Support Families like Mine: End Inequality in Immigration Policy
I’m one of the lucky ones – lucky because I’ve had the good fortune to share the past ten years of my life with the person I love, despite the fact he’s a Mexican citizen, and I’m an American citizen. I’m lucky because, in 2001 when we met, I had the resources, ability, and the option to move to Mexico and establish a business and a life with Luis. I’m lucky because Luis and I built a rich and rewarding life together. We enjoy the love and support of both our
families, we have a wonderful circle of friends, and we’ve been able to give back to our Mexican community in ways that have been incredibly satisfying.
Unfortunately, the past two years have shown us just how fragile that luck has been. My business, a small resort hotel catering to LGBT vacationers to Puerto Vallarta, has suffered greatly since the U.S. economy took its nosedive in late 2008. In 2009, Mexico was the epicenter of the H1N1 flu scare – it nearly shut down the tourism industry for a couple of months. And mounting concerns over the safety and security of travel to Mexico due to drug cartel violence has further decimated the tourism industry and my once-thriving business, despite the fact that the violence is enormously hyped by U.S. media and is mostly localized in a few cities far from Puerto Vallarta. Times are hard.
The economic realities of a struggling business in Mexico have compelled me to return to the US in search of work that will support us. My options in Mexico are limited by immigration laws there regarding employment of foreigners. Luis, of course, cannot join me, despite the fact that we’ve been legally married in the U.S. since 2007. U.S. immigration law, thanks to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), does not recognize our union or our relationship.
I want desperately to be with Luis, and he wants to be with me. But we now spend months at a time with only Skype and international telephone calls to maintain our loving relationship. We’re missing out on so much of each others’ lives. I worry that such long periods apart will eventually strain our relationship. Long-distance relationships are not easy, and when we add to that the financial stress we’re dealing with now, my concern is understandable. Luis constantly reassures me that we’ll be fine, that we’ll get through this, but I worry, have nightmares, and lose sleep nonetheless.
At least I know that our situation is not unique. There are at least 36,000 same-sex binational couples in which one partner is a U.S. citizen and the other is foreign. Many of those couples would very much like to live together as a family in the U.S. And while U.S. immigration policy is supposedly based on family unification, my family and the families of 36,000 other Americans are unable to avail ourselves of the family unification rules that opposite-sex couples enjoy.
It always surprises me when I bring up this issue with my LGBT friends in the U.S., and they have never considered this unfair situation we, the 36,000, face. We are forced to choose between leaving the U.S. in order to be with the person we love, or living apart and trying to build a life together when thousands of miles separate us. And sometimes, personal circumstances like those that I now face leave us no choice. I cannot meet my responsibility to support my family in Mexico, and my family, Luis, cannot come to live with me in the U.S.
If Luis was a woman and my legal spouse, we could process the standard I-130 visa application and within a few months, be together. I-130 is the form that allows a U.S. citizen to sponsor a spouse for permanent residency and eventual citizenship.
The crux of the problem is this: Marriage laws in the U.S. are at the state level, while immigration laws (as well as tax law, Social Security law, and hundreds of other laws) that involve marriage, are federal laws. As long as DOMA prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages like ours, Luis and I, along with the other 36,000, are excluded from the rights that most American citizens would enjoy if it so happened that they fell in love with someone who from another country.
So, we have two options, neither of which looks very promising in the near-term. We can wait and hope that DOMA is either repealed or found unconstitutional at the Supreme Court level. Or, option two; we can hope for passage of immigration legislation that will bypass DOMA and allow immigration authorities to recognize Luis and me as “permanent partners,” and thus grant Luis a residency visa.
The Republican-controlled House is working to ensure that DOMA remains the law of the land. House Leaders have taken up the legal defense of the law after the Obama administration announced they would no longer defend the law on constitutional grounds. Legislative repeal of DOMA, absent a major political shift in the House and Senate, is even less likely than a favorable ruling from the conservative-dominated Supreme Court. I don’t have much confidence that we’ll see the end of DOMA any time soon.
The other option, changes to immigration law that would allow for recognition of our relationship, seems an equally distant dream, despite that there are current proposals in congress that would achieve this. The Uniting American Families Act (H.R. 1537) (UAFA), currently with 124 cosponsors in the House, would add three words to existing US immigration law – “or permanent partner” – wherever the word spouse appears. The Reuniting Families Act (H.R. 1796), currently with 78 House cosponsors, and the Uniting American Families Act (S. 821) with 22 Senate cosponsors, both include the UAFA language while being broader immigration reform bills. Unfortunately, none of these proposals will be voted on in the 112th Congress.
And so, we wait. We endure. We advocate for change (although sometimes, it seems we’re howling at the wind). Attitudes are changing across America, with some polls now showing small majorities favoring the right of same-sex couples to marry. But there are still large numbers of Americans who vehemently oppose my demand for equal treatment under law. Our political and judicial system changes slowly, incrementally. LGB (but not T) Americans now have the right and responsibility as citizens to serve openly in the military, and that’s a step forward. How much longer do Luis and I have to wait in order to be recognized, and be together in my country?
Help Luis and me to resume our lives together by calling your Representative and ask him/her to sign on as a cosponsor of H.R. 1537 and H.R. 1796. Call your Senators and ask them to cosponsor S. 821. If they’ve already signed on, let them know you appreciate their support. The Capitol switchboard number is (202)224-3121. Alternatively, you can write to your elected representatives. Here’s a website that provides excellent guidelines for communicating with members of congress: http://www.congress.org/congressorg/issues/basics/
Do it today. Families are being torn apart every day that this situation continues. Thank you!
Crist and Luis Tello