Immigration Insult

Crucial to any immigration reform is recognition of same-sex couples

It’s been busy in Washington lately. An ENDA sit-in, White House arrests for DADT, marriage equality, Kathy Griffin, the tea-baggers’ return, health care in Congress, an anti-war demo and a rally for immigration reform. Oh, and the SLDN and Mautner galas – can’t forget those.

Although I have an interest in each, immigration is the one that draws most of my attention. Simply and selfishly, it’s the one that most directly affects me. This goes all the way back to my birth, outside the United States. Because of that, I’m specifically barred from running for president — lucky for you — as well as stone-deaf to the “birther” argument. That said, I’ve long been curious about this concept of borders and controls put on the movement of people, and what it means to be citizen and a resident.

Years later, upon realizing I was gay, I faced another layer of immigration policies. I was heading to London for six months on a student work visa as a budding gay 18-year-old, and I had one rule: don’t fall in love. Not because I was too young for it, but solely because I’m gay. I could easily imagine how torturous it would be to meet a man, fall in love, then have to split because immigration law respects relationships between straight people, but not gay people.

That UK stay was 21 years ago, and American law still maintains this cruel component. And the disparity still affects me.

I may have just marked nine years with a fellow American, but that’s not allowed me to ignore the injustice.

First, we have friends who are directly affected by the country’s homophobic immigration policies. This couple is one American man and a man of a different nationality working for his government in D.C. Next month, they’ll celebrate 14 years together. But that history is not enough to allay anxieties about offering their names for print, or even the country for which the foreign friend works. They met simply by passing on the sidewalk almost daily, those passing smiles blossoming into something they couldn’t ignore — even if the Department of Homeland Security can. And their legal marriage won’t win them any recognition either, save for the foreign national’s employer offering a week’s paid vacation to celebrate their nuptials. They’re left to let the clock run down to retirement or the end of the work visa, uncertain of how they’ll navigate the future.

For a couple I’ve profiled, Joe And Steve, the clock’s already run out. They met. They fell in love. Then the recession hit and Joe was laid off from his job, automatically rescinding his visa. Losing his visa forced him to pack up his U.S. taxpayer-financed Ph.D. in structural engineering and head from Columbia Heights back to his native Indonesia. The couple, suffering thousands of miles of separation because of an inexcusable and indefensible — save but for the most heartless of inhuman monsters — policy, are now working toward residency in Canada. Even the inhuman monsters should respect that the taxpayers’ investment in Joe’s education will be yielding its dividend in Canada, rather than right here where it belongs.

From another angle, I see one of my partner’s cousins, a feisty baby-dyke in El Paso, Texas. Her girlfriend, an undocumented resident, was brought over the border from Mexico when she was a child. All she’s known is America, but she could be kicked out with hardly any notice. There’s nothing my partner’s cousin could do stop it, short of finding some boy at the mall who’d marry her, which would take care of everything. Because, again, straight relationships have value and gay relationships don’t. At least, until substantial and LGBT-inclusive immigration reform is passed, that is America’s message to the world.

Follow Will O'Bryan on Twitter @wobryan.

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