Uniting families

By Elyse Toplin | Section: Jan 29th, 2010 Issues, January 29th 2010 Print, Views

In his State of the Union address Wednesday night, President Barack Obama said, “We should continue the work of fixing our broken immigration system… and ensure that everyone who plays by the rules can contribute to our economy and enrich our nation.” A problem in the LGBT community is a great example of where we can start. Under current laws, gay citizens aren’t allowed to transfer citizenship to immigrant spouses like straight couples. This is an example of “our broken immigration system” and the passage of the Uniting American Families Act would be a great first step to fix it.


Meet Gordon Stewart. Stewart is an American citizen who currently lives in the United Kingdom with his partner of more than nine years, Renato. Renato lived with Stewart in 2003 while he was studying in the United States, but had to return to his home in Brazil when his visa expired. He was unable to get it renewed, and Stewart could not sponsor his partner because they were not married or otherwise related.

After years of continuing their relationship on two continents, the couple decided to move to the United Kingdom, where they could live together. However, in his testimony before Congress in June, Stewart (who traveled to testify alone because Renato is still unable to get so much as a tourist visa to the United States) explained the reality of this situation.

“I am furious that we can not visit or live together in the US,” Stewart said. “Despite the fact that I am a tax-paying, law-abiding and voting citizen, I feel discrimination from my government…I would like to be able to come home; I should have the right to come with my partner to visit or to live; but we can’t.”

Sadly, Stewart’s story is not unique. Shirley Tan, whose stay in the United States is currently contingent on the existence of a private bill by Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, is dealing with the same situation, and faces deportation to the Philippines if the Uniting American Families Act does not pass while the 111th Congress is in session. Tan has lived in the United States for more than two decades, and she and her partner have two sons. The family goes to church, the parents are involved in the school, and the kids get good grades. Essentially, they are exactly the type of person that most Americans would want in this country. However, because Tan and Mercado cannot get married, Mercado cannot sponsor Tan for citizenship.

The Uniting American Families Act would right these injustices, as well as rescue the lives of thousands of Americans who are risk deportation because they cannot get married. UAFA would change the wording of the Immigration and Nationality Act, adding the words “permanent partner” and “permanent partnership” after the words “spouse” and “marriage” to relevant parts of the bill. This would allow immigrants who are in long-term committed relationships to have a pathway to citizenship in the same way that heterosexual couples can, and those who violate the law would face the same penalties as their heterosexual counterparts, including up to five years imprisonment or a fine of $250,000.

Though some may think that fraud would increase with the passage of UAFA, it is not unfounded to believe that many homosexual couples could prove — just as their heterosexual counterparts can — that they are part of a committed, long-term relationship. After Renato was denied entry to the United States, for example, Stewart commuted to Brazil from New York every other weekend for more than a year. When the financial burden of this task became too much to bear, the couple moved to England, where they could still be together. Though most heterosexual couples are never asked to do things this extreme, the strength of their commitment is never questioned.

The United States would not be unique by providing immigration rights for homosexuals with the passage of UAFA. Eighteen countries have similar laws, and these countries include Australia, Canada, Israel, the United Kingdom, Spain, South Africa, Germany, and France.

UAFA has been introduced in every Congress since 2000, and has never made it out of the Senate Judiciary committee. This bill affects far too many people for it to fail again, and must either pass on its own or be included in any comprehensive immigration reforms considered by the 111th Congress.

Gordon Stewart is an American citizen. He votes in elections, abides by laws, and pays taxes from abroad. As such, he is guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. So is Jay Mercado, Shirley Tan’s partner of over twenty years. Neither of them, however, will have the right to the pursuit of happiness until the passage of the Uniting American Families Act.

Elyse Toplin is a sophomore in Newcomb-Tulane College. She can be reached for comment at .

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  1. Thank you, Elyse, for this article. I too, am affected by our nation’s discriminatory immigration laws. My partner and I have been together for over 5 years, and own an apartment together. My partner is on a temporary work visa that is good for three years and can be renewed for another three years. We have gone through the emotional and financial rollercoaster of living overseas, trying to immigrate legally to the US, and trying to achieve permanency here. This is next to impossible if you happen to be LGBT. The Uniting American Families Act would remedy this injustice, and tens of thousands of families like mine need this bill to pass - and soon. We are not asking for special rights - we are asking for parity in our nation’s immigration laws. We want the opportunity to prove our relationships, but are not afforded this opportunity. It would be great to see Senator Landrieu co-sponsor this bill and support it’s inclusion in comprehensive immigration reform.

