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D.C. Intelligence vs. Grassroots Desperation = UAFA and Fate of Bi-Nationals

Tan, Melanie Nathan, CarAccording to an exclusive interview  by Matthew S. Bajko (Published 07/16/2009 in the Bay Area Reporter):

“Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-San Mateo), said she is confident that lawmakers in D.C. will pass a federal bill banning workplace discrimination against LGBT people this year.  But Speier also raised doubts about Congress’ ability to approve other legislation of importance to the LGBT community during the nearly 90-minute sit-down at her district office in downtown San Mateo Saturday, July 11. In regard to a bill that would allow LGBT Americans to remain in the country with their foreign-born partners, Speier said the issue had not gained enough traction in Congress to become a priority…. ”

As my readers know I have expressed a great deal of concern with how the  Uniting American Families Act has been handled by our self-appointed-by-ommission-leadership. It  is sad, yet validating  to note the comments of Congresswoman Speier  on UAFA’s unlikely passage.    Albeit it disturbing news, I believe it can and ought to serve as a titanic wake up call to bi-nationals, supporters and the LGBT community as a whole.  It is time to fight for UAFA and it must be NOW.  The Article can be read in full at….

Congresswoman  Speier mentions that UAFA is low on the list of important and hence unlikely to see passage.   I too have heard that many members of Congress have not even heard about UAFA, the bill that will allow American Partners in same-sex relationships to Petition under the immigration law for their Permanent Partners to remain in our Country.  While Shirley Tan and Jay Mercado’s case created astonishing awareness, I agree with Representative Speier’s comment – ” In regard to a bill that would allow LGBT Americans to remain in the country with their foreign-born partners, Speier said the issue had not gained enough traction in Congress to become a priority.”

To me this is indicative of the very problem that I and many others have been concerned about and I am willing to go out on a limb to assert UAFA  has not gained traction for, inter alia,  the following reasons, and some points are cryptic:

1. Lack of involvement and utilization of grassroots groups;

2. Failure to use the stories of bi-nationals as a poignant tool, beyond mere display on websites;

3. Lack of effective leadership by Immigration Equality organizations– good leaders gather the best brains in the Country and do not make decisions without consultation, alliances, strategies and delegation.  When alliances are made, we should never lose sight of the prize by being swayed into battles that deplete our minimal resources.  Losing sight of the prize is when we minimize the fight for equality by shifting to a fight for immigration reform for those who already have the right to petition for spouses.  UAFA is an issue of Equality and not an immigration issue.  We have been manipulated to look at the issue from the perspective of the immigrant.   UAFA should be seen and advocated through the eyes of the suffering of the American partner citizen who has been denied the same rights as other Americans in permanent committed relationships having the option to marry.    Immigration is a privilege for the immigrant and inherent in the Immigration & Naturalization Act is a right for an American citizen spouse/ fiancé. Lesbian and Gay Americans are denied these rights. That is the fight and we should not be led down other paths.

I believe as do many that the Shirley Tan and Jay Mercado story hit the mark.   Their Story provided a mix of every element critical to immigration awareness and especially the LGBT and bi-national plight.   The fact that had there been equality of process by recognition by US law of same-sex permanent partnership,    the family would never have gone through the hell they did.  This exacerbation of hardship is clearly evident from Shirley’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on June 3rd this year.  I urge every reader who has yet to see the testimony to do so on you tube and to add to the already 29,000 plus who have viewed it. 

The very day after their testimony, Immigration Equality  in D.C. effectively shifted the focus to RFA, the new legislation being introduced by Rep. Mike Honda.  Although this Bill was momentous and Shirley spoke at the initiating press-conference, I had not been fully apprised of the nature of the conference.  Regardless, as Shirley’s personal advocate I did believe her appearance was important, but I would not have agreed to it had I known what I now know and that is that the focus would shift from UAFA as an absolute, and that Immigration Equality would re-assign its resources, contrary to the expectation and consultation with a fully respresented  bi-national community itself.

This was a big mistake in my opinion.  Of course LGBT language should be included in immigration reform as a matter of course as it is the right thing to do.    However, our fight is still the equality fight and we are selling our community and those who have funded and advocated the work, short if we fail to focus on UAFA. 

Shirley and Jay agreed to represent the issue of UAFA and that is why we went to testify; and they remain committed and focused to continue to do so.  They know and understand the value of comprehensive immigration reform and the inclusion of LGBT language therein, but will not take their eye off the ball when it comes to the inequity of immigration laws against same-sex couples. I believe a great opportunity and momentum may be lost if we do not take Shirley and Jay’s advocacy to the next level in relation to UAFA – and that should be to speak to and motivate other couples to deliver and share their stories with their own congressional representatives.    I am convinced this type of direct advocacy would  impact Congress to move quickly.  They have no idea about the extent of the suffering – someone has to deliver the message.

