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More Than 2,000 Days Trying to “Figure This Out” – Eric & Jon’s Story

On June 29, 2006 I boarded a flight to New York’s LaGuardia Airport that would completely change my life. It was not my first trip to New York, but it was my first solo trip. I thought that I may be a little crazy for arranging this trip, but I’m a scientist and a bit of a planner. There is always a Plan B and I will always find a solution
A few months earlier, several months into my Match.com membership, I had entered a friend’s New York zip code in the search window. One of the very first profiles caught my attention—Asian guy, blue eyes. I have always been drawn to those things that are out of the ordinary. I quickly sent a message, probably something about they eyes, but I don’t really remember.
Later that day, much to my surprise, the blue-eyed Asian boy had replied to my message. We struck up a correspondence that soon moved to video chat – where I learned that the blue-eyed Asian boy lookedEXACTLY like his profile! Well, except the eyes…it never occurred to me that people wear colored contacts, but it did not matter. We were finally talking, not just typing, and our first video chat lasted several hours.

Valentine’s Day 2013 marked more than 2,000 days since Jay’s work visa expired and he had to leave the US.

Over the next few months our friendship grew and we began planning a visit. Being a teacher, I had two months vacation, but Jon had just two weeks. We decided to spend a week together in New York at his apartment and I made the flight to LaGuardia. We had agreed to meet at his job, my Plan B being I would go stay with friends if our first meeting in person turned out not to be all that I had anticipated from the months getting to know each other online.
Standing on the sidewalk, in front of Jon’s office building, I nervously dialed his number. I saw a familiar face approach the revolving door, he walked down the steps, gave a big hug, and we had our first kiss. Everything was strangely familiar—we knew a lot about one another from our daily conversations, but had never so much as touched. Nonetheless, I felt as if I had come home after a long trip—my heart felt a great sense of comfort. 
The week went by quickly and comfort grew into anxiety as the 4th of July approached—I was going home the following morning. I often wondered how I would know when I fell in love. Although there are many people that I love and care about, what I experienced with Jon was different. Being with him was home. I had found my life partner, and there is no other way to explain it, I simply knew it. 
Throwing all caution to the wind, I confessed to Jon that “. . .this may sound completely ridiculous, but I’m falling in love with you.” Thankfully, he did not run! We have been together ever since.
Over the next year and a half we scheduled trips between our respective cities every three weeks. Our daily video sessions grew to include watching TV together, just like my parents have done for the last 40 years. The only difference was that our recliners were in different cities. 
 
One year later, the day before my birthday, I had boarded my flight back to Miami when my phone rang. It was Jon and he was devastated. “I just received a letter and it says that my work visa was not renewed. I have 30 days leave.” 
My heart literally sunk. 
I quickly shifted into survival mode, calmly responding that we would “figure this out.” That flight to Miami turned out to be infinitely longer than any of my 24+ hour flights to Asia would be over the next several years. 
Valentine’s Day 2013 marked the 2033rd day that we have spent trying to “figure this out.” The only thing that stands in our way is a law that does not consider our seven-year commitment equal to my sister’s two- year marriage to her husband.
We are thankful and very fortunate to have two loving and fully supportive families. We have three nephews and a niece that do not know of time when Jon and I were not together. They know that Uncle Eric and Uncle Jon love them and spoil them every chance they get. Our relationship is not odd or unusual to them. What is odd is that we cannot live together—try explaining that to an eight year old! They know that I will be in Asia during the summers and oftentimes we will miss holidays and birthdays while we travel to be with one another. 
Well-meaning friends often ask “Why don’t you get married in [New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, New Hampshire, Vermont, Washington or Washington DC]?” Few realize that marriage in those states will only resolve a few state issues. Unfortunately, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) exclusively withholds 1,138 federal rights from same-sex couples, including immigration. 
We are hopeful that comprehensive immigration reform will include binational LGBT families.  Including the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA) would simply acknowledge us as a family and provide the means for us to finally live together. The alternative is to live in exile and leave my family, friends, career, and life that I have built over the last 39 years behind. 
We ask all our friends, family, colleagues and allies to help us and other same-sex binational couples.  Call the Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121, ask to speak with your senators/representative, and encourage them to include the UAFA as part of comprehensive immigration reform. If it is easier, you can email your senators at http://www.senate.gov and representatives at http://www.house.gov.  Forward this story and the others on the Out4Immigration blog to your network and ask that they do the same.  

Are you a same-sex binational couple? Do you have families / friends affected by this issue? Please contact us at http://bit.ly/O4ICountMeIn if you are interested in sharing your story.

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An Experiment in International Living

crossposted at Out4Immigration’s Blog

July 1987, an “Experiment in International Living”, that’s what they called the homestay trip that I took as a 16-year-old girl from the United States. I stayed with my Irish host family who immediately paired me with their 16-year-old niece, Karen. We became fast friends and found it impossible to say goodbye after my three short weeks in Ireland.

However, life moves forward and time passes. We kept in touch through snail mail for years, finally reconnecting in person in 2001 when I returned to Ireland for a brief vacation. Karen soon followed me to the U.S. for her own holiday that same year, just after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Learning through that horrible event that life can be short, I returned to Ireland for another visit in February 2002 to explore exactly what this relationship was all about. Two full weeks of inseparable bliss; by the time my flight home landed for the layover from Dublin to Shannon I had decided I couldn’t live without her. I moved to Ireland to be with Karen in July 2002.

For a year I tried unsuccessfully to get a job in Ireland, while Karen had been laid off for months. With money running short and a job offer waiting for me in the States we decided to give it a go back in my home country. In September 2003 Karen moved to the U.S. to be with me. Yay! Or so we thought.

