Friday, June 11, 2010

Entering the USA while GLBT: notes from around

My wife and I just cleared US customs and immigration on a trip home through Canada. The customs form says "one per household", although the Canadian bus driver who gave it to us advised "one per surname". But I know that my brother and sister in law, who have been married for almost 30 years, only fill out one form despite having always had different names. They walk up to the counter and say "we're married" and get no question about it--just a smile and a "welcome back".

So we went up to the US officer with one form. He snapped, "only one at a time!" I said, "but we're married, in the same household." He angrily gestured my wife back into line and processed my passport and customs form. It's not the first time this has happened--in fact, it has happened more and more, to us as though ICE has been told to degrade same sex couples. Traveling While Gay, they never let you forget you are 2nd class and your legal marriage is Officially Meaningless. This always makes me feel angry and upset. (Aside, How do you fill out a customs form when you are a single household? We don't pack our suitcases separately, we don't buy things separately. We are a couple and travel that way.)

But at least we are both US citizens. Couples who have split nationalities have a real issue. As described in this story in SF Weekly, trying to stay together when you aren't "really" married leads to confusion, pain, and horror. The US immigration service is getting nastier and nastier when people enter the country "too many times":
the agent revoked [Sang's] tourist visa for misrepresenting himself to a federal immigration officer and for being an immigrant (which technically means someone intending to stay in the country) not in possession of an immigrant visa. To reapply for a visa in the future, he would have to apply for a waiver for fraud. What she didn't say is the only way to get a waiver is to prove his absence would cause "extreme hardship" for his spouse in this country — and, of course, in the eyes of the U.S. government, Sang does not have a spouse.

Recently, a couple in Boston, legally married in 2005 but unable to reunite, received a special dispensation that allowed the Brazilian to come home temporarily:
On Wednesday, Oliveira returned to Massachusetts for an emotional reunion after federal immigration officials took the rare step of granting him permission to stay for one year on humanitarian grounds, clearing the way for him to try again for legal residency. His return followed personal appeals by Senator John F. Kerry, US Attorney General Eric Holder, and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on their behalf...Unlike heterosexuals, gays and lesbians cannot sponsor their immigrant spouses for legal US residency..
The Obama administration has made a few noises about wanting to help people like this in immigratiion reform bills, but it has come to a predictable downfall amongst the bigoted minority that holds the Senate hostage. Efforts to allow legal GLBT partners to sponsor their loved one has led to backlash against reform by traditionally supportive groups, notably the Roman Catholics and increasingly, some evangelicals. Because apparently, the millions of people who might benefit are irrelevant if Teh Gay are included:
They don't seem to notice that they are threatening to tank legislation that would help tens of millions because they can't open up their hearts to 36,000 gay and lesbian couples -- but they accuse the Democrats of "political posturing" and catering to "special interests."
Hearts? They haven't any. They aren't in the least bit Christian any more.

Fortunately, groups like Catholics for Equality are challenging the continuing stonewalling by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. The group Immigration Equality also provides resources and activism on this issue, including a press release from faith groups supporting immigration reform that is inclusive.Sarah Posner also writes
Politically, their statement may not move any mountains, but it should demonstrate how empty politicians' touting of "religious" support is if only certain religions get to call the shots because they represent more people or are better organized politically or are unwilling to compromise in any way. (See, e.g., abortion funding in health care reform.)

H/T to Pam's House Blend and Americablog Gay for continued coverage of this issue.

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