This message was written by a member of the Standing on the Side of Love community and Unitarian Universalist minister who asked to remain anonymous as she approaches her eligibility for citizenship.
I came to the United States because I fell in love with a U.S. citizen. She had family obligations and I did not, so I relocated. Unfortunately, because the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman, Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS) will not recognize a same-sex relationship, even if you are married in another country or in a state that recognizes same-sex marriage. The only way for binational same-sex couples to live in the U.S. is for the non-U.S. citizen to find another way to immigrate.
Fortunately, I was called by a U.S. congregation that sponsored me for a Religious Worker Visa and later for permanent residency. This process took over 5 years and cost $10,000. Citizenship will cost a few thousand more.
Call your senators today and insist that families like mine are included in immigration reform. Click here to download instructions and talking points.
I was blessed to have a sponsor, but there were risks. If I lost my job, I would have to leave the country and start again. Because of this, many employers assume we will tolerate low wages and poor working conditions because they know we won’t quit. I was fortunate that my congregation provided steadfast support and fair compensation.
There was another risk. If INS learned that I was in a committed same-sex relationship, I could be charged with visa fraud and deported. The existence of an U.S. same-sex partner has been used as grounds to deport many LGBTQ immigrants.
To protect ourselves, we went back in the closet. We did not share a home or bank accounts. We did not designate each other as powers of attorney. Any thoughts of marriage were put on hold. I don’t think I could overstate the spiritual and psychological impact of this.
Our colleagues at Immigration Equality are visiting with members of Congress today to share stories like mine. Please add your voice to theirs and call your senators today to insist that same-sex binational couples and their families are included in immigration reform. Click here to download instructions and talking points.
I received permanent residency a few years ago. I was so relieved. I was no longer dependent on the good will of an employer and I was here on my own standing. Shortly thereafter my partner proposed to me and we were legally married.
Yet, I am writing anonymously because we still feel vulnerable. We do not know if I could be retroactively charged with visa fraud if INS were to find out the lengths we went to to hide our relationship. We do not know if this could jeopardize my ability to become a citizen or to renew my green card. We do not trust the immigration system in this country to treat us with respect. I will not feel completely safe until I am a citizen.
The message above went out on Wednesday, April 24, 2013 to Standing on the Side of Love supporters. You can sign-up for these emails here.