You are browsing the archive for LGBTCIR. Inclusive Comprehensive Immigration Reform.

More Than 2,000 Days Trying to “Figure This Out” – Eric and Jon’s Story

9:29 am in Uncategorized by Amos Lim

On June 29, 2006 I boarded a flight to New York’s LaGuardia Airport that would completely change my life. It was not my first trip to New York, but it was my first solotrip. I thought that I may be a little crazy for arranging this trip, but I’m a scientist and a bit of a planner. There is always a Plan B and I will always find a solution.

A few months earlier, several months into my Match.com membership, I had entered a friend’s New York zip code in the search window. One of the very first profiles caught my attention—Asian guy, blue eyes. I have always been drawn to those things that are out of the ordinary. I quickly sent a message, probably something about they eyes, but I don’t really remember.

Later that day, much to my surprise, the blue-eyed Asian boy had replied to my message. We struck up a correspondence that soon moved to video chat – where I learned that the blue-eyed Asian boy looked EXACTLY like his profile!Well, except the eyes…it never occurred to me that people wear colored contacts, but it did not matter.We were finally talking, not just typing, and our first video chat lasted several hours.

Valentine’s Day 2013 marked more than 2,000 days since Jay’s work visa expired and he had to leave the US.

Over the next few months our friendship grew and we began planning a visit. Being a teacher, I had two months vacation, but Jon had just two weeks. We decided to spend a week together in New York at his apartment and I made the flight to LaGuardia. We had agreed to meet at his job, my Plan B being I would go stay with friends if our first meeting in person turned out not to be all that I had anticipated from the months getting to know each other online.

Standing on the sidewalk, in front of Jon’s office building, I nervously dialed his number.I saw a familiar face approach the revolving door, he walked down the steps, gave a big hug, and we had our first kiss. Everything was strangely familiar — we knew a lot about one another from our daily conversations, but had never so much as touched. Nonetheless, I felt as if I had come home after a long trip — my heart felt a great sense of comfort.

The week went by quickly and comfort grew into anxiety as the 4th of July approached—I was going home the following morning. I often wondered how I would know when I fell in love. Although there are many people that I love and care about, what I experienced with Jon was different. Being with him was home. I had found my life partner, and there is no other way to explain it, I simply knew it.

Throwing all caution to the wind, I confessed to Jon that “. . .this may sound completely ridiculous, but I’m falling in love with you.”Thankfully, he did not run! We have been together ever since.

Over the next year and a half we scheduled trips between our respective cities every three weeks.Our daily video sessions grew to include watching TV together, just like my parents have done for the last 40 years. The only difference was that our recliners were in different cities.

One year later, the day before my birthday, I had boarded my flight back to Miami when my phone rang. It was Jon and he was devastated. “I just received a letter and it says that my work visa was not renewed. I have 30 days leave.”

My heart literally sunk.

I quickly shifted into survival mode, calmly responding that we would “figure this out.” That flight to Miami turned out to be infinitely longer than any of my 24+ hour flights to Asia would be over the next several years.

Valentine’s Day 2013 marked the 2033rdday that we have spent trying to “figure this out.” The only thing that stands in our way is a law that does not consider our seven-year commitment equal to my sister’s two- year marriage to her husband.

We are thankful and very fortunate to have two loving and fully supportive families. We have three nephews and a niece that do not know of time when Jon and I were not together. They know that Uncle Eric and Uncle Jon love them and spoil them every chance they get. Our relationship is not odd or unusual to them. What is odd is that we cannot live together—try explaining that to an eight year old! They know that I will be in Asia during the summers and oftentimes we will miss holidays and birthdays while we travel to be with one another.

Well-meaning friends often ask “Why don’t you get married in [New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, New Hampshire, Vermont, Washington or Washington DC]?” Few realize that marriage in those states will only resolve a few state issues. Unfortunately, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) exclusively withholds 1,138 federal rights from same-sex couples, including immigration.

We are hopeful that comprehensive immigration reform will include binational LGBT families. Including the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA) would simply acknowledge us as a family and provide the means for us to finally live together. The alternative is to live in exile and leave my family, friends, career, and life that I have built over the last 39 years behind.

We ask all our friends, family, colleagues and allies to help us and other same-sex binational couples. Call the Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121, ask to speak with your senators/representative, and encourage them to include the UAFA as part of comprehensive immigration reform. If it is easier, you can email your senators at http://www.senate.gov and representatives at http://www.house.gov.

