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.
This comprehensive article by veteran journalist, Karen Ocamb, focuses on the crisis facing married binational couples because of DOMA. It is well worth reading in its entirety here.
“Alex and I met when I was traveling to Palm Springs for work. We hit it off immediately and I invited him out to dinner,” Gentry tells Frontiers. “We had a lot in common, but were from completely different backgrounds. I was attracted to him not just for his good looks, but because he was interesting, intelligent and someone I wanted to get to know better. For our second date he offered me a home-cooked Venezuelan dinner, so of course I said, yes. That was just the beginning of what would turn out to be a long, loving relationship.
“In the next year and a half I moved to Palm Springs, we purchased a house and opened a business together, Alex’s Pet Grooming. Now we’re celebrating six years together,” Gentry continues. “We’ve been through good times and some very difficult times, including the death of my father. We love each other very much. My two children consider him to be another father, and they share a great relationship. We knew that we wanted to get married and to spend the rest of our lives together.
“Since, at the time, we couldn’t get married in our home state of California, we decided to go to Connecticut. We were married at the Lockwood-Mathews Mansion by State Senator Bob Duff on July 21, 2010.
“I submitted an I-130 Petition for Alien Relative form for Alex as my husband. We weren’t sure how it would be handled, but were very happy when we heard the news that the Obama administration would no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act. We were happy again when we heard that USCIS [Citizenship and Immigration Service] had decided to hold approval/denial decisions on I-130s. Sadly, just a few days later they changed course and announced that they were going to deny them again.
“All of this has, of course, taken a terrible toll on Alex and me, on many levels. Because his visa expired, Alex has been put in removal proceedings. It’s difficult to live with the threat of deportation hanging over your head every day of your life. And it’s made worse by knowing that we wouldn’t be in this position but for DOMA, which is so obviously discriminatory and unconstitutional. There is so much frustration in knowing that it affects tens of thousands of binational couples who seem to be ignored. And the ups and downs from positive announcements, then negative announcements, are emotionally exhausting. You don’t know what to expect from one day to the next. You can’t plan for the future. You feel like you can’t ever relax.
“Honestly, Alex and I don’t have a firm plan B. It’s so hard to get your head around the thought of leaving your home, your business and your children. We just know that we can’t live apart and we know we couldn’t live in Venezuela. With its record of intolerance to the LGBT community and its unstable government, it’s just not an option.”
Lavi Soloway, who launched Stop The Deportations last year, has been the most prominent attorney/activist in the field for almost two decades. He notes that for a lesbian or gay American married to a foreign-born spouse, deportation is catastrophic. “Few policymakers realize how far reaching the impact of DOMA is in this context. These are spouses of American citizens, but once they are ordered deported, they will be banished from the United States for at least 10 years. In most cases there is no country in which same-sex binational couples can then seek refuge together. For these couples, DOMA is actually the Destruction of Our Marriages Act.”
And yet, as Soloway notes, it doesn’t have to be this way. “Since its first day in office, the Obama administration has had the discretion and authority to take immediate action to protect all lesbian and gay binational couples from deportation. After the president determined that DOMA was unconstitutional, his obligation to act using the power of the executive branch became that much clearer. As Homeland Security Secretary, Janet Napolitano has a responsibility to develop policy that values family unity and responds to humanitarian circumstances. Despite urgent requests from over 60 members of the House and Senate, she has remained conspicuously silent. Meanwhile, the brave couples who have stood up and told their stories and participated in the “Stop the Deportations” advocacy campaign continue to hold this administration accountable. President Obama, perhaps more than others, should realize how devastating it is to tear apart a family by deporting a foreign-born spouse. He is himself, after all, the son of a binational couple.”
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.
On Wednesday April 20, President Obama will be in San Francisco for a fundraising event. Please join Get Equal, Marriage Equality USA and Out4Immigration and equality activists to remind President Obama that he has the power to protect all lesbian and gay binational couples by halting the deportations and ending denials of green card petitions. Help us STOP THE DEPORTATIONS!
WHERE: Nob Hill Masonic Center, 1111 California St. between Jones and Taylor.
