Going to Our Green Card Interview: Married Lesbian Couple in San Jose, California Will Prove Their Marriage is “Real” and Fight for Legal “Recognition”

Visiting Los Angeles for book launch and portrait project shoot, May 2011

We should be thrilled! We are finally meeting with our local U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office in San Jose, California for our long-awaited, much anticipated, green card interview. This is a big moment for us, perhaps more so because, well let’s face it, green card interviews are, and should be, just a routine matter for a married couple like us. After all we’ve been through together since we committed to each other in 2006, we share everything in our lives, and we are as married as any couple. And, more than most, we have certainly fought for this marriage. More than 250,000 Americans sponsor their spouses for green cards and attend these interviews each year.  It is our time.

While we should be excited, we are of very mixed emotions as we near the date of the interview. It isn’t much fun preparing to hear an immigration officer tell you that your marriage counts for nothing, that your marriage certificate is meaningless, that your love and commitment are irrelevant, and finally that your country doesn’t want your wife. We know that rejection here means that Karin loses her right to stay in the United States. We won’t go down without a fight!

When we received the official notice of the interview date (Friday, September 7, 2012), enclosed in the same envelope was a helpful list of suggested documents to bring to the interview. It’s a long list, and it’s the kind of thing that makes you feel like a number, not a person. Birth certificate, check. Passport, check. Marriage license, check. Domestic partner papers, check. Bank statements, check. Three years of taxes with W-2s, check, and more. Yuck! And that’s for me – Karin has her own list of things to bring. We are also putting together a photo album showing the life that we have built and shared together since we committed to each other in 2006. We have added in a few press clippings to remind the officer that we have been involved in a very public advocacy effort to fight for the right just to have this interview in the first place!

Filmed by the DeVote Campaign and The DOMA Project, March 2012

I try to remain optimistic, knowing that working together with The DOMA Project and with many other binational couples, we have brought ourselves just a little closer to being treated equally, like real, living and breathing human beings. After writing Torn Apart: United by Love, Divided by Law (Findhorn Press, 2011), I became more convinced than ever of the extraordinary power that we all have to tell our stories and make our voices heard. Not only can change only come about when we confront and engage the system that is shutting us out, if we remain passive, if we simply wait for change to come, it never will. With this in mind, I am hopeful. And Karin and I so appreciate all those who have shared their stories and joined this fight.

However, I have to admit that I can’t help but feel dehumanized by the oxymoronic task of proving that we are spouses in a real bona fide marital relationship to a government official whose marching orders are not to “recognize” our marriage. Certainly, this officer will recognize it immediately for exactly what it is: a marriage of two loving people, who want to spend the rest of their lives together, just like all other marriages. So there’s the weird reality of not “recognizing” what the eye can so clearly see. The United States government has a way of making me feel icky and I don’t like it. I don’t look forward to being told that my life and my wife don’t measure up, that we are legal strangers to each other in spite of our marriage and that we don’t get 100% of the rights that we should have, even though I pay 100% of the taxes and have 100% of the responsibilities all other American spouses have. It’s not fair and I resent it. And yet, I am looking forward to being in that room and telling my side of the story. This is the first step toward completing a process we hope will eventually result in Karin receiving a green card; and it is what we have been fighting for all these years.

Celebrating our Domestic Partnership on Valentine’s Day 2007

One thing that surprised me was how sweet it was to see the photos Karin was assembling for the meeting. We were told to bring a few photos to show that we knew each other, were involved with each other, that sort of thing. Oh, and that we are married. I am usually not demonstrative, sentimental, that way, but the pictures were a great reminder of what is really at stake here! I have to admit, I teared up seeing pictures of us getting married and celebrating, and also seeing family and friends who shared our joy and are no longer with us. Bittersweet for sure.

I remember how I felt when we decided to marry. It was heady! We had been closely following the efforts of The DOMA Project which started filing green card petitions for gay couples in the summer of 2010. In March 2011, after the President announced that he was no longer defending DOMA, there were a few days filled with media reports about what turned out to be a short-lived “abeyance” that local USCIS offices in Baltimore and Washington, DC had implemented for DOMA-related green card marriage petitions. We took that as a positive development and decided to take the step of getting married. We found a B & B, the town clerk and a justice of the peace in Vermont, then got plane tickets and a rental car. We chose Vermont because the wait from license to marriage was only one day, so we could save money over getting married in the other states with a three-day wait. How romantic, eh? Plus after waiting for so many years to finally push the envelope and fight for that green card, we knew that we wanted to be a part of this battle to the end. Around that time we were interviewed by Thomas Roberts on MSNBC and we told him on national television that we had just run off and got married in Vermont. It was important for us to get the message across that we were not going to simply wait for equality to happen, we were going to make it happen.

