By Melanie Nathan, Dec 24th, 2009 – Part 2 : UAFA Now or 1,666 years of binational Stories
Story # 2, In this my second post in the series: ”UAFA or 1,666 years of binational stories,” my column presents in the form of my letter to President Obama, below. It also reveals my own less told binational story, the one that prompted my advocacy and writing on the plight of bi-national couples.
Dear Mr. President,
My family of four, including my two young daughters, aged 4 and 12 years, wish You, the First Lady and the First Daughters a very Happy Holiday and New Year. Not to forget Maya Lasso Absa to Bo, First Dog… best wishes.
With these wishes, I would be remiss to ignore this opportunity to alert you, with respect Mr. President, to the other families, less fortunate than mine, the same-sex families, who are unable to spend this Holiday Season together.
During January of 2002, I went into an online chat room for the first time ever and developed a friendship with a woman from Israel. Coincidentally she was soon to arrive in the USA to study at a University in Texas. I invited her to stop in California, en route, so we could meet and soon I realized that this was the person with whom I wanted to spend the rest of my life.
Our relationship flourished while Dor was studying in Texas and soon she transferred to a college near my home in Northern California; and so we moved in together and married as soon as it was legal for us to do so. At the time, my daughter, HC, from my previous relationship was five years of age. Dor and HC developed a close relationship and they could not have loved each other more.
We were able to change Dor’s student visa to a very limited R1 visa. Notwithstanding the fact that California recognized our domestic partnership and subsequent marriage, I the US citizen could not sponsor Dor in the same way as a different gender couple could.
Dorit taught Jewish religious studies, Hebrew and Bible at a local congregation and was qualified for the R1 Visa. We were luckier than many others in the same-sex binational community because we had found a way, albeit expensive and fraught with difficulties. With Dor the last in her family of Holocaust survivors, and biological clock ticking, we decided to extend our family and to inseminate so that Dor would carry a baby for us. The birth of Refael was one of the most exhilirating moments in our lives, with HC, the big sister ecstatic at the arrival of her new baby sister.
Our lives continued; and we were a tight family, notwithstanding our constant fear that we would have to part ways if Dor’s Visa did not lead to her intended immigration within the time constraints of the R1 termination date. The termination date came and we advocated crazily for the renewal by Congress of the R1. With mere days and then hours to the sunset of the law, and Dor’s process hanging severely in the balance, Congress did extend the Visa, setting yet another sunset date for March 06, 2009.
Dor’s lawyer informed us that our chances of success were remote as the timing was still not in our favor, as well as other aspects of the statute and rules that were so onerous and arbitrary on the part of DHS. We were given low odds and another huge legal bill and a decision to make – should we continue on this Visa path? The choices were dim; in fact there were no feasible choices. I could not face the Sophie’s choice that had been haunting me for so many years.
How could I leave my then 11 year old (due to shared custody agreement with me ex) and go with Dor and the baby to Israel? How could I say goodbye to the love of my life-my spouse, and my then three year old Refael. How could I split the sisters? I went to see my member of Congress and there was nothing that could be done for our situation. As an American Citizen and with both children American citizens there was no law to prevent the high probability of Dor having to leave the USA. I had also determined that I would never prevent Dor from taking our baby with her; the attachment and bond between them would be forcibly broken and my baby would suffer irreparable harm. There were no choices, only extreme denial.
So we paid and prayed… and then before the final impending sunset date, DHS showed up at our Congregation, with three official investigators to check that Dorit’s basis for her Visa to Immigrate was legitimate; and of course it was. They approved her application and we were able to submit the finalizing Petition.
With 7 days to the sunset of the R1 process, we received a letter stating that the R1 Visa Law was going to sunset and this time there would be no renewal by Congress. This would not give enough time to process the final piece of Dor’s approved application. Again I spun into denial determined to fight and not willing to think of my ‘Sophie’s choice.’ There was no plan B.
It was then that I went to Senator Feinstein for help and with mere hours to the sunset of the law, Dor’s file was given a priority position and viewed just before the 11thhour. Dor was approved and received her green card about two weeks later. This four year hell cost us a great deal, emotionally stressful and financially debilitating.
I calculated how much more it had cost us compared to that of a straight couple who could simply Petition because of their recognized marriage. I took into account legal fees, non-resident student fees, work limitation losses and Visa fees and renewals: A whopping total of $71,600 for us (over a six year period) compared to $1,500 for a straight couple over a six month period.
It was the spread of our good news that led to my introduction to Shirley Tan and Jay Mercado and my advocacy for them and other binationals has helmed my 2009 year.
Mr. President, with great respect, I am mentioning this during the holiday season because this time for many is fraught with sadness, fear and pain. Exiled Americans, who are with their spouses, cannot come home to spend Xmas with extended families and if they do, they have to leave spouses abroad. Tens of thousands of same sex couples are unable to spend these holidays together because they are stuck in different countries. These families cannot wait any longer. Our binational spouses and partners are being turned away at US airports, even as I write these words, at the arbitrary instance of an ICE officer.
We cannot wait any longer and this President Obama is what we can do:
1. Ask Congress to formulate a special interim Visa for Same-sex Spouses, Domestic Partners, Civil Union Partners, for entry into the USA, and for the ability to remain and work in the USA – possibly subject to renewal and/or- with a path to immigration. This can be done in a similar manner to the R1 Visa Process. It should however be less complicated and could be set for termination when UAFA or similar legislation is passed, or until DOMA is repealed.