Over nine years and three lawyers later and we are still playing the U.S. visa game. We had to figure out a way for Karen to remain in this country and get her residency but also be able to travel home to visit her family. She started on the Visa Waiver, then applied to a Veterinary Technology Program and got an F-1 visa. She remained on this visa for two years and we were able to travel back to Ireland to visit her first nephew in his first few months of life, for his christening, and shortly after the birth of his brother. However, each time was a grueling event for Karen when passing through immigration. We were split up and Karen was often taken into another private room where she was grilled with questions as to why she was coming to the US, what connections did she have here, why couldn’t she go to school in Ireland. On one occasion they kept her so long that they were calling our names over the PA system over and over to board the plane. Each time, to our relief, she eventually was passed through to enter the U.S. again.

June 2006 we took a trip of a lifetime to Alaska. We unfortunately disembarked the cruise in Vancouver, Canada and flew to Toronto where we had to go through U.S. immigration before we boarded our flight for Philadelphia. As usual procedure, I went through the U.S. line and Karen had to go through the non-US citizen line. Once again we were separated. They took Karen into the inside office. This was a familiar procedure by now for us so I wasn’t too worried until I waited. And waited and waited and waited.

I am sure it was an hour or more I waited not knowing what was going on. Karen on the other hand was being harassed by a U.S. Customs Officer. It was after 5PM and the immigration officers were done for the day and Customs was handling her case.  He was very rude and refused to listen to anything Karen had to say. He took her I-94 out of her passport, saying it should have been removed when she left the country. This is not true as we found out later through our lawyer that travel in and out of Canada is allowed on her visa and they do not remove or issue new I-94. The officer finally allowed her entry in to the U.S. but under a 30-day waiver, no new I-94, and rudely told her to get it sorted.

It took us, with the help of our third immigration lawyer, almost a year to get that issue resolved. The lawyer has since assisted us with finding ways to keep Karen in the U.S. legally through training visas, an application for an alien worker visa, and currently another F-1 visa. The problem however, is that the lawyer advised Karen not to travel out of the country. If she did, she would have to go to a U.S. embassy to get her current visa put in her passport.

This may not seem like a big deal – but actually it is. It is up to an individual immigration officer to determine if he/she wants to grant the approved visa. We were advised that it was highly likely that the official would deny the visa on the basis that Karen has lived in the U.S. now for some time on non-immigrant visas, not to mention if they discovered our relationship. So despite the fact that Karen is legally in this country, we do not want to risk the life we have built here and therefore we do not travel out of the US.

Keeping Karen in the U.S. has been expensive: the legal fees and college tuition alone have cost us tens of thousands of dollars. But the real cost has been the loss of time
spent with loved ones. We have been fortunate enough that Karen’s family does visit often. But we miss so much. Not just special occasions like weddings, births and milestone birthdays but being together. It has been seven years since Karen and her two siblings have been in the same room together. That is the hard part.

June 2011, we married in Kent, Connecticut. We had a party here in the U.S. to celebrate with all our U.S. friends and family. It would have been wonderful if we could have traveled to Ireland for our honeymoon and had a celebration over there as well.

And so, this “Experiment in International Living” continues with us applying for whatever visa we can to keep Karen’s status legal. Waiting for the alien worker visa to come through, which will give her permanent residency and hoping one day our relationship will be recognized officially – either through Comprehensive Immigration Reform or the repeal of  DOMA – so I can apply for a visa based on our marriage,
like heterosexual couples are able to do.

Are you a same sex binational couple?  Do you have families / friends affected by this issue?  Please contact us at http://bit.ly/O4ICountMeIn if you are interested in sharing your story.

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Successful U.S. Businesswoman Forced to Commute to Los Angeles While Family Lives in Exile

crossposted from Out4Immigration’s Blog

American Rita Boyadjian and her German life partner, Mara, met in Cologne, Germany at a European Gay Pride celebration in 2002 while Rita was touring Europe on vacation. They fell madly in love and began a long-distance relationship. After 18-months of flying back and forth every 3 to 4 weeks while visiting on a tourist visa, Mara was able to obtain a student F-1 visa that allowed her to live legally in the U.S. for a four-year Bachelor’s degree program in Los Angeles.

From 2004 to 2008, Mara lived in the U.S. on her student visa. During that time, Rita and Mara bought a five-bedroom home to start their family and had a baby girl. Rita’s entertainment marketing business was thriving, and she created jobs for 20 Californians. The federal government and the state of California also enjoyed Rita’s business success, as Rita paid well over $1M a year in income tax; $250,000 in payroll taxes; $25,000 in City of Los Angeles taxes; and $30,000 in property tax each year.

But the American Dream was about to allude Rita and Mara. Mara’s student visa expired in August 2009, which was also the due date month for their second child. The couple was forced to interrupt the wonderful life they created in Los Angeles, and move to Germany in summer 2009 since the U.S. does not extend immigration rights to American citizens and with same-sex, non-U.S. citizen partners.

Mara (left) and Rita (right) now live in Germany. Rita’s Los Angeles-based business created more than 20 jobs for Americans, yet she has been forced into exile to keep her family together.

While Mara tried to pursue another student visa and a work visa, it was simply too difficult to raise a small child and be in the middle of a second pregnancy while going back to school or working full-time.

“I guess you can describe us as a non-traditional family with very traditional family values,” says Rita. “When we decided to have children together, we were committed to raising our children ourselves and not raising them with nannies or putting them in a daycare every day. We did not want other people raising our children so Mara could go to school or work full-time in order to fulfill visa requirements to remain in the U.S. I was earning enough money so that Mara could stay home with our children.”

Rita, who was born and raised in Los Angeles, had no other choice but to sell her L.A. home at a $250K loss and leave her thriving L.A.-based entertainment marketing business, her entire family who all live in Southern California, and three decades of friendships, in order to keep her family together in Germany, because Germany provides immigration rights for same-sex couples. Rita and Mara got married in Germany, and Rita was able to obtain a resident visa to live legally in Germany.