Celebrating our marriage with wedding cake in Vermont, April 6, 2011

We laugh now to think of our exploit – rushing to Vermont, eloping, when it looked like things were loosening up for same-sex binational couples. 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. That all came rushing back to me when I saw us with that slice of cake. When you think of marriage, you can get caught up in money, trappings, things that don’t matter. 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. Yet getting married in a state where we had never been, with four people there that we had never met, and a stale slice of cake was perfect for us. We knew we were married, and had been. This just made it one step more legal, and soon our collective persistence, demanding full recognition of our marriages will bring an end to DOMA and the catastrophic impact it has had for so many gay and lesbian couples whose families have been torn apart and whose marriages have been destroyed.

Of course Karin and I have considered ourselves “married” all the time we have been together, even before 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. She lead her life there while I worked, until one day it just was too much for us. After a nine-month separation, I took early retirement so that Karin and I could be together both in and out of America. It was sad to have my two wonderful retirement parties without her; it was very difficult to do that without my wife. Soon after we reunited in Canada and spent weeks traveling there before we successfully re-entered the U.S. in North Dakota in the summer of 2009.

Later that year and the following years when we were forced to be out of the country together, living as “love exiles,” we were married in our hearts. We didn’t have the kind of marriage that would satisfy Uncle Sam and so we had to follow those general guidelines for visitors: spending six months (if we were lucky) together in America, and six months in exile somewhere in the world. Of course it’s wonderful and exciting and amazing to spend months in another country. We had wonderful family visits and fascinating explorations of Scotland, England, France, Spain and Andorra. But we want to be home together. Like any other couple, we wanted to plan our own trips, to travel and see the world, and to return home when we wanted, but instead we were being forced into an artificial timetable by my own government.   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 will 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.

Visiting Hadrian’s Wall in England, March 2010

Karin continues to work on our photo album for the green card interview.  I smile and laugh when I see that goofy picture of us sharing a slice of cake from a diner in Vermont that we took to the justice of the peace as our wedding cake. Plastic forks and a paper plate! No napkin…  I cringe, but then grin, when I see myself wearing a flower headpiece and cutting a multi-tiered wedding cake for our tea party celebration September 29, 2007 for our domestic partnership.  So far the pictures of us smashing cake into each others’ faces from the February 14, 2007 domestic partnership event our local LGBT Center held have not surfaced. I think I’m glad for that.

So Karin and I are legally both domestic partners and married spouses, but still we have to cope with the problems caused by Defense of Marriage Act. I try to hold onto my faith in America but it is harder to see the good when so much bad happens to people like us. Husbands fear being torn apart, wives too – and the families with children. It breaks my heart, bruises my soul.

Our immigration lawyer, Lavi Soloway—the architect of this brilliant strategy to confront DOMA and hold government agencies accountable for the harm they cause LGBT families—will attend the green card interview with us. We are so grateful for his counsel and support, his insistence that we empower ourselves, assume our own equality, and, of course, for his innovative legal strategies.

Congressman Mike Honda has been a wonderful ally – going to bat for us this summer by requesting that USCIS hold our case in abeyance before the interview on the grounds that DOMA would be soon resolved by the Supreme Court (USCIS has so far refused to do so). We are thankful for his staff’s dedication to this issue as we again make formal requests for our green card case to be put on hold, with a United States Supreme Court decision expected nine months from now, perhaps sooner.

We are grateful for the support, hard work and creative strategies developed and implemented by Stop the Deportations, Separation and Exiles: The DOMA Project. The law firm of Masliah & Soloway created this campaign to focus like a laser on the impact of DOMA on same-sex binational couples, and our interview is evidence of the incremental success they have achieved. We are lucky to have had the opportunity to work with Brynn Gelbard of the DeVote Campaign whose passion and energy for telling the stories of same-sex binational couples is boundless. We are so thankful for the broad community of binational couples and the organizations that help keep a focus on this issue, including Out4Immigration, Immigration Equality, Love Exiles Foundation and United by Love Portrait Project. Finally, Karin and I will never forget the support and encouragement of Elizabeth Gilbert, a strong ally and the reason I wrote the book that needed writing.

Congressman Mike Honda Speaks Out in Support of DOMA Project Participants Judy Rickard and Karin Bogliolo

Congressman Mike Honda speaks out in support of DOMA Project participants Judy Rickard and Karin Bogliolo. Click on the video below to watch Congressman Mike Honda’s statement in support of Judy and Karin.

Click on video below to watch Congressman Mike Honda’s statement in support of Judy and Karin.

