Act in Immigration Court and helped launch StopTheDeportations to build a movement around this issue.
H: We both felt we needed to take a stand for our love even though we didn’t know what it meant to be activists. We have taken this as our mission to bring change and to inspire, to educate and to speak out about this issue. This issue has been in the closet for way too long, silently neglecting the civil rights of gay and lesbian Americans for many years.
On Monday, The New York Times reported, in separate stories, that Rick Welts, the CEO and president of basketball team Phoenix Suns, and CNN anchor Don Lemon both revealed they are gay. The United States is still a very conservative country. Do you imagine a time when stories such as Welts’, Lemon’s and yours receive no media attention?
J: I definitely can imagine such a time. I grew up in rural Colorado, where no one said a word—at least not a good word—about the possibility that someone in our community, like me, could be gay. I bottled up everything inside and didn’t let it see the light of day. But times are changing, and it makes a huge difference every time a major figure is truthful about being gay.
Struggling against this discriminatory law, DOMA, I’ve realized that we can never take for granted that things will get better automatically. It takes action on our part, courage to be who we are and to accept others for who they are, to bring about change.
We have a ways to go before people in every corner of our country, and every walk of life—including professional athletics, entertainment, business and politics—can feel comfortable and safe openly being who they are.
|Fred R Conrad/The New York Times|
By Julia Preston, New York Times
An immigration judge in Newark on Friday suspended the deportation of a Venezuelan man who is married to an American man, responding to an unusual signal this week from the Obama administration that it is exploring legal avenues for recognizing same-sex marriages in immigration cases.The Venezuelan, Henry Velandia, had been awaiting the hearing with dread, since immigration authorities had said it was the last step before his deportation. Mr. Velandia, a dancer, was legally married last year in Connecticut to Josh Vandiver, a graduate student at Princeton. Mr. Velandia was denied legal residency as Mr. Vandiver’s spouse because under a federal law, the Defense of Marriage Act, immigration authorities do not recognize same-sex marriage.
On Thursday, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. intervened in a different immigration case involving a same-sex couple, suspending the deportation of a man from Ireland and sending his case back to the immigration appeals court, asking it to consider several possible grounds on which the Irishman might qualify for legal residency.
Citing the move by the attorney general, Judge Alberto J. Riefkohl of immigration court in Newark postponed Mr. Velandia’s deportation until December at the earliest. The judge said he wanted to allow time for the attorney general and the appeals court to work out whether a gay partner might be eligible under some circumstances for residency.
Gay rights advocates said the back-to-back developments were an important sign that the Obama administration was working to bring consistency to its policy on same-sex marriage. The administration determined in February that the Defense of Marriage Act discriminates unconstitutionally against gay people.
Mr. Holder said then that the administration would no longer defend the act, also known as DOMA, in the courts, but would continue to enforce it until the courts reached a decision on whether it was constitutional.
Rachel B. Tiven, the executive director of Immigration Equality, a legal group that advocates for gay immigrants, said the change of course in the two cases had sent “a signal of openness” from the administration.
“Something is shifting and opening, and change is on the horizon,” Ms. Tiven said.
Supporters of the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage for the purposes of federal law as between a man and a woman, reacted strongly to Mr. Holder’s action.
Representative Lamar Smith of Texas, the Republican who is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said the attorney general had “instructed an immigration court to ignore DOMA in future rulings.”
Mr. Smith said the administration was “coming dangerously close to giving the impression they don’t care what the law says.”
In Newark, Mr. Velandia and Mr. Vandiver were mainly relieved that they had avoided separation. “We know this is just a reprieve,” Mr. Vandiver said. “But every day we can have together is invaluable.”
Mr. Velandia, 27, is a salsa dancer who came to the United States in 2002 and failed in his effort to gain an employment visa. He has become a poster case for gay immigrants across the country, as he and Mr. Vandiver, 29, gathered thousands of signatures on an online petition asking Janet Napolitano, the secretary of homeland security, to suspend deportations for all same-sex spouses.