It is now 2013. Rita and Mara live near the city of Cologne, Germany and have three children. They have lived in exile since Mara’s student visa expired.

Rita reluctantly commutes between Germany and Los Angeles in order to keep her L.A. business alive.“I cannot begin to describe the anxiety I feel about leaving my business to run without me physically present,” says Rita. I fear my employees and my clients will tire of my inaccessibility. At the same time, I also worry about leaving my family in Germany every time I have to go to Los Angeles without them. What if something bad happens and I’m a 12-hour flight away? I feel doomed in each direction, as I don’t want to lose my business and I don’t want to lose my family. I’m angry and sad that I may have to choose between the two, after I have worked so hard to build this successful business and also have the good fortune to find love in my life.”

Rita is angry that she and Mara have played by the rules and for that they have been forced to leave America. “For four years Mara lived in the U.S. legally,” says Rita.“Even though male friends of ours had offered to marry Mara, we refused to break the law by doing such a thing, and instead were forced to leave the country. It’s imperative that we extend immigration rights to same-sex couples. It is high time we acknowledge the fact that there are gay and lesbian citizens across the nation that are being forced to choose between their love of country and the love of their lives.For gay and lesbian Americans, the pursuit of life, liberty and justice for all are simply words that mean nothing until Comprehensive Immigration Reform includes LGBT families or until DOMA is settled in June 2013.”

Rita is not the only one who suffers under this unfair situation, but also her parents and grandmother, her sister, her niece and nephews, her extended family, her employees, her business partner, her clients, her neighbors and her community. The United States is ultimately bound to suffer, should Rita close down her business and lose a productive U.S. citizen to Germany, taking with her the spirit of entrepreneurship and opportunity America is known for.

“When I told my neighbor about our situation, her five-year old son began to cry,” said Rita. “He could not understand why we would have to leave. How do you explain discrimination to a five-year old? I was speechless. His mother rhetorically asked, if a five-year old can learn about acceptance and love for one another, why can’t we adults?”

Are you a same sex binational couple? Do you have families / friends affected by this issue? Please contact us at http://bit.ly/O4ICountMeIn if you are interested in sharing your story.

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Karen and Joy: An Experiment in International Living

crossposted at Out4Immigration’s Blog

July 1987, an “Experiment in International Living,” that’s what they called the homestay trip that I took as a 16-year-old girl from the United States. I stayed with my Irish host family who immediately paired me with their 16-year-old niece, Karen. We became fast friends and found it impossible to say goodbye after my three short weeks in Ireland.

Karen and Joy when they first met, as students in Ireland in 1987. Years later they met again and have endured years of complicated visa restrictions to stay together in America.

However, life moves forward and time passes. We kept in touch through snail mail for years, finally reconnecting in person in 2001 when I returned to Ireland for a brief vacation. Karen soon followed me to the U.S. for her own holiday that same year, just after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Learning through that horrible event that life can be short, I returned to Ireland for another visit in February 2002 to explore exactly what this relationship was all about. Two full weeks of inseparable bliss; by the time my flight home landed for the layover from Dublin to Shannon I had decided I couldn’t live without her. I moved to Ireland to be with Karen in July 2002.

For a year I tried unsuccessfully to get a job in Ireland, while Karen had been laid off for months. With money running short and a job offer waiting for me in the States we decided to give it a go back in my home country. In September 2003 Karen moved to the U.S. to be with me. Yay! Or so we thought.

Over nine years and three lawyers later and we are still playing the U.S. visa game. We had to figure out a way for Karen to remain in this country and get her residency but also be able to travel home to visit her family. She started on the Visa Waiver, then applied to a Veterinary Technology Program and got an F-1 visa. She remained on this visa for two years and we were able to travel back to Ireland to visit her first nephew in his first few months of life, for his christening, and shortly after the birth of his brother. However, each time was a grueling event for Karen when passing through immigration. We were split up and Karen was often taken into another private room where she was grilled with questions as to why she was coming to the US, what connections did she have here, why couldn’t she go to school in Ireland. On one occasion they kept her so long that they were calling our names over the PA system over and over to board the plane. Each time, to our relief, she eventually was passed through to enter the U.S. again.

June 2006 we took a trip of a lifetime to Alaska. We unfortunately disembarked the cruise in Vancouver, Canada and flew to Toronto where we had to go through U.S. immigration before we boarded our flight for Philadelphia. As usual procedure, I went through the U.S. line and Karen had to go through the non-US citizen line. Once again we were separated. They took Karen into the inside office. This was a familiar procedure by now for us so I wasn’t too worried until I waited. And waited and waited and waited.

I am sure it was an hour or more I waited not knowing what was going on. Karen on the other hand was being harassed by a U.S. Customs Officer. It was after 5PM and the immigration officers were done for the day and Customs was handling her case. He was very rude and refused to listen to anything Karen had to say. He took her I-94 out of her passport, saying it should have been removed when she left the country. This is not true as we found out later through our lawyer that travel in and out of Canada is allowed on her visa and they do not remove or issue new I-94. The officer finally allowed her entry in to the U.S. but under a 30-day waiver, no new I-94, and rudely told her to get it sorted.

It took us, with the help of our third immigration lawyer, almost a year to get that issue resolved. The lawyer has since assisted us with finding ways to keep Karen in the U.S. legally through training visas, an application for an alien worker visa, and currently another F-1 visa. The problem however, is that the lawyer advised Karen not to travel out of the country. If she did, she would have to go to a U.S. embassy to get her current visa put in her passport.

This may not seem like a big deal – but actually it is. It is up to an individual immigration officer to determine if he/she wants to grant the approved visa. We were advised that it was highly likely that the official would deny the visa on the basis that Karen has lived in the U.S. now for some time on non-immigrant visas, not to mention if they discovered our relationship. So despite the fact that Karen is legally in this country, we do not want to risk the life we have built here and therefore we do not travel out of the US.

