Thursday, September 16, 2010

Brody's Scribbles... Immigration Laws Tearing Couples Apart

The following article by Bay Windows columnist Dana Rudolph was originally published at
By Dana Rudolph (Boston, Massachusetts) SEPT 16 | Imagine falling in love, staying together through good times and bad, and then discovering you cannot remain with the person you love when one of you has been diagnosed with a fatal illness.
That's what is happening to Roi Whaley and Aurelio Tolentino. The men have been together for six years. They helped each other through Hurricane Katrina, living in a FEMA trailer afterwards, and being HIV positive. Now Whaley has been diagnosed with a metastasizing lung tumor, a stage III cancer that has spread to his pancreas and adrenal glands. Because of his low T-cell count, chemotherapy is not an option. Whaley is in Mississippi, however, while Tolentino, a native of the Philippines, was forced to leave the U.S. because of current laws that do not allow same-sex couples to sponsor each other for residency.
Tolentino's request for a green card was rejected in 2006 because he is HIV positive, the Advocate reports in a profile on the couple. Although that restriction has now been lifted, he was later denied asylum when a federal judge said he failed to show why he would be in danger if he returned to his home country. Tolentino says his sister, who lives in the Philippines, has been harassed and been told he would be physically harmed if he returns.
Tolentino now lives in Vancouver, Canada. Whaley has visited, and the couple even married there, but that has not helped their case. Whaley's ability to travel may also soon be limited because of his illness.
They are not alone. Over 36,000 LGBT families are being kept apart by immigration laws, Mike Jones wrote here in July. [ Link ] Some members of a couple may gain special permission to stay, especially if supported by a member of Congress. This was the case when California Sen. Dianne Feinstein sponsored a bill to keep lesbian mom Shirley Tan from being deported and torn from her 12-year-old sons and her partner of 20 years, Jay Mercado.
It remains grossly unfair, however, to require same-sex couples to go through this process when opposite-sex couples do not face the same hurdles. Even leaving aside the moral issues, it is a waste of government resources to handle each of these cases on an individual basis requiring special procedures.
The Uniting American Families Act (UAFA), sponsored by Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), would allow U.S. citizens to sponsor a same-sex partner for residency. The bill remains stuck in committee, however, despite the best efforts of individuals like the Tan-Mercado family and organizations such as Immigration Equality. Immigration is a hot-button issue right now, but even if one was concerned (and I'm not) that general immigration reform would allow hordes of foreign workers in to snatch up jobs and resources, the UAFA isn't about that. It is about keeping families together, pure and simple. Keeping parents with their children and keeping loving partners together in sickness and in health.
But has President Obama been doing enough to shift people's thinking on any kind of change to immigration laws? Newsweek columnist Jacob Weisburg wrote recently about what he calls the President's "moral cowardice." He said, "When it comes to immigration, Obama has largely failed to challenge the new nativism promoted by Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, and Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer. . . . He has said nothing moving or memorable about the place of immigration in American life, or the rights of noncitizens, including children, to education and medical care, or the reality that 11 million undocumented residents can’t and won’t be shipped back where they came from."
Obama in May famously made a call to lesbian mom Janice Langbehn, apologizing for the fact that a Miami hospital in 2007 had kept her and her three children from the bedside of her dying partner (the children's other mother), and promising to issue regulations that would allow equal hospital visitation for same-sex partners. It was a noble gesture. If Roi Whaley dies, however, and the president has to phone Aurelio Tolentino to apologize for keeping him from his partner's side, it will not be noble. It will be a contemptible shame.

Dana Rudloph is a freelance writer/marketer and founder of Mombian: Sustenance for Lesbian Moms, which offers a mix of parenting, politics, diversions, and resources for lesbian moms and other LGBT parents. Each year in June she hosts Blogging for LGBT Families Day, in which bloggers of all types are invited to post in support of LGBT families.
She writes regular columns on LGBT parenting for several LGBT newspapers, and also covers various LGBT news and events not necessarily related to parenting for Logo's news site and other channels. She and her partner Helen produce the weekly LGBT-parenting video blog "She Got Me Pregnant" in partnership with Logo site After Ellen.
Dana has over a decade of experience in the online industry, at both the startup and corporate levels. Most recently, she was vice president at Merrill Lynch, developing marketing and business strategies for several key online initiatives. She was also the first leader of the firm's global LGBT employee network.


Trab said...

Let's put this in perspective; the paranoia about 'aliens' tears apart married hetero couples when one of them is from outside the USA just as often.

A much larger concern is those same sex couples, married or otherwise, which are not able to act on behalf of their life partners within America, due to patchwork laws and bigoted administrations.

What disturbs me most though, is the willingness to forget about simple human rights and dignity due to political pressure and expediency. That issue cuts right across the board and affects all of us in some way or another. Whatever happened to 'do the right thing'? When did it become 'do what you can to get re-elected'?