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An Experiment in International Living

8:44 am in Uncategorized by Amos Lim

crossposted at Out4Immigration’s Blog

July 1987, an “Experiment in International Living,” that’s what they called the homestay trip that I took as a 16-year-old girl from the United States. I stayed with my Irish host family who immediately paired me with their 16-year-old niece, Karen. We became fast friends and found it impossible to say goodbye after my three short weeks in Ireland.

Karen and Joy when they first met, as students in Ireland in 1987. Years later they met again and have endured years of complicated visa restrictions to stay together in America.

However, life moves forward and time passes. We kept in touch through snail mail for years, finally reconnecting in person in 2001 when I returned to Ireland for a brief vacation. Karen soon followed me to the U.S. for her own holiday that same year, just after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Learning through that horrible event that life can be short, I returned to Ireland for another visit in February 2002 to explore exactly what this relationship was all about. Two full weeks of inseparable bliss; by the time my flight home landed for the layover from Dublin to Shannon I had decided I couldn’t live without her. I moved to Ireland to be with Karen in July 2002.

For a year I tried unsuccessfully to get a job in Ireland, while Karen had been laid off for months. With money running short and a job offer waiting for me in the States we decided to give it a go back in my home country. In September 2003 Karen moved to the U.S. to be with me. Yay! Or so we thought.

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Daughter of U.S. Army Veteran Calls on Congress for Help

1:00 pm in Uncategorized by Amos Lim

Binational Same-Sex Couples to Congress: “Enact LGBT-Inclusive Immigration Reform!”

The United States recently celebrated Thanksgiving and, while I am giving thanks for many things, one of my greatest sorrows during this holiday season is that my loving partner, Julie, was not with me to celebrate this greatest of American family holidays. Julie is my family – my chosen family. But our laws in the U.S. dictate that, even though we could legally marry in New York State, I am unable to sponsor her for immigration as my spouse.

It may seem rather cheesy to say we “met online” but, with technology as it is today, when a mutual friend introduced us to each other via email, we found we had a lot in common and became friends. We were email friends for two years before I met Julie in person during a business trip to Australia. And in that meeting, we confirmed that daily emails and weekly Skype visits had led us to more than simply friendship. We knew it would be hard – being a bi-national couple is hard on so many fronts – but being a same-sex couple, when neither of our countries recognized us as a couple, was a harsh reality that confronted us immediately.

I lived in Hong Kong at the time we met. When I retired in 2011, we were finally able to live together full time. We share homes in both Australia and the United States, but after a grilling at the Chicago airport earlier in 2012, we realized that Julie needed to be careful.

It’s been hard over the last several months. Both of my parents have had surgery, and I have become a primary supporter. Julie was trained as a nurse but, because we fear she might be barred at immigration, we decided that only I would come back to the U.S. to help them. My parents love and trust her, and it would benefit them for her
to be able to be here. I would also benefit from her support.

I’ll be honest. I’m one of the lucky ones. Australia changed its laws in 2009 by defining a “de facto” couple as two people (opposite- or same-gender) who have a genuine, exclusive relationship, but who are not married. Australia has granted me permanent residency as a “de facto” partner. Julie and I went through a process that would be analogous to the US process for sponsoring a spouse for immigration. We proved that our relationship was genuine through a 5-inch stack of paper detailing the mingling of our finances, our daily Skype logs, our email presence, sworn support letters from her family of origin and my business colleagues, police checks (three different countries for me!), and a medical exam. I was granted a two-year temporary residency visa that allowed me to enter and leave Australia at will. Last August, that temporary visa was replaced with a Permanent Resident visa – the equivalent of a U.S. Green Card. I can live, work and pay taxes in Australia. The Australian government recognizes me as part of a couple.

Friends have asked us, “Why don’t you just live in Australia?” We could do that. But we have lives in both countries, and we have family in both countries. We have elderly parents in both countries. We have homes in both countries. If Australia recognizes us, why can’t the United States? Why must we choose one country over the other? Why should I essentially have to live in exile to be with my partner full-time?

My U.S. citizenship is very important to me. I was not born in the U.S. I am a naturalized U.S. citizen, as my father was serving in the United States Army in Germany when I was born. Even though I was born to U.S. citizens, I am not a “natural-born” US citizen. After all that my parents went through for our family and for our country, it’s very hard to be told that my relationship, my family, is not worthy to be in the United States.