Forward this story and the others on the Out4Immigrationblog to your network and ask that they do the same.  

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.

Doctors with Borders – Amanda & Pallavi

9:00 am in Uncategorized by Amos Lim

Pallavi and I met in 1999 when we were students at Whittier College in Whittier, CA. Pallavi was on a student visa. She was a nerdy international student and I was a jock-ish college athlete. We may never have met at a larger school so perhaps our union was destined (cue Pallavi rolling her eyes at me). We were friends at first and kept in touch over the years.

After graduating in 2000, I pursed a naturopathic doctorate degree in Portland, OR. In 2005, I graduated from medical school and shortly thereafter took a research position in the psychology department at the University of Denver (DU), where (coincidentally) Pallavi was earning her Ph.D. in clinical psychology. We became a couple in March 2006 and were married in August 2012 in San Diego, joined by 60 of our closest friends and family.

Pallavi and Amanda are same-sex binational couple forced to make the heart-wrenching decision to live apart due to DOMA and unjust immigration laws.

We legalized our marriage in November 2012 in Vermont.

For the past six years, we have lived together in Colorado, and although Colorado does not recognize our relationship in any way, we have been lucky enough to be spared many of the trials faced by same-sex binational couples. Pallavi has stable employment as a researcher at a Denver-based non-profit institute and her employer has filed for a permanent residency application on her behalf. However, despite living in the U.S. since she was 18 years old, and earning her bachelor’s degree and Ph.D. in the U.S., Pallavi’s permanent residency application will not be processed and approved for another 7 years. Employment-based permanent residency applications are subject to per-country quotas and the backlog for India will take nearly a decade longer to be processed.

This year I was offered a post-doctoral research fellowship at NYU Langone Medical Center. Due to the fact that our marriage is not recognized by the federal government Pallavi’s status in the U.S. is solely dependent on her current employer. Thus, we are preparing to move apart from one another for an indefinite length of time so that I can pursue the very best option for my career and so that she remains “in status” in the U.S.

If we could file a permanent residency application through marriage, Pallavi would have permanent residency in the U.S. in a matter of months and could more easily switch to an employer in New York City. Yielding to the current laws of this country is threatening our marriage by forcing us to sustain a long-distance relationship living 1,700 miles apart.

I look around at our heterosexual couple friends (some of whom are binational as well) who must make difficult decisions about work and careers and none of them are forced to experience the indignity of separating from spouses because their country doesn’t deem their lives and loved ones to be valid.

I am American. My life’s work (and that of my wife’s) is devoted to improving the lives of other Americans. If being a good citizen means we take care of ourselves, each other, and our communities, then we are good citizens and we belong here together.

Please help ensure that comprehensive immigration reform includes LGBT families – like ours – as proposed by President Obama.

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.

Holding Hands and Praying for Change

9:00 am in Uncategorized by Amos Lim

Richard and I met in February 2002 in Calgary Canada. I am Canadian and Richard is American.

Initially, Richard was going to move to Canada to be with me, Canada has same-sex marriage and gay couples have all the same rights as straight couples. But Richard wanted to keep his job in the U.S., so he was “commuting” between the U.S. and Canada. This became very stressful, especially in the winter, when flights to and from Canada are often canceled die to the weather.

In 2005, I found a job in Sacramento, California. I was under the TN visa (North America Free Trade Agreement). While I worked for this company for 7 years, the company had no intention of sponsoring me for a green card. While I was able to travel in and out of the U.S. on the TN visa, immigration officials often informed me that I should get permanent resident status because they told me that the TN visa could be “dismissed” at any time.

“I don’t think the U.S. government and its current immigration system even understand how forcing us to separate at a time like this is
damaging our lives.”

During this time we tried to live our lives as normally as possible, Richard retired from his job and we bought a house. I kept looking for employment that would lead to a green card and in 2012 I thought I had found this. I started a new job in Southern California working on a project that seemed to have a lot of potential. We put our house up for sale and planned to move to Los Angeles. But – after 5 months, the project ended – and I was without a job and the promise of a green card.


I have now been told that I must leave the US in 30 days, if not I will become undocumented.

My plan is to return to Canada, re-establish my residency and then come back to the U.S. as a visitor in order to complete the sale of our home.