  2. Here’s my story


  3. http://lezgetreal.com/?p=24121

  4. Thank you so much for publishing this story. My partner is American, and I’m Canadian. We have been together for five years, and married for three. Because immigration/marriage equality does not exist in the United States, we are forced to make decisions based on the realities of the system rather than what is good for us as a family, both spiritually and financially. While we are luckier than most, because I can sponsor my partner to come to Canada, it has nevertheless created significant hardship for us. Any couple who deals with the stress of a bi-national relationship for any length of time, will not have to work that hard to prove that their relationship is bona fide. Thousands of couples are faced with the choice of leaving the U.S. to be with their loved one. It’s time to pass the Uniting American Families Act.

  5. Thank you for your article and moreover for shedding light on this issue. I too am in a bi-national relationship, legally married, but forced apart by arcane and inhumane laws. My marriage which is legal in the State of California means nothing to the Feds (except of course, that it was deemed as an appropriate reason to keep my spouse out of the US upon his last entry). I am currently seeking employment opportunities elsewhere so that we may be together. My love of country is strong but not nearly as strong as my love for my husband. Do not believe what we are told - that domestic partnerships and state-sanctioned civil unions are afforded the same rights and liberties given to couples in “traditional” marriages - it is actually a lie. Bravo to you Elyse for helping spread to word!

  6. My partner of 23 years is from Japan, and she could not get a permanent residence visa in the U.S. Therefore, in 2008, we emigrated to Canada, where we can work and live together legally. For both of us, this meant uprooting our households and leaving family and community behind. My mother was then 96 years old, and I was managing her care in her own apartment. We had to put her in a nursing home before leaving. It was a hard decision; I was very conflicted and felt as though I was abandoning her. I also miss seeing my children and grandchildren frequently, and not being available to them when I’m needed. Thus, although my heart is still in the United States, because my commitment to my partner is invisible to U.S. immigration laws, my life is now in Canada.

  7. I am writing this from Taiwan, having lost the right to live in my own country (USA) as of Dec. 23 of 2009. My partner of 4-1/2 years is not a U.S. citizen, and I can’t sponsor him for residency. His work visa ended in December, and so we had to leave my country.

    There are many, many of us in this situation. Please spread the word to all who will listen: there is a civil rights crisis going on right now, and it’s forcing Americans to live outside the borders of our own country.

    If you’d like more details as to my story, please see http://www.unitingamericanfamilies.net/true-stories-of-bad-law/our-story/

  8. My partner of 8 years is Korean and will have to leave the country in July because the immigration laws do not recognize our relationship. We have existed 6000 miles apart at times during our relationship and its a terrible burden to place on any relationship, but we persevere. Thank you for writing this article to help educate others about this situation. I am a law abiding, tax paying US citizen, self employed and desperate to keep my partner with me and stay in my country. However, it doesn’t appear that will be possible and we are planning to immigrate and move our household to Canada.

  9. Thank you for this article. My partner of over nine years and I are in this same situation — and comtemplating a move to the UK in order to live in peace and out of the realm of fear that is present in our current situation. I am in the process of selling my business of over 30 restaurants in order to be able to make the move out of the country. We care full time for my father who is in poor / declining health and are making decisions on how to best deal with his situation here. I am also the primary support for my Mother. And had provided care for both of my Grandmothers until their deaths in the last two years.

    I become increasing angry at our current situation — we are law abiding, tax paying, own over seven properties jointly. We deserved better than this from our country.

  10. More people need to know about this situation so thank you for this article. I am Australian while my partner of 7 years is American. I am lucky to be Australian because I have been able to sponsor her to migrate to Australia as my partner, but she is very torn about being forced to leave the US to be with me. It is so unfair that we did not have a choice about where to live, and that for the last 7 years we have had to continue our relationship long distance by travelling to and from our respective countries with the resultant financial and emotional toll that takes because she is not yet free to emigrate to Australia.

  11. Thank you for covering the story: living in exile in Europe, here, but hoping to be allowed to reunite with family and friends, one day, with my life partner at my side.

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