IMMIGRATION EQUALITY: Binational couples clear winner in DOMA ruling

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Rachel B. Tiven

The full impact of the today’s DOMA ruling will become more clear over the next few weeks, months and years, but one clear immediate winner is binational couples.

For some people, the effect of the ruling will depend on whether they live in marriage equality states or not. For immigration purposes, that will not make a difference. Immigration law recognizes marriages that are valid where celebrated.

Binational couples who are legally married will be able to apply for green cards for the partner who is not a citizen. That partner will be able to remain in the country legally without returning home to renew visas every two years and will be able to get a driver’s license and work. The green card also creates a path to citizenship.

“At long last, we can now tell our families that yes, they are eligible to apply for green cards,” said Rachel B. Tiven, executive director of Immigration Equality. “Many of our families have waited years, and in some cases decades, for the green card they need to keep their families together.”

She said couples forced into exile will be able to return home and couples who are separated can be reunited.

“Today’s decision closes a discriminatory chapter in American immigration law,” Tiven said.

According to the Williams Institute, there are about 1,607 binational same-sex couples in Texas. That’s fourth-most behind New York, California and Florida. There are some 40,000 binational same-sex couples nationwide.

More coverage in Friday’s Dallas Voice with reaction from local binational couples.

—  David Taffet

Up to 20 LGBT youth served by Dallas agency could benefit from Obama’s immigration order

The rally outside the White House after Friday's announcement. (Via NGLTF)

As many as 20 LGBT young people at Youth First Texas could take advantage of a new immigration policy announced Friday by President Barack Obama, according to YFT Board Chair Chris Cognetta.

Obama announced that the U.S. will stop deporting illegal aliens who were brought to this country as children, and they will be able to obtain work permits.

Effective immediately, the new rule will apply to people who are currently under 30 years old, arrived in the U.S. before they turned 16 and have lived here for at least five years. To qualify, they must have no criminal record and have earned a high school diploma, be in school or served in the military.

The provisions are similar to those proposed in the DREAM Act that has been before Congress several times but has not passed.

The change in policy could have an even greater impact for gay and lesbian youth. That’s because in many cases, a heterosexual sibling marries a U.S. citizen and can immediately apply for a green card and begin the naturalization process. The gay or lesbian sibling cannot be sponsored by a partner.

—  David Taffet

WATCH: Gay, married Costa Rican immigrant talks to Houston TV station about his deportation case

David Gonzalez and Mario Ramirez

Last week we told you about David Gonzalez, the gay Costa Rican immigrant who’s fighting deportation and trying to remain in Texas with his husband, U.S. citizen Mario Ramirez. On Thursday, a Houston judge delayed Gonzalez’s deportation proceedings and urged the parties to resolve the matter before the next court hearing, set for Aug. 31. In the meantime, KHOU interviewed Gonzalez for a story that aired Monday night. Watch it below.

—  John Wright

What’s Brewing: Texas judge delays deportation hearing for gay, married Costa Rican immigrant

David Gonzalez and Mario Ramirez, via Stop The Deportations: The DOMA Project

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. A Houston judge on Thursday delayed a deportation hearing for a gay Costa Rican immigrant who’s fighting to stay in Texas with his husband. The judge delayed the proceeding for 35-year-old David Gonzalez until Aug. 31 based on a technicality, but also urged the two parties — Gonzalez’s attorney and U.S. immigration officials — to resolve the matter before then. Gonzalez married his husband, U.S. citizen Mario Ramirez, in California in 2008, but is unable to obtain a green card because of the Defense of Marriage Act. According to The Houston Chronicle, “The delay announced by the immigration judge Thursday means the couple will be able to celebrate the sixth anniversary of the day they met, Aug. 21, together without worrying that immigration agents will come knocking on their door.” Read more about the couple at Stop the Deportations: The DOMA Project.

2. The Obama administration has asked a federal appeals court to suspend its order from last week halting enforcement of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” In a brief filed Thursday, the U.S. Department of Justice asks the court to suspend the order by today, saying it wants to follow the timetable laid out in the DADT repeal act passed by Congress last year.

3. California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill Thursday making the state the first in the country to require schools to teach students about the contributions of LGBT people. The bill also prohibits instruction that reflects adversely on people because of their sexual orientation.