Before the hearing, dozens of gay rights protesters demonstrated on the sidewalk in front of the federal building in Newark where the immigration court is housed.
Judge Riefkohl noted in the hearing that Mr. Velandia and Mr. Vandiver were a married couple, and he said he wanted to wait for the outcome of the immigration appeals court’s reconsideration of the case of the Irish immigrant.
“We won the victory we were looking for,” said Lavi Soloway, the lawyer for Mr. Velandia and Mr. Vandiver. “The government acknowledged that Henry’s removal was no longer a foregone conclusion.”
The Irishman, Paul Wilson Dorman, came to the United States in 1996 and stayed beyond the term of his visa. But in a potentially important wrinkle, Mr. Dorman joined with an American citizen in June 2009 in a civil union — not a marriage — in New Jersey. That state does not offer same-sex marriage.
His lawyer, Nicholas J. Mundy, said the courts had denied his partner’s petition for a permanent resident visa for Mr. Dorman. But Mr. Holder asked the immigration appeals court to re-examine the case to determine whether Mr. Dorman might qualify for the visa by virtue of his civil union.
Mr. Mundy said he was optimistic about the significance for gay immigrants of Mr. Holder’s action. “It is an extraordinary measure,” he said, “and it sends a clear message that the Obama administration intends to do away with DOMA in its entirety.”
Ms. Tiven, of Immigration Equality, was more cautious. “This is not yet the solution that thousands of families clearly need,” she said.
Victory for Josh & Henry: Judge Halts Deportation Proceedings, Citing Pending Marriage-Based Petition and Recent Decision by Attorney General
On Friday, May 6, an immigration judge in Newark, NJ, issued a ruling on the deportation of Henry Velandia, a Venezuelan citizen legally married in 2010 to Josh Vandiver, an American citizen. Immigration Judge Alberto Riefkohl ordered that deportation proceedings against Henry Velandia be put on hold, granting an adjournment until December, thereby temporarily stopping the process of his deportation to his native Venezuela. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Assistant Chief Counsel David Cheng, the attorney prosecuting the case on behalf of the Department of Homeland Security, agreed to the adjournment.
The Immigration Judge adjourned deportation proceedings against Henry Velandia on the grounds that the marriage-based green card petition filed by Joshua Vandiver was still pending and because of the potential implications of a move by Attorney General Eric Holder in a related case that may signal a shift in the Administration’s interpretation of the law as it concerns same-sex bi-national couples. Yesterday, the Attorney General intervened in the case of another gay bi-national couple in New Jersey who had sought recognition of their civil union for immigration purposes. That couple lost their case on appeal at Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) and had filed a lawsuit in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. In an extraordinary move, the Attorney General “vacated,” or set aside, the decision by the BIA and directed the BIA to issue a new opinion focusing on whether a same-sex partner could qualify as a spouse under the Immigration and Nationality Act. This is the first time an Attorney General has used the power of review of the Board of Immigration Appeals to intervene on behalf of a same-sex couples. The specific instructions given to the BIA suggest that the Attorney General is considering whether the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional when applied against same-sex couples in the immigration context.
Despite legally marrying in Connecticut in August 2010, Vandiver (a Ph.D. student at Princeton University) is currently prohibited from sponsoring Velandia (a salsa dancer, instructor, and founder of a Princeton-based dance studio) for a green card, unlike straight married couples in the same situation. Due to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the federal government does not recognize same-sex marriages, even if those marriages were performed in states that do legally recognize those unions.
Velandia’s husband, Josh Vandiver, had filed a marriage-based “alien relative” petition on his behalf in 2010 but it was denied in January on the sole grounds that their marriage, though legal in the state of Connecticut, was not recognized for immigration law purposes because of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). After the President announced in February that he would no longer defend DOMA in federal court challenges because he believed the law was unconstitutional, Vandiver re-filed the marriage-based petition on behalf of his husband. That petition remains pending with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and has not been denied.
