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U.S. Immigration judge halts deportation of gay spouse

Thursday, March 22, 2012
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SAN FRANCISCO — A U.S. Immigration judge on Thursday afternoon halted deportation proceedings against Alfonso Garcia, the bi-national spouse of a gay man, and instead ordered that a routine green card petition process be initiated.

Courtesy The DOMA Project

Brian Willingham (left) and Alfonso Garcia

While seemingly “routine and unremarkable” that the judge ordered a Green Card petition case be heard — and stopping the deportation — the mere fact that the judge and the government lawyers acknowledge Garcia’s being legally married to his American husband Brian Willingham, is a victory for gay and lesbian bi-national couples who find themselves in similar situations, said Garcia’s attorney, Lavi Soloway in a phone call with LGBTQ Nation.

“In the long haul, this will have a major impact on [bi-national] DOMA related cases,” Soloway said.

Garcia and Willingham were married last year in New York state, and also registered as domestic partners in California, however, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) prohibits the federal government from recognizing their marriage and would not allow Willingham to sponsor Garcia for legal residency.

This particular case had its roots in a seemingly routine traffic stop last summer when police ran Garcia through a computerized background check and found out he was an undocumented immigrant. Garcia was born in Mexico and brought to the United States as a child, and Willingham, a U.S. citizen, have been together since 2001.

In a statement posted on a website sponsored by The DOMA Project, Willingham wrote:

That night we were pulled over for a routine traffic stop. The local law enforcement did their regular background checks and that is when the train went off of the proverbial rails.

[...]

Within a few hours I learned that something called an “immigration hold” had been placed on Alfonso’s file, so even though he was not charged with any crime by the local authorities and had no criminal record they were not allowed to release him.

They took my husband away in chains and put him in a county jail. The day before I was going to have my first visitation they moved him to a different jail. Then the day before I was going to be allowed to visit him at the 2nd jail they transferred him to a 3rd facility, a federal immigration facility. It was there in San Francisco, a week after this nightmare began, that I was finally allowed to visit my husband for the first time since the nightmare began. Even though he is not a criminal, they brought him in to a tiny visitation booth in handcuffs and we sat there talking and crying until they took him away 10 minutes later.

[...]

Because of an archaic law called DOMA, the federal government will not recognize our marriage. We are Registered Domestic Partners in the state of California and we were lawfully married in New York, yet the federal government refuses to treat us all like any other married couple.

As a gay American citizen the federal government offers me zero, zilch, nada, null access to the federal rights that all married couples have.

This is not an issue of separate but equal. There are no separate federal rights for married gay couples. There are no rights at all. This is not a front of the bus, back of the bus issue. This is the federal government telling us to get the hell off of the bus.

They called it the “Defense of Marriage Act” when they made it law in 1996 when I was only 22 years old. But now that I am 37 and I am being persecuted by the federal government, I can tell you that DOMA is more like “Destroy Our Marriage Aggressively.”

There is no other way to describe how I feel when my government puts my husband in chains, whisks him away to a remote detention facility, and tries to deport him.

Soloway told LGBTQ Nation that the judge has rescheduled a hearing in the matter for Oct. 25.

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