2. The burden of proof could be similar to a marriage – where, inter alia, the following is required:
a. Proof of certification of marriage, Domestic Partnership, Civil Union contract – from any jurisdiction, anywhere in the world, proving a contractual nexus between the spouses; and also an Affidavit of suport from American Spouse;
b. The same two year conditional residency as spouses have – where the parties attend an interview where they prove that they have been living together in relationship, to back up the contract in the exact same way as straight people have to do;
c. Anyone who has a ten year ban – who was in a Same sex relationship at the time – ought to have their case reviewed to negate the ban and criteria for this should be established;
d. Same sex couples ought to have a process to convert Visas to this Visa status, regardless of waivers they may have signed.
(I have written a more detailed drafty of legislation for such a VISA and its available to anyone interested.) UPDATED; SIGN PETITION
I believe if this was done in the form of a special visa category and did not alter the Immigration and Naturalization Act in any way, it could perhaps work its way through the system quickly and differently. The way it is written will not conflict in any way with DOMA and its tacit restrictions on the Immigration and Naturalization Act.
The legitimacy would rest on the fact that de facto relationships and families exist, a simple fact of life; and that because they are specifically ousted by law, with their civil right to live together impeded, they should be allowed a special visa status, until such time as the law changes to include them, so that they no longer need to be considered a special class for special rights. I say the argument here is to embrace an agenda of special rights, as an interim necessity, and to counter the argument against it by admitting it to be just what it would be which is special rights!
For as long as DOMA exists LGBT relationships are automatically a special class, simply because one cannot deny the factual existence, the contractual commitment and the ethical obligations these families have assumed.
Now while none of us want special treatment and would much rather have equal treatment, I guarantee that 95% of binational couples who are currently in jeopardy or suffering hardship by virtue of their non- status, would agree to a moratorium or interim visa so that they can live their lives in peace, in their own country and with whom they wish, as a matter of immediacy.
This would in no way derogate from the work that needs to be done to amend this injustice in the long term. All it would do is stop subjecting LGBT couples to immediate human rights abuses engendered by the lack of equality with regard to visas and immigration.
Regardless of my plea for binationals and certainly not to negate the urgency, what we need Sir, for the long term, is your leadership to pursue what you promised and that is the passage of repeal legislation for DOMA.
Perhaps pursuing Congressman Jerrold Nadler’s “Respect for Marriage Act” ought to be the priority of all LGBT movements, organizations and leaders, above and beyond DADT, ENDA, UAFA, etc. It is my contention that the pivotal legislation detrimentally impacting the LGBT community is the insidious one that seeks to deny our de facto relationships, which to my way of thinking denies us the right to be gay. If we are denied the validity of our relationships, it is tantamount to an overt endorsment that we ought not have our relationships – what could be worse?
If we cannot sponsor our spouses to be with us in our country, causing banishment from the USA, then we are thwarting those lesbian and gay relationships; – Silence by this Administration and the continued persecution of gays and lesbians, profiled and deported at the airports by suspicious ICE officers, is the same as overtly stating that exiling our gays and lesbians is acceptable. The relationships are the essence of who we are and the absolute benchmark for acceptability, beyond mere tolerance.
This situation, Mr. President, is hardly known by mainstream America and I imagine once revealed more openly, through columns such as mine, where I am publishing this letter, the average American may feel compassion or perhaps even some guilt. The fact that America can exile its own is simply unconscionable. As a community we are hurt and sickened by the perception that a Democratic majority and President cannot rescue us from the throat hold of the religious right and from States that vote away our rights.
So at this holiday time, when families are gathering together in happiness and joy, please find a way to remember those Americans. their beloved and children who, because of DOMA, cannot share these days- and all our community can do at this time is beg and pray for something extraordinary, perhaps a miracle. Our exiles and exiles-to-be cannot wait for the impending Immigration Reform battle or for UAFA to garnish more co-sponsors. Our binationals do not want to be the “Public Option” of Comprehensive Immigration Reform.
Our binationals cannot wait to hold the hand of a dying parent, nor be on foreign turf if they themselves are ailing, nor be subjected to losing homes, jobs, and businesses, nor the separation of siblings. Our binationals are running out of money to support the long distance relationships.
By XMAS time next year, it is my Holiday prayer that our binationals will all reunite through whatever means it takes – but here and now Mr. President we need your leadership and for you to take reach beyond business as usual in D.C. to accomplish what for us was also a “YES WE CAN.”
Thank you for reading this and in Solidarity I say,
Happy Holidays and a Miraculous New Year,
Mom of two daughters
Unable to Sponsor Spouse
Feature Picture taken by Melanie - of Dorit, HC and Refael, 2008.
PLEASE NOTE – This Letter will be re-faxed to President Obama and mailed together with all comments that readers make. I encourage one to two paragraph stories of binationals.
UPDATE; OUT OF THIS – Piece a Petition is born - The overwhelming response on my personal e-mail to this post has given me faith in the fight. So I have taken a vision of mine, which many may think silly and naive, and once again in defiance of protocol, in defiance of all that (those who know better say) is possible, in defiance of the experienced, and veering off the beaten track…… here is my hopeful interim remedial solution to the crime against binational Americans and their partners/spouses/children. PLEASE PARTICIPATE AND SIGN THIS experiment in grassroot power…… Lets take back the fight!! Lets wake every American conscience to the Binational Plight. We need 36,000 signatures. CLICK HERE - http://www.change.org/actions/view/special_visa_for_binational_lgbt_spouse-perma-partners