Meanwhile we are living off Richard’s retirement income.

It is a very difficult time for us right now. I don’t think the U.S. government and its current immigration system even understand how forcing us to separate at a time like this is damaging our lives. We have been together for 11 years, overcoming many obstacles, but this is by far the most difficult.

We are holding hands and praying for change – the inclusion of same-sex binationals in immigration reform – which would allow Richard to sponsor me as his partner and keep us together in America.

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.

The Happy Ending Has Yet to Be Written

9:00 am in Uncategorized by Amos Lim

Helen and I met through a fan-based message board for a British television show. At the time I was living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and Helen was in Perth, Western Australia, neither of us knowing that the other existed. Through the message board, Helen and I started e-mailing. At first our e-mail conversations were very polite with the usual “What’s your favorite movie?” and “What do you do for a living?” but then it quickly grew into so much more.

Helen and partner

"The stress of having Helen on a work visa here in the States is constant."

After a few weeks of e-mails Helen gathered up the courage to call me (her words, not mine) and from the first “hello” our lives were forever changed. After months of long-distance telephone calls we finally planned to meet in Sydney, Australia.

Our meeting in Sydney was the most amazing experience, it was exciting and comfortable, it was like we had known each other for years, yet there was still that feeling of meeting someone new. After our time together in Sydney Helen came to the U.S. for two weeks and after that visit knew her life was here with me in America. Although it would be hard for her to leave Australia, she flew back and made the arrangements to move to the US.

At that time we had no idea how hard it was going to be getting employment, arranging visas, selling Helen’s home and so forth.

It took us 12 months, a lot of money and a lot of stress to finally get it all sorted. The only thing that kept us both going was the fact that we were in love and that we had each other.

Nothing else mattered.

Helen and I married in a Civil Partnership ceremony in London, England on August 8, 2008. The reasons for choosing London were because of our connection to the British television show that brought us together and also because Civil Partnerships are legal in England and we wanted to be recognized as a married couple. This day was the best day of our lives and every day since has been even more amazing – although we were about to discover how hard it is for a same-sex binational couplet o stay together in America.

Helen had to find a company that would sponsor her so she could stay in the U.S. on a work visa. We investigated student visas, but although my income may have been enough to sustain us, it was not enough to sustain us both and pay for her schooling.

Australia has an E-3 visa, the first visa is good for 3 years, but then you need to have it renewed every two years.

Helen was able to obtain employment from a company willing to go through all the paperwork and expense involved in sponsoring an employee. Her first 3-year visa was approved without any problems, but 3 years goes by quickly and before we knew it, it was renewal time.

Read the rest of this entry →

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.

Read the rest of this entry →

Successful U.S. Businesswoman Forced to Commute to Los Angeles While Family Lives in Exile

5:59 pm in Uncategorized by Amos Lim

crossposted from Out4Immigration’s Blog

American Rita Boyadjian and her German life partner, Mara, met in Cologne, Germany at a European Gay Pride celebration in 2002 while Rita was touring Europe on vacation. They fell madly in love and began a long-distance relationship. After 18-months of flying back and forth every 3 to 4 weeks while visiting on a tourist visa, Mara was able to obtain a student F-1 visa that allowed her to live legally in the U.S. for a four-year Bachelor’s degree program in Los Angeles.

From 2004 to 2008, Mara lived in the U.S. on her student visa. During that time, Rita and Mara bought a five-bedroom home to start their family and had a baby girl. Rita’s entertainment marketing business was thriving, and she created jobs for 20 Californians. The federal government and the state of California also enjoyed Rita’s business success, as Rita paid well over $1M a year in income tax; $250,000 in payroll taxes; $25,000 in City of Los Angeles taxes; and $30,000 in property tax each year.

But the American Dream was about to allude Rita and Mara. Mara’s student visa expired in August 2009, which was also the due date month for their second child. The couple was forced to interrupt the wonderful life they created in Los Angeles, and move to Germany in summer 2009 since the U.S. does not extend immigration rights to American citizens and with same-sex, non-U.S. citizen partners.

Mara (left) and Rita (right) now live in Germany. Rita's Los Angeles-based business created more than 20 jobs for Americans, yet she has been forced into exile to keep her family together.

While Mara tried to pursue another student visa and a work visa, it was simply too difficult to raise a small child and be in the middle of a second pregnancy while going back to school or working full-time.

