Summer had barely begun when Steve Orner and his partner, Joe, found themselves facing one of their worst nightmares — one all too common among same-sex, bi-national couples: separation. Joe, who asks to omit his last name for fear of raising any red flags with immigration authorities, lost his job. No job meant no visa for this citizen of Indonesia. Years in American schools, earning a Ph.D. in structural engineering, weren’t enough. Nor was his relationship of nearly a decade with Orner, an American. Nor was their Connecticut marriage.
“He flew back Wednesday, the 21st,” says Orner, who has been traveling quite a bit himself.
Before Joe left, the two drove to Taos, N.M., where Orner is now living with his sister, as Joe’s forced exit required them to sell their Columbia Heights condo. Out West, at least, the two were able to share the precious days before Joe’s departure in the best possible way.
“I wanted to show him some of the national parks in Utah, my favorite places in the world,” says Orner. “That’s how we spent our last week. It was an incredible thing to do. It was perfect. We spent a lot of time driving, holding onto each other and crying.”
Amid the canyons and rocky crags, they also spent a few minutes on the phone with Immigration Equality. The New York-based organization, with an office in D.C., was asking them to speak at a congressional briefing on family immigration Friday, Oct. 23. Just two days after putting Joe on a plane in Denver, Orner, along with his father, Allen Orner, were sharing their experiences with congressional staffers.
“This has been devastating for Steve and Joey and very sad for our entire family,” reads Allen Orner’s statement, in part. “We all love Joey very much. The two of them bring such happiness to every gathering, cheerfulness to every event, as well as concern for anyone who is having problems. They are favorite uncles for the young people in our family. A loving, devoted couple, they bring much joy into our lives.”
Steve Orner says he knew the Capitol Hill experience would be painful, if for no other reason than his husband’s departure two days prior. Still, he says that the messages he and his father delivered seemed to resonate with congressional staffers. What good that will do for Joe and Steve remains to be seen. They’ve already applied for Canadian residency and hope to receive a decision in about a year.
“We’re pretty confident, but that’s the hardest part — it’s not 100 percent,” Orner says of their Canadian application, adding that Joe sent him an e-mail saying that he cried all the way across the Pacific Ocean. “Canada need teachers. It’s something on his résumé they value. And of course they recognize us as a family.
“We’ll figure out how to get together again. But it sucks. It just sucks.”
For more information about Immigration Equality, visit immigrationequality.org.