Statement by Lavi Soloway, the couple’s lawyer, co-founder of StopTheDeportations.com, and co-founder of Immigration Equality:
“Today we have won an important victory by stopping the deportation of Henry Velandia. The Immigration Judge has demonstrated that it is appropriate to proceed with caution when a marriage-based green card petition is pending precisely because the law and policy impacting lesbian and gay bi-national couples is in a state of flux. The Immigration Judge has acted to protect Josh and Henry from being torn apart at a time when new developments suggest that potential solutions for bi-national same-sex couples may be on the horizon. However, the adjournment granted today only temporarily postpones removal proceedings. The Administration must act now to institute a moratorium on all deportations of spouses of gay and lesbian Americans to ensure that all same-sex bi-national couples are protected until the fate of DOMA is determined by Congress or the Supreme Court.”
Statement by Josh Vandiver:
“We thank the Immigration Judge for looking carefully at our case and seeing us for who we are: a loving, married couple that wants only to be allowed to build a future together like any other couple. The judge made the right decision, an important decision: he recognized our relationship and he protected us by postponing these proceedings today and stopping Henry’s deportation from happening.
This is only a temporary reprieve, however. We have to go back into this courtroom again a few months from now. Meanwhile, Henry’s deportation still looms over us. We are breathing a sigh of relief that we will be able to live in peace for a few more months, now that the immediate threat of deportation has been removed. We treasure every day we have together. But couples like us are still being torn apart every day. Every day, spouses of gay and lesbian Americans are facing deportation and denied access to green cards only because of the Defense of Marriage Act.
That’s why, after a deep breath, we are headed back to the trenches. With our allies, we will continue to urge the President to instruct Secretary Napolitano to issue a moratorium on the deportation of ALL spouses of gay and lesbian Americans. Until then, our marriage is still in danger.”
See also New York Times, “Judge Gives Immigrant in Same-Sex Marriage a Reprieve From Deportation,” May 6, 2011.
Department of Homeland Security
Newark Immigration Court
Peter Rodino Federal Building
970 Broad Street
WHEN: FRIDAY MAY 6 at 11 a.m.
On Friday, LGBT organizations from across the country will rally behind a gay bi-national couple facing impending deportation hearings. In the shadow of the Statue of Liberty, GetEQUAL is working with a host of other LGBT organizations — including Stop the Deportations, All Out, Courage Campaign, Garden State Equality, Immigration Equality Action Fund, Marriage Equality USA, Out4Immigration, Princeton Equality Project, and Queer Rising — to make clear that these deportations of must stop now.
The rally outside the Newark Federal Courthouse is taking place as a gay bi-national couple — Josh Vandiver of Colorado and Henry Velandia of Venezuela — are facing deportation hearings on Friday in Newark. Despite having been legally married in Connecticut in August 2010, Vandiver (a Ph.D. student at Princeton University) and Velandia (a salsa dancer, instructor, and founder of a Princeton-based dance studio) are facing a nightmare scenario — potentially being ripped apart from one another at the hands of the U.S. government.
Because of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which discriminates against same sex couples, the federal government doesn’t recognize their marriage. As a result, Josh cannot sponsor Henry for a green card — unlike any other straight married couple in the same situation. This legally married, loving couple are now at risk of being torn apart as Henry’s potential deportation date looms on May 6.
Josh and Henry have become tireless advocates for LGBT bi-national couples in the United States, while fighting to stay together and save their own marriage. Last fall they launched the “Stop The Deportations” campaign to raise awareness of the cruel impact that DOMA has on married same-sex bi-national couples and to challenge DOMA in immigration court proceedings.
“I never intended or wanted to be an activist, but I have to do what is necessary to save our marriage and to keep the man I love in this country,” says Josh, reflecting on their seven month campaign. “On May 6 Henry could be ripped away from me. But that doesn’t have to happen. The Obama administration can immediately stop the deportations of spouses of gay and lesbian Americans. This would ensure that Henry and I aren’t torn apart.”