Janice & Margie: Married Lesbian Couple in North Carolina Fights DOMA to Stay Together With Their Children

Janice and Margie are a married binational couple who have lived together in North Carolina since 2005. They are raising two children together. Here, Janice shares the story of her family fighting to be together as her visa runs out.

Most of us have fond memories of the time we first met the love of our lives. Our story is no exception. In pursuit of the one, I spent some time on online dating sites to no avail. One night, tiring of the pursuit, I decided if no one came online with whom I could talk, I would power down my laptop and watch TV. After a couple of hours, I was about to logoff and reach for the remote when a stranger typed “hi.” I thought about ignoring her as I couldn’t be bothered with another pointless exchange, but something inspired me to say “hello” back. By the time we finished chatting eight hours later, it was 6 a.m!

That was almost eight years ago. That chance online encounter has since evolved into a loving and committed relationship, despite that fact that we were 4,000 miles and five time zones apart. Through many nights of talking for hours on end, we came to know each other’s lives, and we shared our dreams and aspirations. The following March, I came to visit Margie in the United States and realized that I didn’t ever want to be without this woman. When it came time to return to Britain to my family, my job, and my apartment, we felt as though our hearts were being ripped out of our chests not knowing when we would see each other again.

Once I got home, Margie and I resumed our daily ritual of chatting for hours on end. One day, I mentioned casually that I had always wanted to go back to college. Margie suggested that I come to the U.S. to study here. After some research we realized that this would achieve two goals: I could pursue a new career and we could finally be together. In October, I made a short trip to see Margie and visit the college I would be attending. I was full of anticipation for my studies, but I was excited, too, because I would be experiencing this new chapter in my life alongside the woman I loved. I gave up my apartment in London, packed all my belongings and moved to the United States in December 2005 on a student visa.

Today, I hold an Associate’s Degree in Web Technologies and a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science; however, my proudest accomplishment is the life that Margie and I have built together. Margie’s children have become mine. They see me as their second mom, who loves and supports them. Her parents, New Yorkers who are in their late sixties and early seventies, treat me as if I was their daughter. Anyone who knows us can see that we are a typical family, caring for each other through thick and thin, celebrating holidays, birthdays and anniversaries.  But the story, for us, does not end there.  My student visa is about to expire and I have found no way to stay legally in the U.S. with Margie and our kids.  Because we are a lesbian couple, the regular avenues of immigration designed to keep families together are closed off to us.

Janice and Margie on their wedding day

Our savings have been depleted by the cost of my foreign student tuition fees, and my inability to work because of visa restrictions. We were forced to take on student loans so that I could complete my degrees. All the while, Margie has held down two jobs to keep us going, which is more stress and strain than she can bear at times though she never complains. For her, keeping us together is the only acceptable option. Whenever the topic comes up, she says with great conviction, “you are not going anywhere and that’s the end of it!”  but I know that she is as terrified as I am.

Now in our fifties, we are at a time in our lives when we should be able to save and plan for retirement. Instead, I am a middle-aged college graduate forced to maintain my status as student to keep my family together.  As a result, we are faced with a debt that will take 20 years for us to pay off, and I have no guarantee, as my visa expires, that there will be any way for me to stay in the U.S. alongside the woman I love, and our children.

We decided, as a family, to fight back.  On June 21, our extended family gathered with us in Clifton Park, New York where Margie and I were legally married, after almost 8 years together. We would have married sooner, but we feared that this would complicate my obtaining another student visa, if by some slim chance that were even necessary or possible in the future.  So we held off, though we felt married to each other in every way possible.

The brides with Margie’s parents

The day of our wedding was magical. We celebrated all that we have, before the people we love most in the world. We experienced the joy of newlyweds embarking on the next chapter of life together and of a lesbian couple finally able to participate in a rite that so many others take for granted. We fought back tears of happiness as we exchanged our vows and as our family watched on, fighting back their own tears that we were finally able to become the married couple we had long felt we already were in so many ways. It was a scorching hot day, but we didn’t care. We were now married, and that’s all that mattered. After the ceremony we took more photos, and my father-in-law and mother-in-law treated us all to a wonderful meal at an Italian restaurant. My father-in-law then surprised us by booking a room for us at a gorgeous hotel for our wedding night. We were very spoiled by our family that day. The whole week was full of celebration, and we realized just how much our marriage meant to our entire extended family. I don’t think my Margie’s mom has come down off of cloud nine yet!

In our home state of North Carolina, 61% of voters recently approved a hateful constitutional amendment to forbid us from marrying. We feel forced to hide who we are. There is no way to describe how it feels to deny your own existence, spinning yet another tale about how we are just friends who just live together. We are afraid that Margie would lose her job if her employer found out she was gay, because of course there is no protection against such discrimination. This is a matter of survival as her job supports the four of us, and has kept me in the country.