The tide is turning in the United States. We celebrated with Maine, Washington and Maryland on Election Day as same-sex marriage was approved at the ballot box. We watch with fingers crossed as the Supreme Court of the United States decides whether to rule on the constitutionality of Section 3 of DOMA on November 30th. We pray for luck every May 1st when the results of the U.S. Diversity Lottery are announced.

For six years now, Julie and I have done everything we can to be together, even though U.S. laws keep us apart. We are both retired, and are watching our available funds for airline tickets dwindle. We watch the aging of our parents, and want to spend as much time with them as we can in their elder years.

We continue to hope. We continue to believe that we are human beings, with the same rights, the same dreams and the same feelings as our straight friends and family. We wish to have the pursuit of happiness in our own backyard!

We are America. We are Australia. We are a family.

Are you a same sex binational couple? Do you have families / friends affected by this issue? Please contact us at http://bit.ly/O4ICountMeIn if you are interested in sharing your story.

Living in Exile: Tammy and Sally’s Story

11:52 am in Uncategorized by Amos Lim

Early in 2003, I was coming out of an emotionally abusive, 24-year marriage to a man. Searching for support online, I finally found a message board that not only gave me an outlet for healing after this abuse, but also an outlet to explore emerging questions I was having about my sexual orientation. I connected with one of the forum members, Sally, immediately – finding much in common in our pasts, but also finding much in common in the futures we were creating for ourselves. Forum messages progressed to emails and instant messages before we knew it and, over the course of many months, it seemed as though our friendship had grown to much more.

Sally lived in England and I lived in Texas – presenting a logistical challenge that I had never imagined. Later that year, I traveled to England to see if what we felt was a passing friendship or something deeper. We spent five days together that were heaven on earth – before reality came crashing down around us. When she drove me to the airport at the end of those five days, we weren’t sure if we would ever see each other again. I traveled back to Texas and began exploring what steps I would need to take in order for us to be together.

 

I sold my business, got a more flexible job, and we began traveling back and forth between the U.K. and the U.S. We ran up thousands of dollars in phone bills and plane tickets before deciding to get legally married in Canada with the hopes of helping our situation. I proposed to her on a trip to Washington State and we married in Toronto in July 2004. We honeymooned in Mexico and were forced to again go our separate ways, hoping that we would soon be able to be together permanently.

Oh, now naïve we were in those days! We soon learned that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) prohibits the government from recognizing our marriage or allowing me to sponsor Sally for immigration purposes. We were grasping at straws at that point, and started to find other couples online who were dealing with similar situations – a bittersweet discovery, to be sure.

We finally realized that the only way for us to live together as a married couple would be for me to move to the U.K. I was ultimately granted a visa under the Highly Skilled Migrant Programme and left behind my entire life – including my two daughters, extended family, and friends – to start over. Never in a million years did I think that, in 2012, I would still be living in England.

Eight years ago, I assumed that passage of the Uniting American Families Act would be a sure thing once people saw the injustice of the U.S. immigration system, and that we would soon be able to move back to the U.S. Though I’ve rebuilt my career in England and found a place that accepts me for who I am, the same cannot be said for my home country.

My older daughter has since married and has two beautiful boys – my two grandsons. My younger daughter has struggled financially – I’ve been forced to care for her from across an ocean, tearing my heart apart each day. We’re occasionally able to go back to the U.S. for short visits, but do so rarely because Sally is so fearful of going through immigration after being detained once before. As an American citizen, I’m embarrassed at the way my country treats me, but horrified by how my country treats my wife.

My grandchildren, now 3 ½ and 20 months, only really know me by voice and through the internet. I’m not able to be a proper grandmother to them, nor can I support the rest of my family as I wish. Two years ago, my father committed suicide – because of DOMA, I wasn’t there to support my brother as we grieved our father because my government chooses to discriminate against me.

I’m not there for birthdays, Thanksgiving dinners, Christmas morning deliveries from Santa Claus, Easter egg hunts, or Mother’s Day lunches. I’ll miss my grandsons reveling in their Thanksgiving meal today, and I won’t be able to cook them the secret family sugar cookie recipe. For yet another year, I can’t watch them open the presents I sent for them next month for Christmas. I’ve lost years of those holiday memories and I will never get them back. I have been married to my soul mate for over eight years now, and have been living in exile for seven them. I will continue to miss years of holiday celebrations unless DOMA is repealed or LGBT-inclusive comprehensive immigration reform is passed. I deserve to see my grandsons grow up – I deserve to be equal.