—  John Wright

Gay Costa Rican man married to U.S. citizen faces deportation hearing in Houston on Thursday

Gay Costa Rican immigrant David Gonzalez, an accountant who is fighting to stay in Texas with his husband, U.S. citizen Mario Ramirez, faces a deportation hearing Thursday morning in Houston. Gonzalez and Ramirez, who’ve been together for six years and live in the Houston suburb of Humble, were married in California in 2008. But Gonzalez has overstayed his tourist visa, and because of the Defense of Marriage Act, he cannot apply for a Green Card based on the couple’s marriage. If the judge doesn’t agree to put his deportation on hold Thursday, Gonzalez’s attorney plans an asylum claim based on the fact that he fled Costa Rica in 2000 to get away from an abusive ex-lover who is on the country’s police force. The Houston Chronicle reports:

For years, Gonzalez said, he dreaded this day, but his hopes have been buoyed by a spate of high-profile cases involving same-sex couples and by the support of Ramirez, his “soul mate.”

“I am not afraid anymore,” Gonzalez said. “I am glad this day is coming — whatever the outcome.”

The Houston case follows on the heels of several recent decisions that have — at least temporarily — spared gay and lesbians in long-term relationships with U.S. citizens from deportation. On Wednesday, a San Francisco immigration judge postponed for two years the deportation proceedings against a Venezuelan man married to a U.S. citizen.

In June, the U.S. government canceled deportation proceedings for a Venezuelan man in New Jersey married to an American man — a high-profile case that immigrant and gay advocates said signaled a major shift toward greater leniency for same-sex couples in immigration proceedings.

“Certainly the families and couples we work with are more hopeful today than really at any prior point,” said Steve Ralls, a spokesman for the national advocacy group Immigration Equality.

—  John Wright

Holder puts deportation of gay partners on hold

Josh Vandiver and Henry Velandia

Henry Velandia, a Venezuelan who is married to an American, had his deportation put on hold today by a judge in a New Jersey immigration court, according to the Associated Press. The decision in Velandia’s case came a day after U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder set aside a ruling in a similar case.

When Velandia’s visitor visa was about to expire, he applied for a green card through his employer but was denied. Although he and Josh Vandiver were legally married in Connecticut, the federal government refused to recognize their relationship under the Defense of Marriage Act.

Lavi Soloway, attorney for Velandia, told Dallas Voice in October that his client fears for his life if he has to return to Venezuela.

Soloway, who is a founder of the group Immigration Equality, says his No. 1 target is DOMA. Other activists are focused on passing the Dream Act and the Uniting American Families Act.

In the October immigration story, Dallas Voice reported that RafiQ Salleh was delayed in Singapore where he had gone to pick up the renewal of his two-year entrepreneur’s visa. He was back in Dallas by Christmas and his business survived thanks to the hard work of his partner and employees.

Dallas Voice will highlight several other immigration stories in the coming weeks. Some of the stories involve people trying to keep a same-sex spouse in the U.S. Another involves treatment by ICE that began with racial profiling but ended with brutal treatment based on sexual orientation.

—  David Taffet

What’s Brewing: Frank to introduce ENDA; UCIS puts deportation of some gay partners on hold

Rep. Barney Frank

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. Openly gay Congressman Barney Frank, D-Mass., says he plans to re-introduce the Employment Nondiscrimination Act this week. Frank acknowledges ENDA has no chance of passing the GOP-controlled House this session, but he says it can be an organizing tool, particularly with regard to the transgender issue: “This is an organizing effort. I’m going to be urging people to spend their time talking to those who have voted in the past for ENDA and are supportive of ENDA but where we’re not certain they’re still with us on the transgender issue. So, that’s what – having a bill before you makes it easier to organize people to do that.”

2. In a major breakthrough for LGBT immigration equality, some deportations involving bi-national same-sex couples have been put on hold pending the outcome of lawsuits challenging the Defense of Marriage Act, according to the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Service.

3. The Arkansas Legislature has done what the Texas Legislature could not — passing an anti-bullying bill that includes both sexual orientation and gender identity. Specific mentions of LGBT youth were removed from anti-bullying bills in Texas to facilitate their chances of passage. In Arkansas, the fully inclusive anti-bullying measure passed the Senate 34-0 and the House 68-18. It now awaits Gov. Mike Beebe’s signature. How bout it, Texas?

—  John Wright

Congressman’s office reaches out to gay couple separated by immigration law

Aurelio Tolentino, left, and his partner, Roi Whaley

On Friday, we posted this blog about Roi Whaley and his partner, Aurelio Tolentino. Just to catch you up Tolentino, a registered nurse from the Philipines, had come to the U.S. on a work visa and met Whaley in a support group for people with HIV. When he applied for his green card, the federal government learned Tolentino had HIV and, under a policy that has since been revoked by President Barack Obama, officials told Aurelio he would have to leave the country.

Tolentino applied for asylum, since he had already faced violence in his home country because of his sexual orientation and would probably face more if he went back. But that was denied. So he went to Canada to stay with his mother and applied for asylum there. That, too, was denied and he now faces the prospect of having to return to the Philipines. And at the same time, Whaley has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. He is visiting Tolentino in Canada this month, but unless something changes, it will likely be the last time the two partners are able to see each other.