I had a great conversation this week with a prominent D.C. insider who has much more experience in D.C. than me.  He explained his view and the reigning sentiment amongst LGBT organizations such as Immigration Equality, on the importance of  the LGBT alliance with the larger immigration community via the Mike Honda Bill, Reuniting Families Act, (HR 2709)  that seeks to incorporate UAFA.   He also conveyed, similar to Rep. Speier, that D.C. intelligence is clear that UAFA stands less chance than Comprehensive Immigration reform of passage; and that for this reason some organizations may be seen taking a new path which clearly veers from the absolute focus on UAFA. I was really appreciative of our discourse yet remain unconvinced, especially when my source admitted that we could land up being dumped,  the sacrificial lamb at the end of the road. 

However at no time to date  has the beast been unleashed, truly unleashed; and believe me there is one waiting…. If all the bi-nationals band together on a grassroots level and strategize and if more Shirley and Jays and Carla and Britta’s have the courage to show up on doorstep of congress with their reporters, cameras and bloggers in tow, and if people like me are willing to advocate for Private Bills  and in arenas that most say are impenetrable, I really believe that UAFA can move in a direction that would provide a format of a Bill that will pass. 

Congress can and will have a new attitude toward UAFA – but it is not going to happen until we empower our community to make appointments with their representatives in every district, to show up with their own stories asking for help and if they do not need help, then to show up with the stories of other constituents.  Congress will buzz if the dialogue between Rep and Constituent is prevalent and persistent.   Until this constituent push happens the D.C. insider intelligence is meaningless.  If congress has not taken the issue on after we do this, then I will succumb to the current D.C. Intelligence.

Shirley Tan’s testimony at the Senate Judiciary Committee has had almost 30,000 hits on YouTube – compared to about a couple hundred by Session’s witnesses.   I believe that speaks volumes for the clout of empowerment.

If anyone who reads this article is interested in joining the battle, providing funding, or simply chatting, please contact me directly for direction at

Melanie NathanBlogged by MELANIE NATHAN, CEO of Private Courts, Inc. Consulting, mediation & private advocacy ; motivated by injustice, I blog about family law/mediation, politics, news and LGBT equality and anything that ‘tickles my fancy.’ Otherwise blogging as O-blog-dee-o-blog-da. Websites and blogs include:;;



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21 Responses to D.C. Intelligence vs. Grassroots Desperation = UAFA and Fate of Bi-Nationals

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  5. Eric

    August 8, 2009 at 3:23 am

    Believe it or not, US Immigration Laws can be even more grotesque.
    I am son to a German mother and American father. But since I was born in 1986, before some deadline the congress set in legislation, I need to provide proof that my father was living a certain period of time in the US prior to my birth. And since there is no contact whatsoever to my father, my mother left him ’cause of domestic violence (…), I wouldn’t know how to provide these papers. Besides that, I have his certificate of birth in copy, I have his “Affidavit” in which he confirms to a US public notary that he is my father and so on. The US Embassy would not even argue that I am not a natural born american. But still I won’t get the Passport, ’cause of that beauro-crazy rule with these proofs where my father lived prior to my birth.

    You could say all right, Germany is not a miserable place to live – so what. At least these were my sentiments all my life. So far. But then I met that boy from Oklahoma. Ever since it’s different.
    I can’t live there, he can live here since a kind of civil union + immigration for LGBT spouses is possible here – but he’s not quite mastering the German language, he has a College Diploma but still isn’t eligible for alot more than cleaning buildings or frying burgers here since without speaking proper German it’s as difficult to get a job in Germany as it is in the US without speaking proper English.
    I feel bad about having him to live under his opportunities, and this being the only possibility for us to live together.
    Therefore I also agree that a larger more comprehensive immigration reform is needed. To live in the US, as a de facto natural US citizen, I don’t want to be dependent on either marrying my boyfriend or trace my “father” who abused my mother in a way that I better never meet him in my life, or else…
    There are just too many downright crazy regulations regarding to immigration.

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  7. Mike

    July 22, 2009 at 5:05 am

    - Agree with your comments that a BETTER and STRATEGIC execution is much needed. So far, all we are is a collective of websites and internet comments….and a few YouTube videos. Neither Congress nor the White Hosue has felt the Pressure to ACT on our behalf. But, WHO will LEAD us ?

  8. Mike

    July 21, 2009 at 2:40 pm

    Everyone should be calling and e-mailing their Senator and Congress-person. The best way is to ask for their Communication Director – as this person has direct contact with the politician. In addition, write an e-mail to the White House.

  9. Christopher

    July 20, 2009 at 8:29 am

    It is an immigration issue. Period.

    And the more we try to distance ourselves from other immigrants, the more xenophobic we look. Immigration is inherently unequal. And the Supreme Court has repeatedly stated that Congress is allowed to do WHATEVER IT WANTS with respect to immigration. It can set quotas, ban certain family members, set the entire policy. So spinning around thinking this is something like marriage and equal protection under the law — is a complete misunderstanding of IMMIGRATION law. That very thing that you all seem to think this is not a part of.

    Immigration effs over all kinds of American families, and until we see ourselves as part of that community and working to overturn and the injustices there,we never have our families recognized.

    Immigration Equality and other orgs also recognize that if UAFA fails — and it would likely fail — It would be a decade before it came up again. So, they put their energy behind the lifting of the HIV travel ban (which if you recall is the reason the organization started in the first place) was the smart strategy.