“I guess you can describe us as a non-traditional family with very traditional family values,” says Rita. “When we decided to have children together, we were committed to raising our children ourselves and not raising them with nannies or putting them in a daycare every day. We did not want other people raising our children so Mara could go to school or work full-time in order to fulfill visa requirements to remain in the U.S. I was earning enough money so that Mara could stay home with our children.”

Rita, who was born and raised in Los Angeles, had no other choice but to sell her L.A. home at a $250K loss and leave her thriving L.A.-based entertainment marketing business, her entire family who all live in Southern California, and three decades of friendships, in order to keep her family together in Germany, because Germany provides immigration rights for same-sex couples. Rita and Mara got married in Germany, and Rita was able to obtain a resident visa to live legally in Germany.

It is now 2013. Rita and Mara live near the city of Cologne, Germany and have three children. They have lived in exile since Mara’s student visa expired.

Read the rest of this entry →

Out4Immigration Prepares for SCOTUS Review of DOMA Cases

2:35 pm in Uncategorized by Amos Lim

Out4Immigration Prepares for SCOTUS Review of DOMA Cases
Urges Action from Same-Sex Binationals in Lead Up to Court Decision


Media Contacts:
Amos Lim, Out4Immigration, 415-742-1626, amos@out4immigration.org

SAN FRANCISCO – DECEMBER 12, 2012 – Out4Immigration welcomes the decision of the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) to hear two cases challenging the constitutionality of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). The court announced its intent to review the law on December 7th.  A final decision is expected in June 2013. 

A ruling in favor of dismantling Section 3 of DOMA would give same-sex couples access to 1,138 federal marriage rights they are currently denied, including the right of an American citizen married to a foreign national the ability to secure a green card for their spouse. An estimated 40,000 of these couples, known as same-sex binationals, will benefit immensely from the end of DOMA.

Section 3 is the part of DOMA that says the word “marriage” can only be used to define a union between one man and one woman at the Federal Level. SCOTUS has chosen to hear the case in which an 83-year-old-widow, Edie Windsor, has been forced to pay more than $300,000 in estate taxes on her wife’s property due to DOMA. Heterosexuals do not have to pay estate taxes on property inherited from their spouse.  

“Just like Edie Windsor, same-sex binationals are also subject to  the harsh consequences of DOMA,” said Amos Lim, Community Outreach Director for Out4Immigration. “Immigration rights for spouses also are impacted by Section 3 of DOMA. As a consequence we have seen couples literally torn apart – forced to live on two separate continents, only able to spend a few weeks together each year.”

“We’ve also seen couples fall out of legal status, and face two very unacceptable options. Leave the US to live in exile in a country with more favorable immigration and marriage equality laws or accrue unlawful presence and face the daily fear of deportation.”

All of these options take an enormous emotional, physical and financial toll on the couples, their families and extended communities. 

Earlier this week, Out4Immigration joined more than 50 groups in signing a letter to the Obama Administration that asks for a green card abeyance policy to be put in place until SCOTUS makes its decision on DOMA.

While the fate of DOMA is now in the hands of SCOTUS, Out4Immigration urges same-sex binationals come forward and tell their stories to stoke the court of public opinion that already favors same-sex marriage. Out4Immigration has made it easy for couples to share their stories by completing this form: http://bit.ly/O4ICountMeIn

Stories of how couples met and the challenges they have faced in remaining together in spite of DOMA and immigration inequality are being featured on Out4Immigration’s blog, its United by Love, Divided by Law visual protest site and by GetEqual, an LGBT rights group working for full federal equality. The stories are being used to make the case for the Obama Administration to enact a “green card abeyance” policy, that is, to hold the applications of green cards for foreign nationals in same-sex binational relationships until DOMA’s constitutionally is decided by SCOTUS.

The stories will also be presented when Congress takes up comprehensive immigration reform next year, to ensure that same-sex binationals are included in any immigration reform legislation being introduced and voted on.  

“There is unbelievable power in these personal stories,” says Lim. “So many people are unaware of the struggles same-sex binationals face. When they hear that DOMA and US immigration laws have forced people to choose between their spouse and their country, they stand up and say, ‘This is wrong. This is not American.’ And then, we hope, they will call or write Congress to demand change.”

