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New Breakthrough VIDEO: A Year Since Shirley Tan Gave Testimony at Senate Judiciary for UAFA

6-24-10 Melanie Nathan

Photo by K.T. Drasky

San Francisco – It has been a year since Shirley Tan gave evidence at the Senate Judiciary Committee for the hearing on Uniting American Families Act.   Although Shirley received Private Bill #867 as an introduction to Congress, she remains ‘deportable’ unless Senator Feinstein re-introduces the Private Bill each new Congress.

This is not the only compelling story- there are thousands more such stories.  I receive at least 100 emails per week from Binational couples in this reprehensible situation.

Thanks to Breakthrough and Restore Fairness this magnificent Video which was shot last year at the Home of the Tan-Mercado family is a bold statement for bi-national couples and speaks to the urgency as it presents itself, almost a year after the video was shot.

“As per family unification provisions in immigration law, American citizens are able to petition for residency for their spouses. Unlike countries like France, Germany and Canada, this does not apply to same-sex partners in the United States, so although Jay Mercado is an American citizen, she is unable to sponsor Shirley. Having come to the United States to escape a traumatic and violent familial situation in the Philippines, Shirley had applied for political asylum in 1995.”

Shirley’s lawyer had advised the couple that they should be patient while the application was being processed. News of the denial of Shirley’s application came in the form of a rude shock that disrupted the whole family.

Includes Excerpts from testimony at Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing for UAFA

At 6:30 am on a winter morning last year, Jay was getting dressed to go to work and Shirley was getting ready to take the boys to school, when the doorbell rang. On opening it they were faced with two agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) who showed them a 2002 letter ordering Shirley’s deportation (which she had never seen before). Minutes later she was handcuffed and taken away as Jay and her mother watched, frightened and helpless. Shirley was held in detention at the Sansome facility in San Francisco before being tagged with an electronic bracelet and returned to her family, awaiting deportation to the Philippines. Shirley describes her time in detention as one of the most traumatic ordeals of her life-

“My agonizing, humiliating and tragic experience started when I got in their SUV. My partner ran to the car and saw me being handcuffed and she broke down to tears… I thought it was the lowest point of my life…I was taken like a criminal… My heart was beating so hard, my whole body was shaking and I felt so nauseated with what was happening to me. (Jay Mercado)

Reporting to ICE three times a week and struggling to deal with the possibility of being separated from her wife and children, Shirley sought the support of LGBT advocates and the media to raise awareness about the case and seek justice that would prevent her family from being torn apart. As a result of this, in April 2009, California Sen. Diane Feinstien introduced a rare bill that granted Shirley a temporary reprieve from deportation, allowing her to stay in the U.S. till January 2011.

“All the while my family was first and foremost the center of everything on my mind.  How would Jay work and take care of the kids if I was not there?  Who would continue to take care of Jay’s ailing mother, the mother I had come to love, if I was not there?  Who would be there for my family if I was not there?  In an instant, my family, my American family, was being ripped away from me.  And when I did return home, I had an ankle monitoring bracelet. I went to great lengths to hide it from my children. I have a partner who is a U.S. citizen, and two beautiful children who are also U.S. citizens, but not one of them can petition for me to remain in the United States with them. Because my partner is not a man, she cannot do anything to help me. Nor can my children, who keep asking why this happened to us and what will ultimately happen to our family.”

“While the Tan-Mercado family are extremely grateful for the respite that Sen. Feinstein’s bill has provided them, they are worried about what will happen to them post-Janunary 2011. In a testimony that Shirley delivered to the United States Senate Committee, Shirley expressed her concerns for the future of her family-” (Breakthrough)

The only way for Shirley to stay in the United States with her family is if gay and lesbian couples to be able to sponsor their partners. It is important that we recognize families like the Tan-Mercado’s so that families can stay together, in Pride month and beyond.

June 28th, last year I joined Shirley and Jay and the twins at the SF Pride event where we accompanied the OUT4Immigration contingency.

On June 3rd 2009, Shirley gave testimony at Senate Judiciary Committee  at the request of Senator Patrick Leahy. Present was Sen. Chuck Schumer and Senator Specter.  Nothing has happened since that time to  further to bring Shirley nearer to the security she and her family deserves.

At the end of the Video above, hear the words of young Jorienne when he says “I cannot live without my mother…” and so the Tan Mercado’s  live with the  ‘sword of Damocles hanging over their heads.’   Although there may be some positive moves such as the flip flop of Rep Luis Gutierrez  to sign UAFA up as part of Immigration reform in his House Bill.

But in fact UAFA is an equality Bill and remedial by nature; it is more than mere immigration reform.

Sources tell us, that immigration reform is on the back burner  and  may come on the political stage only into 2011.  There is a framework but no senate bill yet. There is no guarantee that the UAFA provisions will be included in the Senate Bill or that it pass to passage.

For this and many other reasons, such as the larger immigration community rejecting gays and lesbians right to be in an immigration reform bill,  UAFA should be re-considered as a stand alone Bill, especially that so many American Citizens and their children are suffering such discriminatory hardship.

Take action now to fix our immigration system and keep families together for all immigrant families and also Speak to the equality Legislation UAFA and the DREAM act as possible Stand-together Bills.

BY Melanie Nathan

Thanks you Breakthrough for this Brilliant Video. It was a pleasure to work with you.

Breakthrough is an innovative, international human rights organization using the power of popular culture, media, and community mobilization to transform public attitudes and advance equality, justice, and dignity in India and the United States.

Two Moms Fight to Stay Together from Breakthrough on Vimeo.

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