All we want is the same protection provided by the immigration law to other couples in our situation. Margie and I are married, I am her wife. We should be able to file a green card petition and that petition should be approved. Our love for each other and for our children is no different than that of any other married couple.

A happy family photo

Victory! Board of Immigration Appeals Refuses to Affirm Denials of Green Card Petitions Filed by Four Gay Couples, Remands for Determination on Eligibility of Marriages

Tom Smeraldo and Emilio Ojeda, who live in “DOMA exile” in Canada were one of four DOMA Project couples to receive the unexpected ruling from the Board of Immigration Appeals

The DOMA Project has won an important, unprecedented victory in the fight for green cards for married gay and lesbian binational couples. In four separate rulings, the Board of Immigration Appeals has rejected the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ “DOMA denials” of green card petitions filed by four married, gay couples residing in Florida, New York, Pennsylvania and Canada. In all cases, the BIA ordered the USCIS to complete full fact-finding to determine whether the marriages are legally valid and whether, notwithstanding DOMA Section 3, the spouse would qualify for a green card under the Immigration & Nationality Act.  In one case, the ruling re-opened removal proceedings for the spouse of a gay American who had an outstanding deportation order.  The Board of Immigration Appeals has never before re-opened removal proceedings or remanded green card petitions back to USCIS after denials based solely on DOMA Section 3.

Masliah & Soloway, the law firm that launched Stop The Deportations – The DOMA Project, represents all four couples.

“We are elated that the Department of Justice has ordered USCIS to treat the marriages of each gay binational couple with respect by requiring that a complete record of eligibility be created,” said attorney Lavi Soloway in reaction to the rulings.

We will follow up with a complete report next week on this site.

The BIA rulings were reported today by Chris Geidner at MetroWeekly here.

Read more about two of the couples involved: Mark Himes and Frederic Deloizy of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and Tom Smeraldo and Emilio Ojeda, formerly of New Jersey now living in exile in Toronto, Canada.

VIDEO: For Thousands of Binational Couples Like Jackie & Gloria, The Fight Continues For The Right to Be Together

Every day in this country, thousands of legally married lesbian and gay couples, like Jackie and Gloria, fight for something most of us take for granted — the simple right to be together.

On February 22, 2012, San Francisco Judge Jeffrey S. White became the second Federal District Court judge in America to rule that DOMA was unconstitutional.  The first such ruling came from Boston Judge Joseph Tauro in July 2010.  At the time of his ruling, Judge Tauro was a 79-year old Republican appointee, President Richard Nixon’s longest-serving appointee to the federal bench. Tauro wrote two opinions that summer issued on the same day, each striking down DOMA as unconstitutional.  Nearly two years passed before the appeals of Judge Tauro’s decisions would be heard and decided by the First Circuit Court of Appeals.  As we all know now, last week a three-judge panel of that august appellate court ruled unanimously that DOMA was unconstitutional. The opinion itself was authored by Justice Boudin, an appointee of President George H.W. Bush.

Two more Federal District Courts have also found DOMA to be unconstitutional in just the past two weeks. Yesterday, in New York’s Federal District Court for the Southern District, Clinton appointee, Judge Barbara S. Jones, declared DOMA to be unconstitutional in a case involving the now-famous LGBT rights activist, plaintiff, and widow, Edie Windsor.  Last month, Oakland, California Judge Claudia Wilken  also found DOMA to be unconstitutional in a similar case.  In all there have been five rulings by four federal judges declaring DOMA Section 3 to be unconstitutional, and the unanimous federal appellate court ruling by the First Circuit in the “Gill” case, also striking down DOMA Section 3 as a violation of the equal protection clause of the United States Constitution.

What does this mean for married lesbian and gay binational couples? The argument that the Obama administration should develop and insitute interim remedies immediately could hardly be stronger, as the fate of DOMA is now more wobbly than ever.  And yet the administration has done little to protect our families, instead citing DOMA as a reason for inaction.  We must keep up the pressure on the Obama administration to demand an “abeyance” policy. Green card petitions filed by gay and lesbian couples must not be denied. We cannot accept “DOMA denials” by an administration which has aggressively argued that DOMA violates the U.S. Constitution. No immigration reform or LGBT rights organization is currently engaged in a national “abeyance” campaign that would provide immediate relief for tends of thousands of lesbian and gay couples. The DOMA Project, by contrast, was conceived with exactly this advocacy in mind. To win full equality we must continue to achieve incremental gains. An abeyance policy, pending the final judicial resoultion of DOMA, is the appropriate next step. We must keep the focus on the harm caused every day to binational couples and our families, and we must be relentless. We cannot afford to sit back and wait for change to happen.

