CA couple fights deportation
by Seth Hemmelgarn
A same-sex, binational California couple is set for a hearing before an immigration judge in San Francisco next week and is trying to stay together.
Doug Gentry, 53, a U.S. citizen, and his husband, Alex Benshimol, 47, have been together for six years. They were married in Connecticut in July 2010.
"We really don't have a second plan," Benshimol said. "We just want to stay together."
He added, "I don't have anything in Venezuela. ... No job, no house, nothing."
He also said he would be in danger if he returned to his native country. "It's a very difficult situation right now for gay people" there, Benshimol said.
"We've built our lives here," Gentry added. The men own a business, as well as a home. Plus, Gentry has two adult children in their 20s from a previous marriage.
Gentry lives full time in Cathedral City, which is near Palm Springs. Benshimol has been spending more time in San Francisco because the couple is hoping to expand their business – Alex's Pet Grooming – into the city, where they hope to eventually move.
Benshimol came to the United States in the late 1990s from Venezuela and overstayed a tourist visa. The couple met five years into Benshimol's 10-year visa, which expired in 2009.
Gentry filed a marriage-based green card petition for Benshimol in July 2010, but it was denied because of the Defense of Marriage Act, according to http://www.stopthedeportations.blogspot.com, which describes the couple's case. They submitted the petition again in June, citing federal developments related to same-sex binational couples, the site says.
Because of DOMA, the United States does not legally recognize gay and lesbian couples and their children as families.
But there have been some developments with DOMA. In February, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Department of Justice would no longer defend Section 3 of DOMA because it considers it unconstitutional. Section 3 states that the U.S. government will not, for federal purposes, recognize any same-sex marriage.
The DOJ had also indicated it would continue to enforce DOMA until or unless the courts determined the law was unconstitutional. But some attorneys in the immigration field have questioned whether the Holder announcement might apply to immigration courts.
In May, Holder vacated a deportation ruling against a gay man, suggesting that his relationship with a New Jersey man might qualify him to be considered as a "spouse" under immigration laws.
Gentry and Benshimol have been working with immigration attorney Lavi Soloway. Another couple Soloway assisted recently is safe after U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement filed a motion with an immigration judge to close their deportation case. Soloway had requested that motion, which a judge in New Jersey granted.
Soloway said Tuesday, July 5 that in the California couple's situation, they would request this week that the government file a motion to administratively close the case, exercising prosecutorial discretion.
He said the goal is to resolve the case July 13, but there's a possibility "it would be ongoing for a while."
At the hearing, scheduled for that day, he said, they would "press on with our request for administrative closure of the case." He noted Gentry has a pending green card application and said, "We don't believe any deportation proceeding should go forward until that kind of petition has been resolved."
"We're breaking new ground with each one of these cases, so it's impossible to predict what the outcome will be," Soloway said.
Gentry said, "We're not asking for more than everyone else has. We're not asking for special rights. We're asking for equal rights."