Are you a same sex binational couple?  Do you have families / friends affected by this issue?  Please contact us at http://bit.ly/O4ICountMeIn if you are interested in sharing your story.

Out4Immigration Needs Couples to Speak Up Today.

7:56 pm in Uncategorized by Amos Lim

If you are in a same-sex binational relationship – or know someone who is, we ask you to take a few minutes and read this very important “Call to Action.” Now that the 2012 election is over, and the results were very favorable to us, we must actquickly – and strategically.

Out4Immigration has always advocated a multi-pronged approach to getting our issues resolved. We have pushed for passage of an Inclusive Comprehensive Immigration Reform, supported the passage of the Uniting American Families Act, the Reuniting Families Act, the repeal of DOMA (Respect for Marriage Act) and supported the removal of the one-year filing deadline for asylum seekers. And most recently, we pushed for an abeyance policy from the Obama administration with regards to green card applications and making sure that LGBT families are included in ICE’s Deportation Guidelines (the so-called Morton Memo which was released in June 2011). These recently revised guidelines will now stop the deportation of partners/spouses of same-sex binational couples where the partner/spouse is without lawful status and in removal proceedings.

Our all-volunteer group did this through education, raising awareness, meeting legislators, forming coalitions with allies in the LGBT and immigration communities and circulating petitions on change.org.

Our last petition on change.org “LGBT Binational Couples Must Be Included in ICE Deportation Guidelines”, received about 2,000 signatures. One of our volunteers, Amos Lim, had the opportunity to deliver this, together with stories from same-sex binational couples and photos from our United by Love, Divided by Law Tumblr blog to the White House last July.

The petition signatures, the stories and the photos, together with the letter sent by Democratic House members urging for LGBT inclusion in the ICE Deportation Guidelines, helped push the Obama administration to finally officially include us in DHS” deportation guidelines.

Now that the election is over and President Obama has been re-elected to a second term, the landscape for moving our issue forward seems even more positive.

We will know by the first week of December if SCOTUS (Supreme Court of the United States) will hear all or any of the DOMA cases. This means that by June 28, 2013, we will know if DOMA is finally ruled unconstitutional and legally married same-sex couples will get federal marriage rights, all 1138 of them (including, of course, the ability of U.S. citizen to sponsor their foreign spouse for a green card).

In the week since the election, we have also seen both Democrat and Republican leaders coming out vocally in support of Comprehensive Immigration Reform.

President Obama himself said during his Victory Speech and a follow-up press conference that he wants immigration reform in the United States.

It seems from all indications that a Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) bill will be introduced in January when the new Congress convenes.

So, today, more important than ever, we need to continue the push to ensure that:

  1. We have an inclusive (LGBT-positive) comprehensive immigration reform bill introduced in Congress.
  2. The LGBT community does not “get thrown under the bus” or negotiated away when CIR comes up for a vote in Congress.
  3. We demand that the Obama administration fully adjudicate all green card cases filed by same-sex married couples including full fact-finding, conducting interviews to determine the bona fides of the marital relationships, either by USCIS (in the U.S.) or by Consular officials abroad, and then hold a final decision on abeyance until the Supreme Court has ruled on the constitutionality of DOMA.
  4. We urge the Obama administration to open up the humanitarian parole process to partners/spouses of lesbian and gay Americans, to bring our fellow binational couples back from forced exile and to end the separation of binational couples and LGBT families until DOMA has been resolved by the Supreme Court.

To do this, we will be working with other grassroots organization like GetEQUAL and various LGBT/Immigration organizations to create and raise awareness about this issue. We need to make this a moral issue that Congress needs to fix immediately through legislation. We need to make Congress understand
that they cannot push this aside.

GetEQUAL and the DREAMers have waged a very successful campaign of speaking out, telling their stories and not taking NO for an answer! We believe that we can do something similar to their campaign so that we cannot be ignored anymore!

However, to do that, we will need couples to speak up and tell their stories to the media.

Therefore, we are putting out a call to couples who have suffered under DOMA to come forward and speak up. We can work with you to fine-tune your message as you tell your story.

Please let us know by completing this form (http://bit.ly/O4ICountMeIn). Submit the form and we will get in touch with you very soon.

Our time is NOW! Stand up and speak out. Many believe we are in the final phases of ending the terrible discrimination we have faced as same-sex binational couples due to unfair immigration laws and DOMA. Join us and be a part of the change.