The fight is not over for binational couples, but there is some considerable wind at our backs. Make no mistake: the Supreme Court will still have the last word on whether the Defense of Marriage Act, i.e. whether the federal government’s refusal to recognize equally the legal marriages of same-sex couples, violates the U.S. constitution.  And there is no way to know for certain what the outcome will be or when that decision will come. It may be one year or it may be several years. Gay and lesbian Americans have put their lives on hold, spent their savings and sacrificed years of their lives, deprived of stability because they cannot access the green card process. That is not an acceptable status quo and we should not allow it to be our reality one day longer.

Americans have been forced to live in exile with their same-sex partners or spouses, simply because they are gay.  Their struggle continues on a daily basis.  Every day lesbian and gay binational couples are separated by thousands of miles and unable to be together; LGBT families are torn apart, with parents kept apart from their children by this unfair law, and there is something that this administration can do to prevent it. It must end now.
This administration has the power to accept all green card petitions filed by same-sex couples and put those cases on hold, thus providing legal status and employment authorization to every couple.  Gay and lesbian Americans should expect no less from this administration which has said repeatedly that DOMA is unconstitutional. If that is true, then the President should order an immediate moratorium on deportations of spouses of gay and lesbian American citizens.  The President should do what he has done before in other immigration law contexts when such dynamic change is afoot and a law is in a state of flux. President Obama should put on hold all green card cases filed by lesbian and gay Americans for their foreign spouses until the final judicial resolution of DOMA has been determined by the Supreme Court.

Abeyance is the only humane policy to keep thousands of LGBT families, as many as 25% of whom are raising children, together.

Watch: The Fight Continues for Jackie and Gloria

VIDEO: Every day in this country, thousands of legally married lesbian and gay couples, like Jackie and Gloria, fight for something most of us take for granted — the simple right to be together.

Because of the Defense of Marriage Act, the federal government refuses to  recognize, respect or honor their marriages for all legal purposes including immigration.

On April 4, Jackie and Gloria traveled to Boston to witness history. Sitting in a courtroom audience, they listened as judges and attorneys debated whether the Constitution guarantees their right to be treated equally as a married couple.

Less than 60 days later, the First Circuit Court of Appeals became the first appellate court in the United States to strike down DOMA, an important milestone on the road to full equality.

Yet, for Jackie and Gloria, nothing has changed, and they don’t have the luxury of waiting until the ultimate fate of DOMA is decided.

Looking at these two young women — so full of love for each other and wanting nothing more than to build a future together — we cannot allow this cruel and discriminatory law to tear them apart.

(Video by The DeVote Campaign in collaboration with Stop The Deportations – The DOMA Project)

Tom & Glen Fall in Love, Get Married and File a Green Card Petition. Help Us Keep Them Together.

Thursday September 24, 2009 was the day our lives changed. On that day I met Glen while on a visit to San Francisco from New York. It was quickly apparent that Glen was from Australia. He, too, was visiting, with every expectation that he would simply return to Australia after having had a relaxing vacation.

I spotted Glen in a bar in SOMA, the name given for the neighborhood south of Market Street in San Francisco. My first impression was a lasting one, to say the least. He was so handsome, with a mixture of silver and black hair, stunning features, and an incredible smile. As I would learn he was a former Mr. Australia. In just three days I would celebrate my 39th birthday, and I thought that I would be happier living out my days a single man. But on that day, in that place, that all changed.

Eventually, we were having a conversation. Surprisingly, he seemed to know more people in the bar than I did; there were a lot of Australians in town.  I soon learned that Glen knowing everyone would be a common occurrence. Although I have always been outgoing and gregarious myself, Glen is the friendliest, most sociable person I have ever met. I have never seen anyone so compassionate and so genuinely interested in other people. He kept talking to so many people that night that I started to drift away on the impression that he was not interested, at which point he would reach out and touch me on the arm to make sure I knew that he was. At some point I recall Glen got involved in a conversation, and I decided to call it a night. I had to leave early so I could go to a job interview the next morning, and thought I would never see him again.

I was surprised when Glen called me the next morning and set up a date for that evening. We stayed out all night and well past dawn. The energy was just magical. We became inseparable all weekend, and we bared our souls to one another. I told him of all the most difficult trials in my life: my coming out, being gay bashed, the murder of two close loved ones, and how devastated I was by two past relationships. But I told him all the good stuff too: my spiritual beliefs, how I grew and matured and conquered so many fears and built myself into the person I wanted to be. Three days later, on my birthday, Glen told me that he loved me. I was taken aback. I take a word like “love” very seriously and would never have expected to hear it used so soon, but after some hours of soul searching, I decided that I could say the same to him as well.