Keeping Karen in the U.S. has been expensive: the legal fees and college tuition alone have cost us tens of thousands of dollars. But the real cost has been the loss of time spent with loved ones. We have been fortunate enough that Karen’s family does visit often. But we miss so much. Not just special occasions like weddings, births and milestone birthdays but being together. It has been seven years since Karen and her two siblings have been in the same room together. That is the hard part.

June 2011, we married in Kent, Connecticut. We had a party here in the U.S. to celebrate with all our U.S. friends and family. It would have been wonderful if we could have traveled to Ireland for our honeymoon and had a celebration over there as well.

And so, this “Experiment in International Living” continues with us applying for whatever visa we can to keep Karen’s status legal. Waiting for the alien worker visa to come through, which will give her permanent residency and hoping one day our relationship will be recognized officially – either through Comprehensive Immigration Reform or the repeal of DOMA – so I can apply for a visa based on our marriage,
like heterosexual couples are able to do.

Are you a same sex binational couple? Do you have families / friends affected by this issue? Please contact us at http://bit.ly/O4ICountMeIn if you are interested in sharing your story.

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Kathy And Ana: Four Weddings on Two Continents, But Still No Recognition by U.S. Government

Four Weddings on Two Continents, But Still No Recognition by U.S. Government

Ana and I “met” in 2008 while we were both participating in an online book club. Although Ana is a Portuguese national, she currently resides in the United Kingdom. We quickly became friends in the book club and in November of that year, I was fortunate enough to have a business meeting scheduled in London. It was during that trip that Ana and I met face to face for the first time. Although we considered ourselves to be “just friends” for approximately a year after that first meeting, we never went more than two or three days without corresponding with each other. At first it was only by email, but we were soon spending hours on the phone together learning more and more about each other. We quickly realized that our “friendship” was taking a turn and knew we had to meet again. This time it was in New York, where I live. It was clear to both of us that we were falling in love.

In early 2010, Ana flew over and we spent four beautiful days together. It was then that we just knew we were meant to be together forever.

Two years after we first met in the book club, on May 6, 2011, Ana and I celebrated our love for each other in front of more than 100 friends and family with a formal commitment ceremony on Long Island, New York. Then in July 2011, we entered into a legal civil partnership in the United Kingdom, celebrating with Ana’s family, who had flown in from Portugal to be with us on that special day.

When New York’s legislators passed the marriage equality bill in June that year we knew we wanted very much to be married so in August we exchanged wedding vows and became legally married! Finally, in November, I went to the Portuguese consulate in New York City to have our marriage officially recognized in Portugal, one of the 15 countries worldwide with equal marriage laws.

In some sense you might say we have now “married” each other four times and our MARRIAGE is now recognized on two continents. Without question, we have the love and support of our friends and family but not the U.S. government.

For the first two years one of us made the long flight from New York to London at least once a month. To visit the U.S., Ana enters under the ESTA/Visa Waiver Program since there is no long-term visa program she would be eligible. Over the past year, her stays here in the U.S. have been longer (less than the legal 90 days but sometimes for a couple of months at a time). At the end of a stay, she goes back to the U.K. for 10 days or so and then returns. Most times, I go with her. Although it has been a financial burden for both of us, we know that we would suffer, being apart.

This is not a way to live…traveling back and forth every couple of months. We are aware that Ana can be turned away at border control at a U.S. airport at any time, for any reason. I’m not even sure what my next steps should be to give her the best odds of not being turned away when entering the U.S. All I know is that no matter what it costs, I will do whatever I have to so that we can be together as much as possible! We are MARRIED and we want and NEED to be together yet we are viewed as nothing more than legal strangers by my own government.

This is cruel and heartbreaking. It forces us to live a life crossing the Atlantic Ocean, never knowing when an immigration officer might literally stop us from being together.

We are sharing our story because we believe that we must stand up and tell others about the reality that we are living. I am an American citizen. I expect to be treated the same as all other Americans. I have married the most wonderful woman, and I do not want to spend precious time apart from her. We should not have to exhaust ourselves or deplete our savings to be together. No opposite-sex married couple would ever be expected to do what we have been forced to do.

It is overwhelmingly obvious to everyone in our extended community of family and friends whether in the U.S. or abroad that this is cruel. We find ourselves explaining that although we are married, that means nothing to the American government. We see the puzzling looks on people’s faces when we explain that we have a recognized civil partnership in the United Kingdom that gives us the same rights as opposite-sex couples when it comes to immigration. But we want to live in the United States, and should be able to.

We know that the “Defense of Marriage Act” and our immigration laws are the only things standing between us and our future together in the United States. I cannot make this more clear: I do not want to be forced to leave my country, but we cannot build a future together separated by 3,600 miles. My love for Ana cannot wait. Equality for all lesbian and gay couples cannot wait.

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HRC, NGLTF, GLAAD: HELP Bi-National Couples in the Media War

Last week was a nightmare as Senator Schumer and the gang left bi-national same-sex couples out of the Senate outline. Read my full piece on it in Huffington Post here.

And NOW we need a serious media machine to help get the message out that we have huge faith-based support, and vast support from the main immigration coalitions and campaigns.

We NEED the HRC and others to collectively launch a full media campaign strategy for us, and we need it immediately. The bill is being rushed, drafting is happening behind closed doors, and once filed in the Senate it’ll be tough to amend.

We need UAFA language in the bill as filed – period. And we need this demand out there and loud.

For this, we need a MOVEMENT MEDIA MACHINE that can:

1. Get the message out about our faith based support, which Immigration Equality has so wonderfully secured, but has not adequately promoted. 2,500 clergy from all 50 states and denominations, and a large group of organizations (listed below) Did you know this?