WHEN: April 20 from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Call Congressman Chris Van Hollen at (202) 225-5341, Senator Barbara Mikulski (202) 224-4654 and Senator Benjamin Cardin (202) 224-4524. Ask that they call on the Obama administration to halt all DOMA deportations immediately.
Queerty’s article appeared here today.
|Rep. Chris Van Hollen|
What can you do right now to help stop the deportation of Rockville, Maryland resident Rodrigo Martinez? Call Congressman Chris Van Hollen’s Washington, DC office at Phone: (202) 225-5341 and ask that he call on the Obama administration to put a halt to all DOMA Deportations.
Rodrigo and his American partner of 8 years married last week in Washington, DC, but because of DOMA, their marriage certificate, even with its “triple seal” from Chief Judge Lee Satterfield of the DC Superior Court means nothing under current federal law. The Obama administration has the power to delay this deportation through a routine exercise of discretion.
|Rodrigo & Edwin on their wedding day|
After you call Representative Van Hollen, Edwin and Rodrigo’s Congressman, you can help us keep up the momentum! Reach out to your own Senators and Representatives. Ask them to join Representatives Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) who last week called on the Obama administration to halt the deportations of spouses of gay and lesbian Americans. There is still time to save Rodrigo & Edwin’s marriage and to prevent Rodrigo’s deportation to El Salvador on Wednesday. But we must also fight for a policy that stops all “DOMA Deportations” immediately.
From the Washington Blade. Full story here. While this article does not produce much diversity in response to its rhetorical headline, The DOMA Project is included here as an example as one very real ways in which the executive branch can re-evaluate the landscape of deportation proceedings for development of public policy to address urgent humanitarian crises.
Amid this debate, another LGBT advocate is drawing on the recent change in how the Obama administration is handling DOMA to press the administration to exercise prosecutorial discretion in cases involving bi-national same-sex couples.
Lavi Soloway, an attorney with Masliah & Soloway PC in New York, is representing three married, same-sex bi-national couples in New York, New Jersey and California who are facing deportation proceedings.
Alex Benshimol and Doug Gentry are scheduled for a July 13 hearing in San Francisco; Monica Alcota and Cristina Ojeda are scheduled for a March 22 hearing in New York; and Henry Velandia and Josh Vandiver scheduled for a May 6 hearing in Newark, N.J. Each of the American spouses in these cases has filed green card petitions on behalf of their foreign national partners, although DOMA prevents American nationals from sponsoring their partners.
“We intend to argue as a result of the shifting position of the executive branch with respect to DOMA that it’s appropriate for the immigration judges and also for the attorneys that represent the Department of Homeland Security to exercise what’s called prosecutorial discretion, which simply means exercising more discretion in how to proceed with these cases,” Soloway said.
In the three pending cases, Soloway is asking for judges to consider changes that were made to how the Obama administration is handling DOMA in court and to put off deportation proceedings until another time when different relief of legal options may be available. According to Soloway, if anyone in these cases is deported, they won’t be able to return to the United States for another 10 years, even if DOMA is repealed or overturned sometime before then.
“I’m calling on the Department of Homeland Security … to develop reasonable innovative policy to deal with the particular moment that we’re in,” Soloway said. “We’re just in a very short-term moment where things are in a state of flux. I’m not asking them to stop enforcing any law; this is part of enforcing the law.”
|At Home in Philadelphia: Brian and Anton Are Fighting For a Future Together|
Friday February 11 is the last day that your phone calls can make a difference. The Department of Homeland Security has scheduled Anton’s deportation to Indonesia for Valentine’s Day. Please call DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano at (202) 282-8000 and Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senator Robert Casey at (202) 224-6324. Urge them to call on the Philadelphia Office of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement to halt Anton’s deportation so the Board of Immigration Appeals can re-open his asylum case. Stop Anton’s deportation to dangerous conditions for gay men in Indonesia. Don’t let discriminatory immigration laws and a heartless system tear apart a loving couple on Valentine’s Day.
Learn more about Josh & Henry’s struggle to stay together in this country by visiting their Facebook page. Help them by signing this petition calling on DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano to halt the deportations of spouses of gay and lesbian Americans.