The next day I flew back to New York and Glen flew back to Sydney. And for the last 32 months we have done everything in our power to maintain our relationship. As boyfriends, as lovers, and soul mates, nothing can be more difficult than the 10,000 miles that separated us at times.

Glen and I talked to each other on Skype every single day after we met, some times as much as four hours a day. It seemed like the only thing I could think about was that gorgeous, sunny, cheery, sweet, sweet, sweet loving man from Australia. Six unbearable weeks passed before I came to visit him in Australia. The 10 days were among the most magical and meaningful of my life. I was completely swept away with how kind and loving he was toward me; no one had ever treated me that way before. He was just the most beautiful human being I had ever known. We spent several more trips together before deciding it was time to live together, about six months after we had met.

Glen decided to apply to school in New York and come on a student visa and enhance his qualifications, but just before he moved forward with that plan he was offered a job in New York and obtained a temporary work visa. From there, Glen moved from one employer to another.  Each time petitions had to be filed and there was some anxiety for us as to whether each would be approved and whether the job would last. Unfortunately, one after another the employment opportunities seemed to fall through just as they were approved by the Immigration Service. Perhaps it was partly bad luck and partly a bad economy. But we struggled to make sure Glen had legal status so we could remain together.

On our first anniversary we traveled to San Francisco to celebrate.  I got down on one knee at the very spot we had met and I proposed to Glen. A few days later he was on a plane to London where he would live until we could find a way for him to return to the United States. Of course, unlike a straight couple in that situation, I could not sponsor Glen for a fiancé visa because of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).  DOMA not only prevents the Government from recognizing the marriages of gay and lesbian couples for all federal purposes, but even prohibits use of the fiancé visa process to bring a same-sex fiancé to the U.S. to enter into a marriage with a gay American.

With Tom's Parents

Glen stayed with a fellow we barely knew in London while I handled the administrative work for a job opportunity. Unfortunately, Glen became seriously ill while in London and even though he was covered by my health insurance in the States, that was useless in the U.K.  He had to go through a long bureaucratic process of several weeks to finally get treatment for his developing pneumonia at a health facility that was basically for the destitute. I was beside myself with worry not only with his health, but also because it was becoming clear that the latest H-1B employment opportunity we hoped would bring Glen back to the U.S. was falling through. We had all but given up on that visa, when the employer surprised us by signing the forms and filing the petition.  These were desperate times, and we clung to every opportunity to be together legally in the United States.

Glen returned to New York and started his new job, but that soon fell apart. The employer was not cooperating, and it was clear Glen would have to find yet another job. Glen is a hard worker. He is the sort of person who can sell ice to Eskimos, and I always assumed that as long as Glen was bringing in the sales money, his employer would do what was necessary under the law to keep Glen around. I was wrong. The employer was abusive and Glen could not take it anymore. I will never forget the day Glen came home in tears, not because his boss had gone into a bizarre inexplicable fit of rage and not because he would lose his job.  He was in tears because he was afraid of being forced to leave the United States and not be with me.

However, it soon looked like things were finally going our way.  Glen quickly got another job and it seemed to hold real promise. But this promise soon turned to misery as well. Glen was now traveling almost full time, and he was completely unhappy. The working conditions were just terrible, and the firm was within a few months of going bankrupt. The point of the job was so we could stay together, and yet we were always apart. After months and months, we gave up. This job too would not be the answer for us.

Because it is so difficult for us to find a way for Glen to stay legally in this country, we know that the only alternative would be for me, as the main bread-winner, to give up the career that I have worked so assiduously to build for years, and move abroad. That most likely means I would be unemployed, either in the UK or Australia. Thankfully, we were able to remain here until my father passed away.  Glen and I did not have to abandon my mother and sister while they tried to manage my father’s Alzheimer’s. At least the haters that claim to be “protecting marriage” had not forced us to leave the land of my birth and deprive a World War II veteran of the support he needed from his son once he became unable to care for himself.

Moving out of the country would not only impact us. I have several employees and pay a hefty amount in federal, state and city income taxes each year. I have a master’s degree and served the country as a diplomat for the U.S. Treasury Department for many years. I support my family and my community and my family wants me here with them. I have ancestors who arrived on the Mayflower and have relatives who fought in every war in our nation’s history to protect this nation’s freedom. It is simply beyond me how any compassionate nation, or any nation with a good sense of its own self-interest, would think it is beneficial to drive me into exile because I am gay and refuse to let go of the man I love.

When all the hopes we had for Glen’s employment visa appeared to have been lost, we decided to move forward with our plans to marry. We also made the important decision to not leave the United States without fighting to be treated equally. We decided to file a green card petition for Glen on the basis of our marriage and we will fight for it to be held in abeyance and then ultimately approved once DOMA is repealed by Congress or struck down by the Supreme Court.