Share your story, or share this link with a same-sex binational couple you know: http://bit.ly/O4ICountMeIn

U.S. Citizen Turning 65 Appeals to Senator Dianne Feinstein for Help

12:19 pm in Uncategorized by Amos Lim

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

In 2005, Karin and I met via an online dating site. I hadn’t had much luck with online dating before, but a friend convinced me to try one more time. I gave it my best shot — a long, thoughtful profile and several photos. One day, I saw that someone had clicked on my profile, but hadn’t sent me a message. I messaged her, which freaked her out a bit. But she decided that someone who had spent so much time on their profile deserved an answer, which led to a flurry of online messages.

Messages turned into phone calls, and our ignorance about U.S. law allowed us to develop a relationship without knowledge that the U.S. government would eventually stand in the way of our being together. At the time, we didn’t know how much — the bliss of ignorance about the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was a big factor in our early days. I am embarrassed to say I didn’t know much about the issue, though I have been actively working on LGBT civil rights since the 1970′s when I came out. Karin and I have learned that many, even in the LGBT community, don’t know about the problem that binational same-sex couples face when trying to be together. In fact, most binational same-sex couples learn about the DOMA discrimination challenge the hard way — in the trenches.

Karin was visiting from France and knew nothing about DOMA. She hadn’t intended to enter into a long-term relationship — but both of our lives have changed dramatically as a result of that fortuitous click on my profile. It was only as our connection and our relationship began to deepen that we discovered the horrible truth that American citizens are forced every day to make a choice between love or country, spouse or career. I don’t think any American citizen should have to face this choice!

Because I chose Karin, I had to take early retirement and months-long forays out of California so that we could stay together.

Read the rest of this entry →

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.

Peace Corps Volunteer Asks Congress to Pass Inclusive Immigration Reform

4:03 pm in Uncategorized by Amos Lim

After Giving Two Years of His Life to the Peace Corps, Former Volunteer Wants to Spend Rest of His Life with Ecuadorian Partner

Ever since I was a kid, the holidays were a blur of good food, family, and friends. Thanksgiving, Advent, and Christmas were always reminders to be thankful for what we had and share with those we love. This year, Raul and I have much for which to be grateful. For the first time since 2009, we will be sharing Christmas together. After more than a year of living in different countries, we now live under the same roof, sharing the same meals, and making friends in a new city and country—the United Kingdom, our new home.

Brad&Raul

Raul and I first met during my service as a Peace Corps volunteer in Southern Ecuador. I was working as a social worker in a rural highland community. I still remember getting that first flirtatious text message, thinking “he’s surely exaggerating his positive qualities”. Fortunately, he wasn’t! Raul really is the sweet, caring, and handsome man he said he was. After some initial hesitation on my part, we started a relationship that continues to this day, nearly three years later. For the rest of my time in the Peace Corps, Raul and I were nearly inseparable. He would often visit me and my host family in the parish where I lived. We would travel Ecuador together on vacations, visiting friends and his family on the coast.

As my service experience drew to a close in mid-2010, we started to explore our options. We both wanted Raul to meet my family over the holidays as I’d had the chance to visit his on many occasions. Sadly, Raul’s application for a visitor’s visa to the US was denied, in part because he did not have enough assets to convince the immigration officer of his return to Ecuador and in part because he was honest about our relationship during his interview. I still remember the day Raul called me with the bad news. He was devastated, and there was nothing I could do to comfort him that day. I promised I would save up and return to Ecuador if he could not see my family for the holidays.

I returned to Ecuador at the beginning of 2011 to work as a field consultant with a social enterprise initiative, earning just $200 per month. We also opened a small café/bar together in the hopes that it would improve his chances of eventually visiting my family in the US. During the next 8 months, the two of us worked hard at our day and night jobs. We were poor and tired, but at least we had each other. Acting on pro-bono advice from Lavi Soloway of the DOMA Project (www.domaproject.org) we prepared for Raul’s next visa application by securing invitations, bonds, and letters of support from family and government officials, including my Congressman at the time, Bruce Braley. We knew that chances were slim that Raul would be granted a visitor’s visa, but we had to try. My grandparents were going to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary and it was the perfect way to meet my extended family. On what I would describe as one of the happiest days of my life, Raul’s application for a visitor’s visa was granted. It was just short of a miracle.

Read the rest of this entry →