For more information contact stopthedeportations [at] gmail.com
GetEqual’s complete press release here.
Josh Vandiver and Henry Velandia have been together for more than four years and were legally married in Connecticut last summer. Henry, a professional dancer from Venezuela, was placed into removal proceedings in 2009 when his employment-based immigration case was denied. Last summer, Josh, an American citizen, filed an I-130 marriage-based green card petition for Henry. It was denied in January with the USCIS citing DOMA as the sole reason. After the President and Attorney General announced their new position on DOMA, we re-filed the petition for Henry’s green card. That petition is still pending. On May 6, Henry will appear in court for a final hearing before the Immigration Judge who will decide whether he will be deported. If Henry is ordered deported to Venezuela, he will be barred from returning to the United States for 10 years.
Henry is not a priority for deportation according to the Obama administration’s own stated goals. He is not a criminal, he is not a gang member, he is not a threat to national security. He is of undisputed good moral character, a tremendous asset to his community where he is well known and respected as a professional dancer and dance instructor. He has strong ties to Princeton, New Jersey and has maintained a relationship for more than four years with Josh. These are the circumstances that ICE should be considering when weighing whether and how to exercise prosecutorial discretion, not DOMA.
Click here to find out how you can help us stop the deportation of Henry Velandia and all spouses of lesbian and gay Americans.
Josh and Henry are in the fight of their lives. For eight months they have tirelessly campaigned to raise awareness of the cruel impact of the Defense of Marriage Act on binational lesbian and gay couples. Fighting to save their marriage and stop Henry’s deportation to Venezuela, they have organized petition drives, collaborated with many organizations, and shared their story with national and international media. Josh and Henry’s story is familiar to readers of this site because they have spearheaded and inspired so much of our strategy. They lead the effort to involve elected officials to call on the Obama administration to stop the deportations of spouses of gay and lesbian Americans. In 2010, Josh became one of the only gay Americans to have ever filed an I-130 marriage-based green card petition for his spouse. Josh and Henry have sought the co-operation of Immigration and Customs Enforcement to terminate proceedings and have had the backing of their Congressman, Representative Rush Holt who has publicly called for a stop to deportations. We are only a week away from Henry’s final deportation hearing. On May 6, a Newark, NJ immigation judge will decide whether Henry can stay or whether he will be ordered deported. Help Josh and Henry stop this deportation, and stop the deportation, separation and exile tearing apart binational lesbian and gay couples every day. Deportations are the catastrophic result of DOMA, a law which President Obama refuses to defend and believes is unconstitutional. Deportations bring with them a ten-year bar on return to the United States. Deportations destroy LGBT families. It is time to stop the deportations once and for all.
See this week’s full episode at Marriage News Watch.
Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) has emerged in recent months as an outspoken supporter of Josh Vandiver and Henry Velandia, a married binational couple fighting to stop a deportation that will tear them apart forever on May 6. Congressman Holt has written to DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano asking her to halt all deportations of spouses of gay and lesbian Americans until DOMA is repealed or struck down by the Supreme Court.
Holt: “There is no second class in our country, or at least there shouldn’t be…”
This video was first shown last week at a Princeton University Marriage Equality event held to raise awareness of Josh & Henry’s “Save Our Marriage” campaign.
Yesterday, New Jersey’s largest daily newspaper, the Star-Ledger, published an editorial raising awareness of Josh & Henry’s case and calling for an end to the “War on Our Families.”
On March 31, 2011, Congressman Holt became the first member of Congress to send a letter to DHS Secretary Napolitano calling for an end to DOMA Deportations. Eventually more than 60 members of the House and Senate joined this letter writing campaign to urging the Obama administration to stop the deportations and put all green card applications filed by married same sex couples on hold.