2. Respond to articles like this in the Washington Post & this piece even in the Huffington Post – which glorify the secret letter of a handful of Bishops. A HANDFUL OF BISHOPS and the USCCB media machine (HRC, GLAAD take note please), are dominating this conversation, and we are entirely absent it appears.

3. Get the message out about the support for gay family inclusion from leading immigration coalitions: FIRM (Fair Immigration Reform Movement), New Yorkers for Real Immigration Reform, Humane Immigration Rights of Los Angeles, The Congressional Hispanic Caucus, the Congressional Asian-Pacific Caucus, and the President’s principles. Did you know this?

AND BEYOND MEDIA WE NEED TO:

4. Get the LGBT Caucus organized and speaking on this. Where for example, is our set of principles or advocacy – public visible advocacy – for UAFA? For CIR? Why is Rep. Nadler the only voice on this?

5. We need a strategy to deal with Senator Graham.

6. We need to have rallies organized in New York targeting Senator Schumer. In Florida targeting Senator Rubio. In Nevada targeting Senator Reid. And McCain too. Get out from behind the desk people!

7. We need the Equality Federation to get the state equality groups involved in (a) getting letters from the state and local representatives to their Congressional delegations (one small group is doing this all by themselves, with one volunteer. WHY?); and (b) securing support from ALL THE state-wide immigration campaigns for UAFA inclusion in CIR. Is anyone doing this? Not to my knowledge.

8. As we wait our turn in line for LGBT equality, WE NEEED A MOVEMENT STRATEGY that has an operational goal to get UAFA included in CIR. NGLTF had a whole conference about this, but where is the campaign? An email is not a campaign. A conference is not a coalition. If it’s happening behind the scenes – its so deep – I can’t find it – and it’s too deep.

This is a plea for help from the gay binational couples. We are in deep stress and anxiety. We have worked tirelessly to be part of the immigration team, but our own movement is not present. We are abandoned, and our movement is invisible.

PLEASE HELP.

p.s. Here is the ist of faith based groups and advocacy organizations supporting UAFA from Immigration Equality. Is any group helping to build this list? What is YOUR group doing for gay bi-national couples?

African American Ministers In Action – Equal Justice Taskforce
ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal
Alliance of Baptists
American Catholic Church in the US
American Jewish Committee
American National Catholic Church
The Ancient Apostolic Communion
Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists (AWAB)
Believe Out Loud
Brethren Mennonite Council for LGBT Interests
Call to Action
Catholics for Equality
Central Conference of American Rabbis
Church World Service, Immigration and Refugee Program
Clergy United, Inc
Covenant Network of Presbyterians
DignityUSA
The Episcopal Church
Friends Committee on National Legislation
GLAD Alliance – Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Human Rights Campaign Foundation Religion and Faith Program
Institute for Welcoming Resources
IntegrityUSA
The Jewish Labor Committee
Jewish Reconstructionist Federation
Justice Action Network
Keshet
Lutherans Concerned of North America
Methodist Federation for Social Action
The United Methodist Inter-Agency Task Force on Immigration
Metropolitan Community Churches
More Light Presbyterians
North American Old Catholic Church
Old Catholic Apostolic Church of the Americas
Presbyterian Voices for Justice
Reconciling Ministries Network (United Methodists)
Union of Black Episcopalians
Union for Reform Judaism
United Church of Christ
United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society
United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism
Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations

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Judy and Karin: Volunteering for Our Cause Leads to a Handshake and a Few Words with President Obama

Guest post by Judy Rickard, author of Torn Apart: United by Love, Divided by Law

I wanted to share the experience my wife Karin and I had attending President Obama’s speech on Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) in Las Vegas this week.

I think it’s important to remember that we are all volunteers in the struggle to get green cards and permanency for our spouses and families. None of us are paid to do this work. Some of us have special talents we share. Others help by doing as asked, or getting other volunteers or whatever. Some may just make or collect donations. That’s great too. That’s what makes Out4Immigration a community – shared grassroots organizing and volunteering and success. Sometimes something too good to pass up happens, too. This was one of those times. But first, a bit of history…

Karin and I found out about O4I several years ago when I went to a town hall meeting on immigration in San Jose. Rep. Mike Honda and Rep. Luis Gutierrez headed it up. It was at a Catholic Church. I had recently shared my story with Mike, my Congressional Representative, and he had learned more about the issue facing same-sex binational couples. I was prepared to say something at the town hall, based on what we thought would happen that night. When we got to the church hall, two things happened that made me work harder to solve my problem. First, we were told that nothing about gays and lesbians could be shared at the hall that night. Ouch! And second, two guys came in wearing t-shirts that I thought were the coolest things I had ever seen. Turned out to be Amos and Mickey Lim, two of the founders of O4I. I asked them where I could get a shirt and I met O4I that night.

Get your t-shirt here!

Fast forward to 2013 and four more years of working to get a green card for my wife and get this issue solved for all of us. Where am I? In a high school gymnasium in Las Vegas, Nevada. Why? I’ve been invited by the White House to be at the President’s speech on CIR. Invited by the White House! At first, I told them we could not afford to come. But then we were urged to go by friends in the cause, Love Exiles Foundation, and then Karin got really excited and took money out of savings. In less than 24 hours of hearing about it, we were on the plane. Wow!

Over the years, I have shared on my blog how it feels to document your life while you live it. For any same-sex binational couple trying to get a green card, you know there are days when you are tired of everyone knowing your business, federal officials dictating your life choices, stress others don’t have, and just sheer exhaustion from the process.

Two very powerful moments happened…

We know all that. But somehow this event seemed to make that all go away for a bit. We felt empowered and hopeful. We clapped and cheered. But we also felt bad when the words we wanted to hear did not come from the President’s mouth as he stood on the podium. All was not lost or sad, though. Two very powerful moments happened and I can tell you with certainty because they happened to me and us.

Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano was to be seated behind us. As she walked in, I talked to her about our issue and shook her hand and thanked her for her efforts thus far. She said “It’s in the President’s proposal,” meaning inclusion of same-sex binational families in comprehensive immigration reform.

…we shook President Obama’s hand and reminded him we need his help. What did he say? “We won’t forget you! You’re in there!”

As the President concluded his speech, he did the rope line – shaking hands along the edge of the seating area. Since we had been given front row seats, Karin and I were at the rope line! In spite of the crush of people who surged behind us and pushed us into the barrier, we shook President Obama’s hand and reminded him we need his help. What did he say? “We won’t forget you! You’re in there!” Wow! We were both shaking his hands at the time. It was surreal – really surreal.

So we felt terrific about those two moments, along with all the day’s other wonderful bits, as Karin would say. Who came in and sat next to us? Jose Antonio Vargas, that’s who! He and I screamed and hugged like middle school girls – we love each other so and respect each other’s work so. I got my photo taken with Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis before we entered the gym. That was terrific! We met a staffer from the White House Office of Engagement, Julie, who will be getting a signed copy of my book in the mail soon. I met several elected officials and immigration organization executives who were interested in our slice of the immigration reform pie and they will be getting signed books, too.

Speaker John Perez from the California State Assembly was there and we got duck pins from him after Karin asked if he had any ducks with him. We learned of his hobby in Sacramento in 2011 when we were there as I got an award for my LGBT activism from the State Assembly.

Our young friend Omar Torres from San Jose came to the event – we got him a ticket after he contacted me. I love to see younger folks doing the work and learning the ropes so we know immigration and civil rights work will continue. Guess I feel like a mother hen, but that’s ok!

Of course being in Las Vegas, we had to have a little tourist time. We made a few bucks on a nickel machine to help pay the plane and food bills. We walked around a bit and saw interesting things.

But I blogged and talked to reporters too. It wasn’t all just play, that’s for sure. I encourage you to read the blog I wrote about the speech event before it happened. Go to: http://tornapart.findhornpress.com/?p=11345

For the blog I wrote after the speech is at this link. Go to http://tornapart.findhornpress.com/?p=11361

The complete immigration reform proposal from President Obama, which includes same-sex binational couples/families is in this blog, Go to: http://tornapart.findhornpress.com/?p=11408

We were thrilled to get this picture from our family in the UK who saw us this close to the President on their TV!

If you want to follow my adventures trying to get the U.S. government to recognize my marriage, go to: http://tornapart.findhornpress.com

You can see the Torn Apart: United by Love, Divided by Law Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Torn-Apart-United-by-Love-Divided-by-Law/116343758442046?ref=hl

You can see the Torn Apart: United by Love, Divided by Law Portrait Project Facebook page at

https://www.facebook.com/unitedbylovedividedbylaw?ref=hl

You can also follow me on twitter @tornapartbook

My favorite photo of our trip to Vegas? My wife Karin and a couple of showgirls!

Judy Rickard is the author of Torn Apart: United by Love, Divided by Law, a book which documents the lives of more than 20 same-sex binational couples affected by exclusion of equal immigration rights for gay and lesbian Americans in realtionships with foreign nationals. Judy generously donates royalties from the book’s sales to three groups working with same-sex binationals – Out4Immigration, Love Exiles and Immigration Equality. The phrase “United by Love, Divided by Law” was coined by Out4Immigration. Judy uses the phrase as a subtitle to her book with our permission. If you have a project you would like to launch using the phrase, or to volunteer with Out4Immigration, contact us at [email protected]

out4immigration.blogspot.com

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Texas man separated from husband over holidays by U.S. Law

Married But Separated – Art and Stuart

I am a music teacher in San Antonio, Texas, and have spent much of my
life developing a mastery of the piano, the organ, and the voice.  I
also love computers and online social networks, which is where I
ultimately met my [now] husband, Stuart Metcalfe(-LeSieur).

Three years ago, I found Facebook — and thus a limitless opportunity
to meet all sorts of people from all over the world. I was just coming
out as a gay man and found the freedom of Facebook to be an incredibly
powerful way to explore my emerging identity. As I waded through new
Facebook friends, one in particular caught my attention — Stuart. I
watched a video he had posted to Facebook — complete with charming
British accent, which I immediately recognized after having been
stationed in the United Kingdom while in the military. He was putting
himself down for how he looked on camera, and I wrote back to affirm how
great the video was — beginning an ongoing conversation of texts,
chats, emails, and eventually Skype.

The first time we Skyped, I was so nervous and flustered that the
only thing I could manage to get out was, “Hi! I like Monty Python!”
Stuart was patient with me, suggesting that I might want to check out
some more updated forms of British humor — and thus we began a
friendship based in humor and deep conversations about nearly everything
under the sun. As I went through a painful divorce that summer, Stuart
was one of my biggest emotional supports — and my family soon welcomed
him into the fold through Skype sessions of their own.

We continued to navigate our emerging relationship and tried to
cobble together the money to see and talk with one another across the
distance. I had never thought about the lengths that binational same-sex
couples go to in order to be with one another, and the stress that adds
to new — and even seasoned — relationships. We finally uttered the “L”
word to one another — declaring our love even as Stuart was traveling in
Egypt and I was in South Texas. When Stuart visited me in San Antonio
soon thereafter, I dropped to one knee and asked him to marry me. He
said yes, and we spent the next 19 months trying to figure out how to
navigate the process of getting married in the United States and
building a life here with my children.

My parents gave their blessing whole-heartedly and we married in my
hometown in Massachusetts by a long-time friend of the family. Stuart
can only visit the U.S. twice a year for about three weeks at a time,
and we have no mechanism for him to move here permanently as long as the
Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is in place. His visits here require
massive overtime work from him in order to afford each trip and to build
up vacation days to spend with me. Those visits are met with great
anticipation but, even with the joy of his arrival, there is always a
looming sadness that the clock is ticking until his departure. Each time
I drop him off at the airport, it’s like having my entire being ripped
out of my body. Losing my spouse for such long periods of time tears me
apart spiritually and emotionally — our home runs so beautifully when
our children have two loving fathers physically at home, but I become
overwhelmed when I return again to being a single father.