We married in January and submitted an application for permanent residence (a “green card”) for Glen shortly after. We are planning a big wedding celebration in September for our family and friends, and we are hoping that the green card application is put on hold so that Glen will be able to continue to stay in the United States in lawful status.  Our hope now is that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service will delay the processing of our green card petition while the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act” makes its way to the Supreme Court, or is repealed by Congress. In just the last year, a number of federal courts have ruled that DOMA is unconstitutional, a finding that would allow Glen to be treated just like another spouse of an American and let him receive permanent residency. If Immigration Service will wait to receive clarity from the courts, then we can delay the day that I make the devastating decision with regards to my career and my family. That policy decision ultimately rests with President Obama, and despite his strong words of support for marriage equality in May, there are still steps to be taken to protect couples like Glen and me.

We need the Obama administration to stop denying green card petitions filed by married gay binational couples immediately.

We want a resolution for the same reason all other married couples would want to avoid being in this limbo: we want to begin to build a stable future together. With some stability we could then think about buying a home and making choices in our lives that we have had to constantly put off, not knowing what would happen to us in a few months’ time. The years of debilitating uncertainly have worn us down. We did finally decide to get a puppy together, something we had wanted to do for years but had postponed because we did not know if we would be able to stay in our home in New York. There is only one thing in my life that gives me certainty now, and that is the knowledge that Glen and I will remain together. No law, no hate, no immigration authority, no threat of unemployment, and no poverty will ever separate us. Only death, only upon death will we finally part.

We will keep fighting until the Obama administration does the right thing. This is just the beginning and we know we are not alone. We join with tens of thousands of lesbian and gay binational couples who need the protection and security that an “abeyance” policy would offer.

And we can’t wait.

We need it now.

Victory! Boston Immigration Judge Grants Reprieve To Dwayne and Bolivar, Postpones Deportation Proceedings

Bolivar signs paperwork before heading to Immigration Court on May 17

Today, a Boston Immigration Judge postponed further deportation proceedings for Dwayne and Bolivar, a married, gay binational couple who have lived together in rural Maine for almost ten years.  Overruling the strenuous objection of the ICE Assistant Chief Counsel, the Judge scheduled the next hearing for October 2012; at that time a final hearing will likely be scheduled for a date in 2014.

Read their full story here: Dwayne & Bolivar: After Nine Years Together, Married Maine Couple Heads to Immigration Court on May 17 to Fight DOMA Deportation.

Like thousands of married, binational couples, Dwayne and Bolivar are hoping for the best case scenario: that the U.S. Supreme Court will rule on the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in the next two years. Last summer, Dwayne filed a green card petition for his husband, Bolivar, a Venezuela citizen who moved to the United States in 2002. The green card petition was denied in February 2012 solely because of Section 3 of DOMA, which prevents the federal government from recognizing their marriage. With legal representation provided by Stop The Deportations – The DOMA Project, Dwayne and Bolivar appealed the denial of their green card petition to the Board of Immigration Appeals.

Many legal observers believe that the Gill case currently pending before the First Circuit Court of Appeals, will be the first challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act to make its way to the Supreme Court where it is hoped that DOMA will be found unconstitutional as a violation of the equal protection guarantee of the United States Constitution and is struck down.

Today, when Dwayne and Bolivar stood up for their marriage and challenged DOMA, they did so in a court of law on the 8th anniversary of marriage equality in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. In the intervening years, over 18,462 lesbian and gay couples have married in Massachusetts. Like Dwayne and Bolivar, these couples are now denied access to 1,138 provisions of federal laws protecting and promoting the well-being of families. They remain unequal, all because their marriages are not recognized under DOMA.

Dwayne and Bolivar will continue to work with Stop The Deportations – The DOMA Project to urge that all pending DOMA deportation cases are terminated, administratively closed, or postponed until DOMA has been repealed by Congress or reaches a final judicial determination by the Supreme Court.

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.

Daisy, the American Hound Dog

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.

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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With Two Days Left in Denver Pilot Program, Married Lesbian Couple Facing Deportation Waits Anxiously. Will Their Case Be Administratively Closed?

Sujey and Violeta Pando

A lesbian couple is sitting on the edge of their seats at home in Denver waiting for the telephone to ring. Right now, a call from federal immigration attorneys could bring to an end the nightmare Sujey and Violeta Pando have been living ever since Immigration and Customs Enforcement came into their lives in 2008. There are only two days left in the government’s ambitious plan to review all pending cases in the Denver Immigration Court for possible closure. Denver was chosen to be a Pilot Program city for the application of new humanitarian guidelines for closure of low-priority deportation cases. It is believed that the review of all pending cases is all but complete. And still this couple waits, hoping for good news.

