May Day march urges support for UAFA
by Seth Hemmelgarn
As marchers in San Francisco and other cities called for justice for immigrants Friday, May 1 – May Day – some continued to push for revising the law so that thousands of binational same-sex couples can stay together.
Amos Lim, board member and treasurer for Out4Immigration, said Representative Luis Gutierrez (D-Illinois) will probably introduce comprehensive immigration reform, and there's a push to have the Uniting American Families Act included if the reform legislation is introduced. Gutierrez is a UAFA co-sponsor.
A statement provided by Rebecca Dreilinger, Gutierrez's press secretary, said that he will "continue to advocate for comprehensive immigration reform that keeps families together, regardless of their sexual orientation."
In the past several weeks, Gutierrez has joined faith-based communities in San Francisco and other cities "to document the harm caused to citizens across our nation in the absence of comprehensive immigration reform" in a national effort that involves prayer vigils and town hall meetings, according to the statement.
"Last month, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and I sat down with President Obama to discuss immigration reform that stabilizes our economy, secures our borders and keeps our families together," Gutierrez said in the statement. "The president showed the CHC that, although it is very early in his administration, he understands that for the immigrant community it's the 11th hour, and there is no time to waste. ... The CHC's meeting with President Obama served to reiterate his commitment to enacting humane immigration reform, and it gave the American people every reason to believe that a plan from the White House is forthcoming, and we will see real change this year. We continue to look to President Obama to lead on this issue, and our solution must honor all families – keeping husbands and wives, parents and children and committed partners together regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation."
The UAFA, introduced February 12 as House bill 1024 and Senate bill 424, would enable LGBT Americans to sponsor their foreign same-sex partners for legal residency in the United States. Under the current Immigration and Naturalization Act, an American citizen can only sponsor his or her opposite-sex spouse for a green card, representing legal residency.
"We're pushing to make sure that when we talk about families, LGBT families are included," said Lim, who joined other marchers Friday in carrying rainbow flags at a rally in Dolores Park.
Out4Immigration was joined by members of the National Center for Lesbian Rights and Marriage Equality USA at the rally.
Representative Mike Honda (D-Campbell) is another UAFA co-sponsor.
"We must end discrimination in the immigration system against LGBT couples," said Honda in a statement. "Loving supportive relationships strengthen the fabric of our society no matter the gender or sexual orientation of one's partner. Our immigration system unfairly denies gay and lesbian couples from building a life together. I am proud to be an original co-sponsor of Congressman Jerry Nadler's bill that would end this injustice."
Nadler (D-New York) introduced the House bill. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) introduced the Senate bill.
Supporters of the bill aren't just waiting for it to move forward on its own.
"We're kind of working all angles," said Lim.
Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California) recently introduced a private bill that allows Shirley Tan, a lesbian living in Pacifica whose partner is a naturalized citizen, to stay in the United States until January 2011 rather than be deported to the Philippines.
However, Feinstein has not yet signed on as a co-sponsor of the UAFA. Despite repeated requests, Claire Bowyer, Feinstein's deputy press secretary, has not provided comment on why Feinstein isn't co-sponsoring the legislation.
Judy Rickard, 61, an American citizen, and her partner Karin Bogliolo, 68, a British citizen, are a couple who have already been split up by U.S. immigration policy.
In April 2008, Rickard said, when the couple returned to the U.S. from a trip to Europe, Bogliolo was told she couldn't stay. She left the United States at the end of August 2008 after being told to leave the country by September, said Rickard. The couple has been together for about four years.
Bogliolo was told that she had been to the U.S. using her B1/B2 visa – for people with legitimate business meetings or people coming as tourists – too often. The visa allowed Bogliolo to stay in the United States for six months at a time, and she always left the country before her visa ran out. In an e-mail, Bogliolo wrote that whenever she entered the country with her visa, "I was freely given another six months to stay. I did or said nothing untrue at these times."
She wrote that, "As a publisher, I often came to visit book fairs or talk to our authors. During these times I would stay for perhaps two weeks. Since I retired I have stayed for longer periods."
Bogliolo wrote than when she arrived at the immigration desk at San Francisco International Airport last April, she was taken to another place and put in a small cell-like room, where three officers came to question her.
"This came after a 12-hour flight. I was very tired," wrote Bogliolo. "Eventually, after about two hours one of the men offered me some water. They asked me many personal questions, like if I was a lesbian, because they went through my luggage and found a picture of me and Judy. ... I had nothing done absolutely nothing wrong, and yet was made to feel I was a criminal."
"It's hard to even address this subject because I already find myself in tears," she wrote, referring to Rickard as "the woman I love and want to spend my life with."
Rickard said, "It's like your life is on hold in a way and everything that you had and planned for is ripped off."
Bogliolo, who is living with her daughter in England, emphasized that she never lived in the United States, she only visited.
She wrote that she had to get a new visa because her original 10 years had expired. She had "no problem" getting a new B1/B2 visa in London, which should allow her to enter the United States for six months.
However, Bogliolo wrote, just because the U.S. Embassy has given her another 10-year visa, doesn't necessarily mean she can enter the United States.
"That is entirely up to the immigration officer I see when I enter the USA," she wrote. "... I think I was unfortunate in the officer I saw last April, usually I have seen more open people who have believed what I said."
Ed Low, a chief customs and border protection officer within the Department of Homeland Security, said he couldn't comment on any specific case, but he said, "Mere possession of a U.S. visa does not guarantee admission. The CBP officer still has to determine if that person actually is here and meeting the requirements of that visa."
Rickard said the couple will be reunited May 9 in Canada. Then, they plan to travel across the United States for about two months.
Rickard lives in San Jose, where the couple stayed when Bogliolo was visiting the country. Rickard said their only option besides staying in California would be to go to another country that recognizes same-sex marriages and establish residency. But they would prefer to be in California. Rickard has aging parents in Oregon.
"Right now, we don't know where we're going to live in December," said Rickard.
On April 24, Immigration Equality and NCLR filed a friend of the court brief urging the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to rehear its decision in Martinez v. Holder, where asylum was denied to Saul Martinez, a gay man from Guatemala.
Martinez fled Guatemala after he was beaten, sexually assaulted, and threatened by a Guatemalan Congressman and repeatedly harassed by the Guatemalan police because he was gay, according to a statement by the civil rights groups.