Despite being legally married in the state of Massachusetts, we
cannot apply for a spousal visa so that Stuart and I can build a life
together here in the United States. No marriage should have to endure
this kind of stress and separation simply because of a discriminatory
law. We’re simply asking for a chance to be together and to share the
same civil rights that our friends, neighbors, and family enjoy.
Holidays are especially difficult — it’s hard to decorate the house or
enjoy the season when I’m longing for the day I can wake up early on a
holiday morning to share a cup of coffee with my husband. Until the day
that we truly see equal protection under the law for all, I’m left
holding that cold cup of coffee alone — longing for the warm and loving
home that my husband and I deserve.

out4immigration.blogspot.com

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Same-Sex Couples Struggle to Stay Together Despite U.S. Laws

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012   Share on Facebook   Share on Twitter


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Media Contact: Heather Cronk, [email protected], 202-505-5217

Amos Lim, [email protected], 347-Out-4Imm

Couple Divided by U.S. Law Call on Elected Officials to Help Make the Holidays Happier
As Congress Begins to Navigate Immigration Reform, Same-Sex Couples Call for Leadership and Solutions

SACRAMENTO, CA — As Americans across the country prepare Thanksgiving
dishes and celebrate the holiday with family, some Americans are forced
to observe the holiday alone — separated from their loved ones by U.S.
law. Gina, an American citizen, and Katie, a citizen of the United
Kingdom, are just one example of a couple struggling to stay together
despite an unfair and unjust combination of U.S. marriage and
immigration laws.

For over 36,000 binational same-sex couples, holidays are times of
sadness and loneliness, as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender
(LGBT) Americans are prohibited from sponsoring their same-sex partner
for immigration purposes by the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Despite
the White House’s refusal to defend the law in court, Congressional
Republicans have spent $1.5 million defending the law in 14 pending
cases — hitting the spending limit set forth with the approval of the
Committee on House Administration (link here: http://www.advocate.com/politics/marriage-equality/2012/10/17/boehners-doma-defense-hits-15-million-limit).

This Thanksgiving holiday, GetEQUAL and Out4Immigration are
publishing the stories of just a handful of couples directly impacted by
this discriminatory law, and who could be immediately helped by passing
an LGBT-inclusive comprehensive immigration reform bill. Recently, both
House/Senate Republicans and House/Senate Democrats have talked about
introducing a comprehensive immigration reform bill in the new
Congressional session — and tens of thousands of couples’ lives hang in
the balance as those negotiations begin.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, one of the Senators representing Gina, has
repeatedly rebuffed requests from binational same-sex couples to
co-sponsor a piece of legislation called the Uniting American Families
Act (UAFA), which would allow for these couples to keep their families
together even in light of DOMA. As the 112th Congress draws to a close
and the 113th Congress begins in January, binational same-sex couples
like Gina and Katie are again calling on Senator Feinstein to publicly
indicate her support for a legislative remedy for these couples.

As the holiday season approaches, GetEQUAL and Out4Immigration are
asking Congressional leaders to include LGBT families in all
conversations about comprehensive immigration reform, desperately needed
by thousands of American citizens living separated, exiled, or in the
shadows in order to be with the person they love. Below is the story of
Gina and Katie, a couple united by love but divided by law:

Cats Over Couples – Gina and Katie

Over five years ago, Katie
and I met through mutual friends. The connection was immediate, and we
spent the next week learning everything we could about one another until
she had to return back home to the United Kingdom. As I sat in my house
in Sacramento, I felt a deep sense of devastation – it was impossible
to comprehend that I might have met the love of my life, only to be kept
apart by discriminatory laws. Neither of us had ever thought about – or
even heard of – the unjust laws that binational same-sex couples face
each day. But as we remained in contact with one another and as our
relationship developed, it became crystal clear what hurdles couples
face simply to be with the person they love.

Over the past five years, Katie and I have had more than our fair
share of struggles. The lengths we’ve gone to in order to be together
have been financially, mentally, and physically burdensome – and it’s
often a mystery to our friends how we have managed to stay together when
we’re only able to see each other a few times a year. We maintain that
we will not let the law destroy our love – and we’ll do whatever we have
to do in order to stand together.

Across the years, we’ve faced unemployment, depression, accidents,
and other trauma – similar to other couples, but with the added stress
of not being able to face those challenges together and to lean on one
another.

Last year, we had finally had enough and decided that it was time for
me to live in the UK on a visitor’s visa. I had never overstayed my
welcome in the UK before and knew that our time together would be too
short, but it was our only option. I quit my job, packed up my
belongings, and prepared our two cats for the long travel abroad. Once I
arrived in the UK, I was immediately stopped. After a series of very
personal questions, I was told that I was too old to be traveling for
any substantial length of time, and that I should be married with a
house and children at home in America. Over the course of the next 12
hours, I was held in two different detention centers, my belongings were
searched thoroughly, and my personal journal was read by multiple
officials – simply because of who I love. I was refused entry to the
country in order to see my spouse – though our two cats were welcomed in
with no trouble.

We have tried everything possible to legally be together – a (denied)
visa application in the UK, a short-term student visa application in
the U.S., and everything else we can think of. Katie and I will never
stop fighting for the justice and we and so many other binational
same-sex couples deserve. We believe that, by sharing our story, more
people will understand the hurdles we face – and the very clear
solutions to those hurdles. So many couples like us live in fear and are
forced to stay in the shadows – but we believe it is our responsibility
to speak up for those who have not yet found their voice.