    Our best hope, is networking with immigrants and being included in comprehensive immigration reform. And that’s exactly what it is happening. The lifting of the HIV travel ban — the only major piece of legislation pushed by the LGBT community to have PASSED during the Bush years — put Immigration Equality on the map. And put the UAFA forward in the minds of immigration rights leadership and the LGBT legislative agenda.

    And if none of that were true, if this really wasn’t an immigration issue and we could pass the UAFA tomorrow, the UAFA in all it’s glory contradicts DOMA. And would be challenged on that grounds.

    Does it suck to be at the back of the bus, of course. Welcome to immigration in America.

    • Sei

      July 20, 2009 at 5:08 pm


      There have been several attempts to bridge the gaps between the different communities effected by immigration. Unfortunately, a number of the other groups involved have been against including legislation concerning immigration rights involving the LGBT community. It is not that we are not unaware of this. Unfortunately, not all groups are willing to include the LGBT community in this push.

    • Melanie nathan

      July 22, 2009 at 1:34 am

      Bottom line EQUALITY issue; why? Because Straight spouse can petition for the other / Gay spouse (partner) cannot! = Immigration inequality. This is vastly distinct from other horrors in the Immigration system.
      The difference can only be altered by a stand alone bill. CIR will bring much baggage as it always does – we do not need the baggage we need equality. LGBT language should be included in CIR absolutely and if it goes thru first great – but too risky to ignore UAFA by focusing resources and using our stories for CIR. CIR will include our language. Immigration Equality says that the reason we must support CIR as a priority is because the champions of UAFA may not be champions of CIR and hence if provide our support to CIR it will pass because there will be these extra votes. I want to see a spreadsheet of this analysis.

      .. Steve Ralls of Immigration Equality explained their endeavor to promote CIR using our stories. While our stories can help CIR I remain committed to UAFA as I see Bi-national immigration as an equality issue rather than an immigration issue. Immigration issues carry enormous baggage and now we are touting CIR as our only hope? I have little faith in CIR. I hope I am proved wrong. Although CIR must include LGBT language as an activist I cannot subscribe to CIR as my cause. I also do not like that RFA or CIR is touted as incorporating UAFA – it cannot because UAFA is stand alone for equality.CIR/RFA ought to be touted as including LGBT community. Unless we make this distinction we risk dropping the ball

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  11. Nate

    July 19, 2009 at 1:35 pm

    I’m affected by this issue too. I wish there was something more meaningful that I could do other than writing letters and faxing congress people. My partner and I met in college but after graduation nothing was ever the same. It was one of the most painful experiences in my life. Now he can’t come and live with me and I can’t go to his country to live with him, either way it’s illegal I need some help. I’m desperate and I don’t want to break perhaps the most important commitment of my life because of a blind government that won’t help me not because they can’t or because it costs too much, but because it affects a very small amount of people…

    • Melanie nathan

      July 19, 2009 at 7:14 pm

      I understand how you feel. This is what you should do that can take this beyond mere letters and faxes. This is the very project I am working on as we speak. Join the Forms Project. write to me personally and I will get you on if you are not already on it. In the meantime -

      Make a book.. Put pictures in it of you and him, extended family, a letter setting out your personal case and circumstances, countries etc. Then go to Kinkos and bind it. Make it look good. Does not have to be lengthy; Get family, church, work letters of support. If you do community work mention same. Include your education and resume. Letters from family. Make 4 copies. Keep 3. Take one directly to the office of your congress representative, Make an appointment – and whether friendly or not ensure you speak directly to your member of congress or a close staffer. DONOT MAIL – it must be hand delievered by you. Ask your Rep if the support UAFA and if not why not. Offer to help them get a better understanding of it. After that do the same with one of your State Senators. Less likely to get appointment but introduce yourself to a staffer and have it delieverd. If you want more guidance write Melanie Nathan at Its time to bombard. I invirte any reader to contact me. Pleaser include your phone numbers when you email me. There is more guidance I can give you!

  12. Melanie nathan

    July 19, 2009 at 11:27 am

    As the Author of this BLOG, I want to thank you for your comments. I get hundreds of letters like yours and your sentiments are shared by so many. People who are in the suffering feel completely abandoned as they have no one to help them. There is virtualy no assistance available to bi-nationals in the moments of their most dire need. I am going to do a follow up blog about the help we need on a day by day basis for binationals here and in exile – please come back and visit. :

  13. Taiga

    July 19, 2009 at 7:46 am

    I’m one of those that were forced to leave the US because my wife is not recognized for immigration. It angers me greatly that it seems most people even in the LGBT community just don’t seem to care much about our type of situation. How often do you see the big LGBT organizations talk about the UAFA? Not often at all. I know it’s a bit of unfair for me to complain because I wasn’t really tied into any community, but I did leave a job I loved, left my family and moved to a place where the only job I could get was being a telemarketer…but I’ve only been married a year while others have been waiting much much longer…

    • Melanie nathan

      July 19, 2009 at 7:15 pm

      Please read my response below and contact me I want to help.

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