Sujey, a citizen of Mexico, has been in a committed relationship with her U.S. citizen wife, Violeta, for more than six years. They married in 2010 in Iowa. Violeta cannot sponsor Sujey for a green card because the federal Defense of Marriage Act prevents recognition of their valid marriage for any federal purpose.

Sujey and Violeta Pando made headlines last August when they won a temporary reprieve from deportation. Denver Immigration Judge Mimi Tsankov postponed Sujey’s deportation hearing to January 2012. In November, the Department of Homeland Security announced that Denver would be one of two cities chose for a pilot program in which the DHS would review all pending deportation cases to close all low-priority cases and conserve agency resources by focusing on deporting those individuals who are a threat to public safety or have extensive criminal records.  When the pilot program was announced Sujey Pando’s case was temporary rescheduled to a date in 2014, pending review by the DHS-DOJ working group and local ICE attorneys.

For the last month, Sujey and Violeta have anxiously awaited word from ICE that their case had been reviewed. By the beginning of January they were getting very nervous. They are very aware that pilot program is due to end its review on January 13. “The date is marked on our calendar. It is a day that we dread, because we are afraid that if we do not hear from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement prosecutors by then, it means that they have decided to deport Sujey. We pray that they are just taking great care to read Sujey’s entire file and make the right decision, but we are losing sleep over it and our whole family asks every day whether there has been news.”

Determined to take a more proactive approach, the Pandos worked closely with their attorney, Lavi Soloway, who compiled a large submission of evidence and made a formal request for “prosecutorial discretion” to the Office of Chief Counsel in Denver on January 7. The 76-page submission details why Ms. Pando, who has lived in the United States since she was forced to flee Mexico as a teenager 17 years ago, should be granted humanitarian relief and have her deportation case closed under new guidelines issued by the Obama administration that are meant to protect all families, including lesbian and gay couples, who are under threat of being torn apart by deportation.  The Pandos and their attorney have also reached out to elected officials in Colorado to bring the case to the attention of the working group’s LGBT liaison in Washington, DC.

Under the June 17, 2011 memorandum from ICE Director John Morton, individuals in deportation proceedings would have their cases reviewed and closed if they were deemed to be “low priority” to permit the federal government to focus resource on immigrants that pose national security risks and public safety threats. Sujey Pando clearly meets many of the criteria set forth in those guidelines:

  • Length of Presence in the United States – Sujey has lived in the U.S. over 17 years, almost all that time in the Denver metropolitan area.
  • Circumstance of her Arrival – Sujey was brought to the U.S. as a minor to escape a lifetime of abuse in Mexico. Her flight from danger and young age both clearly weigh in her favor for the exercise of prosecutorial discretion.
  • Marriage to a U.S. Citizen – Sujey & Violeta have been in a loving relationship for over 6 years, and made a life-long commitment to one another when they married in 2010 in Iowa. (Since June when this memorandum was issued, the Obama Administration has clarified that prosecutorial discretion will take into account gay and lesbian binational couples, even if they federal government cannot legally recognize their marriages, due to the Defense of Marriage Act.)
  • Caretaker of an Individual with Serious Disabilities – Since 2005, Sujey has helped care for her long-time friend, who currently lives with Sujey and her wife. This friend was seriously injured in a workplace accident, and requires help in her day to day life. The care, support, assistance that Sujey provides to this U.S. citizen is a basis for the government recognizing that this case is a low priority and that Sujey should be permitted to remain in the U.S.
  • Ties to the Community – In addition to her wife and her friend Diane, Sujey has strong ties to her home of the last 17 years. Her in-laws, neighbors, friends and her landlord submitted affidavits attesting to her good moral character and the importance of having her in their lives. In addition, Sujey has volunteered and contributed to charities in her area. These facts all go to show that her true home is here with her wife, not anywhere else.
  • Participation in Civil Rights Advocacy: Additionally, Sujey’s participation in LGBT civil rights advocacy also weighs in her favor for cause to close her removal proceedings according to related departmental policy against deporting those involved in the fight for civil rights and civil liberties. It is not in the interest of justice for the United States to deport individuals who are involved in changing unjust and unconstitutional laws, especially for couples like Sujey & Violeta who would otherwise be permitted to pursue a marriage-based green card petition.

The Obama administration announced with great fan fare that it would implement a kinder, gentler deportation policy that would aim to keep families together, including LGBT families. The Department of Homeland Security noted that an LGBT liaison, Executive Secretary Philip A. McNamara, was made a member of the DHS-DOJ prosecutorial discretion working group to ensure that guidelines are applied in an inclusive and consistent manner. Sujey Pando’s case is a test of this administration’s promise to protect all families from being torn apart by deportation.


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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.