How many more holidays must we go through apart? Will we have to
celebrate our ten-year anniversary over the phone, as we celebrated our
five-year anniversary? There is no reason for the United States to
maintain these unjust laws other than bigotry, pure and simple. But we,
as Americans, can choose to stand up and tell the government that we
will no longer endure the pain and suffering being inflicted upon
American citizens. It is time for comprehensive immigration reform that
includes LGBT families so that we can truly be the land of the free.

###

GetEQUAL is a national civil rights organization fighting for the
full legal equality of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender
Americans. Emphasizing direct action and people power, the mission of
GetEQUAL is to empower the LGBT community and its allies to take action
to demand full legal and social equality, and to hold accountable those
who stand in the way. For more information on GetEQUAL, please visit:
http://www.getequal.org. You can follow GetEQUAL on Twitter at
http://www.twitter.com/getequal, on Facebook at
http://www.facebook.com/GetEQUAL, or on YouTube at
http://www.youtube.com/getequal.


Out4Immigration is a volunteer grassroots organization that
addresses the widespread discriminatory impact of U.S. immigration laws
on the lives of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and HIV+ people and
their families through education, outreach, advocacy and the maintenance
of a resource and support network. You can find more about
Out4Immigration online at www.out4immigration.org, on Facebook at
www.facebook.com/out4immigration, on Twitter at
www.twitter.com/out4immigration, or on Tumblr at
www.unitedbylovedividedbylaw.tumblr.com.

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Out4Immigration Needs Couples to Speak Up Today.

O4IBannerLogo 2

United by Love Divided by LawIf you are in a same-sex binational relationship – or know someone who is, we ask you to take a few minutes and read this very important “Call to Action.” Now that the 2012 election is over, and the results were very favorable to us, we must act quickly – and strategically.


Out4Immigration has always advocated a multi-pronged approach to getting our issues
resolved. We have pushed for passage of an Inclusive Comprehensive
Immigration Reform, supported the passage of the Uniting American
Families Act, the Reuniting Families Act, the repeal of DOMA (Respect
for Marriage Act) and supported the removal of the one-year filing
deadline for asylum seekers. And most recently, we pushed for an
abeyance policy from the Obama administration with regards to green card
applications and making sure that LGBT families are included in ICE’’s
Deportation Guidelines (the so-called Morton Memo which was released in
June 2011). These recently revised guidelines will now stop the
deportation of partners/spouses of same-sex binational couples where the
partner/spouse is without lawful status and in removal proceedings.


Our
all-volunteer group did this through education, raising awareness,
meeting legislators, forming coalitions with allies in the LGBT and
immigration communities and circulating petitions on change.org.


Our last petition on change.org
“LGBT Binational Couples Must Be Included in ICE Deportation
Guidelines”, received about 2,000 signatures.
One of our volunteers, Amos Lim, had the opportunity to
deliver this, together with stories from same-sex binational couples and
photos from our United by Love, Divided by Law Tumblr blog to the White House last July.


The petition signatures, the stories and the photos, together with the letter sent by Democratic House members urging for LGBT inclusion in the ICE Deportation Guidelines, helped push the Obama administration to finally officially include us in DHS” deportation guidelines.


Now
that the election is over and President Obama has been re-elected to a
second term, the landscape for moving our issue forward seems even more
positive. 


We will know by the first week of December if SCOTUS (Supreme Court of the United States) will hear all or any of the DOMA cases. This
means that by June 28, 2013, we will know if DOMA is finally ruled
unconstitutional and legally married same-sex couples will get federal
marriage rights, all 1138 of them (including, of course, the ability of
U.S. citizen to sponsor their foreign spouse for a green card).


In
the week since the election, we have also seen both Democrat and
Republican leaders coming out vocally in support of Comprehensive
Immigration Reform. 
 

President
Obama himself said during his Victory Speech and a follow-up press
conference that he wants immigration reform in the United States.


It
seems from all indications that a Comprehensive Immigration Reform
(CIR) bill will be introduced in January when the new Congress convenes.


So, today, more important than ever, we need to continue the push to ensure that:

  1. We have an inclusive (LGBT-positive) comprehensive immigration reform bill introduced in Congress.
  2. The LGBT community does not “get thrown under the bus” or negotiated away when CIR comes up for a vote in Congress.
  3. We demand that the Obama
    administration fully adjudicate all green card cases filed by same-sex
    married couples including full fact-finding, conducting interviews to
    determine the bona fides of the marital relationships, either by USCIS
    (in the U.S.) or by Consular officials abroad, and then hold a final
    decision on abeyance until the Supreme Court has ruled on the
    constitutionality of DOMA.
  4. We urge the Obama administration
    to open up the humanitarian parole process to partners/spouses of
    lesbian and gay Americans, to bring our fellow binational couples back
    from forced exile and to end the separation of binational couples and
    LGBT families until DOMA has been resolved by the Supreme Court.

To do this, we will be
working with other grassroots organization like GetEQUAL and various
LGBT/Immigration organizations to create and raise awareness about this
issue. We need to make this a moral issue that Congress needs to fix
immediately through legislation. We need to make Congress understand
that they cannot push this aside.


GetEQUAL
and the DREAMers have waged a very successful campaign of speaking out,
telling their stories and not taking NO for an answer!
We believe that
we can do something similar to their campaign so that we cannot be
ignored anymore!


However, to do that, we will need couples to speak up and tell their stories to the media.
Therefore,
we are putting out a call to couples who have suffered under DOMA to
come forward and speak up. We can work with you to fine-tune your
message as you tell your story.  


Please let us know by completing this form (http://bit.ly/O4ICountMeIn). Submit the form and we will get in touch with you very soon. 


Our
time is NOW! Stand up and speak out. Many believe we are in the final
phases of ending the terrible discrimination we have faced as same-sex
binational couples due to unfair immigration laws and DOMA. Join us and
be a part of the change.


out4immigration.blogspot.com