Whaley, with the assistance of Immigration Equality, had asked his congressman, Democrat Gene Taylor of Bay St. Louis, Miss., for help in getting a humanitarian parole that would allow T0lentino back into the U.S. to be with Whaley in his final months. But Taylor’s office had refused.

That seems to have changed now. Steve Ralls with Immigration Equality called me this morning to let me know that after we posted the earlier blog about the couple’s plight, Taylor’s office has reached out to Whaley to try and help.

“We heard from Taylor’s office today (Tuesday, Sept. 7). He has reached out to Roi and said they want to work with him to see how they can best help him,” Ralls said. “We hope that [Taylor] will work with Roi’s attorney here at Immigration Equality on finding a way for Aurelio to be here in this country with Roi. It is a very positive step forward.”

Of course, if Whaley and Tolentino had been able to be legally married, or even if the U.S. had dropped its antiquated rule on allowing HIV-positive immigrants and visitors into the country earlier, this wouldn’t be such a problem. But for now, let’s just hope that Taylor and Immigration Equality can find a way for these two people who love each other to be together when they need each other most.

—  admin

Gay couple separated by immigration law as one fights cancer; congressman won’t help

Aurelio Tolentino, left, and his partner, Roi Whaley

Roi Whaley and Aurelio Tolentino, both HIV-positive, met in 2004 through a support group for people living with AIDS. Roi is a native of Gulfport, Miss., and Tolentino, a registered nurse, had come to the U.S. on a work visa from his home in the Philipines.

Then, during the process of applying for his green card, authorities discovered Tolentino’s HIV-positive status, and immigration officials informed him he would have to leave the country. That was back in 2006, before President Barack Obama rescinded the policy prohibiting HIV-positive people from entering the U.S., either as immigrants or tourists.

Tolentino wasn’t too keen on going back to the Philipines. For one thing, it would mean leaving his partner, Whaley. On top of that, he had already been attacked and beaten for being gay in his home country, and if he were to return, it would likely happen again.

So Tolentino applied for asylum in the U.S. That application was denied because he had been in this country already for more than a year, and U.S. policy says anyone seeking asylum must apply within one year of entering the country.

Left with no other option, Tolention moved to Canada to live with his mother, who already has legal status as a permanent resident. He applied for asylum there and, once again, was denied. Now he may have no other choice than to return to the Philipines where he would possibly face harassment, violence and even death.

To make matters, Whaley was recently diagnosed with terminal cancer. He left for Seattle on Friday, Sept. 3, for a visit to his oncologist, after which he planned to fly on to Canada to spend the month of September with Tolentino and his mother. It will likely be the last time the partners see each other, since Tolentino faces deportation to the Phillipines, and Whaley’s deteriorating health rules out the possibility of him visiting Tolentino there.

There is one hope: a plea to the Department of Homeland Security to grant Tolentino a humanitarian parole that would allow him to return to the U.S temporarily to be with his dying partner. But that’s not likely to happen, either, especially without intervention from Whaley’s congressman, Rep. Gene Taylor, a Democrat from Bay St. Louis, Miss.

With the help of Immigration Equality, based in Washington, D.C., Whaley and Tolentino have already asked once for Taylor’s help. An aide in Taylor’s office told Whaley no, the congressman wasn’t going to intervene. And Taylor’s office has failed so far to even return calls from Immigration Equality.

But Steve Ralls, director of communications for Immigration Equality, said Friday that neither the couple nor Immigration Equality is ready to give up yet. They are asking for the public’s help in lobbying Congressman Taylor to intervene and get Homeland Security to grant the humanitarian parole that will let Whaley spend his final days with the man he loves.

“Were Roi and Aurelio a married heterosexual couple, Roi would be eligible to apply to sponsor Aurelio for residency in the United States. Because they are a gay couple, however, that option is not open to them,” Ralls said in a press release sent out Friday. “Now, with Roi’s health deteriorating and Aurelio facing a move to the Philipines — where it would be nearly impossible for Roi to travel and be with him — the couple face impending separation. They are one of 36,000 such couples, according to an analysis of the 2000 Census data, facing this kind of situation.

“Despite having followed every immigration rule and voluntarily leaving the U.S. when immigration asked him to do so, Aurelio is now being punished under the law for following the law,” Ralls said.

If you want to help Immigration Equality fight for Roi and Aurelio, or if you are yourself part of an international same-sex couple trying to negotiate immigration law, contact the organization at 202-347-7007.

If you want to contact Congressman Taylor and encourage him to intervene on behalf of this couple, go to his website here to find addresses and phone numbers for his office in Washington, D.C., and all five of his offices in his district.

—  admin