Do Ask! Do Tell!
Yesterday I had the opportunity to join four other US citizens with foreign partners, and one UK partner, to speak with staff at Senator Dianne Feinstein’s office about the cost of excluding LGBT families from US federal law.
The focus was on immigration law and the cost to US families and the economy when US citizens have to choose between country and partner.
We described how Love Exiles supports US citizens and partners who are in exile or considering exile to be together.
It was an emotional discussion for all of us. We are all at various places: I have lived in exile for 9 years. Judy and her partner do not know how long they will be able to stay in their home in California. At any time they could find themselves unable to legally reside together in her home of 35+ years. There is no visa category for a retired same-sex partner without a US passport or green card.
Jim has a partner in Japan and they are starting to explore the option of moving to Canada – which would be a great loss to Jim’s employer, a major healthcare company. Neither of them have roots or family in Canada. They have no where else to go. They would have to start up life from scratch.
One of the staffers we spoke with commented that supporting US citizens moving to Canada and Europe is like an underground railroad. That is certainly an interesting parallel. A route to freedom and safety in countries where we are first class citizens, our families are respected and legally recognized, and where we can build a life together. Where we do not have to fear a knock at the door from immigration officials or the prospect of being detailed or jailed.
If that sounds far-fetched, ask Shirley Tan. She was hauled away earlier this year by immigration officers, detained and released only when she agreed to wear an electronic monitoring device. If you have ever seen one of these pieces of hardware, you’ll realize the term ankle bracelet is a euphenism.
Shirley is from the Philippines, her partner and 2 children are US citizens. That doesn’t matter much to US immigration. Fortunately it did matter to Senator Feinstein and Congresswoman Speier. Because Shirley was an asylum seeker who faced danger at home, and as the mother of US citizens, they were able to keep her in the USA until 2010 via an extraordinary measure: a private bill.
Most of us do not qualify for a private bill. The danger to our lives is less visible. Stress, depression, anxiety all take their toll.
Ask any foreign partner of a US gay or lesbian who has been detailed at the border and turned away and/or banned from the USA just because they love a US citizen.
Someday LGBT families will be included in federal immigration law, via Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) or the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA).
In the meantime, Love Exiles will continue to support those looking for a safe home.
We’re glad that many of these couples will find themselves in a country that has affordable health insurance available to all. Exile takes its toll: emotionally, financially and on our health and wellbeing.