Joshua Vandiver, a Colorado native who is earning his Ph.D. in politics at Princeton University, said he is the studious type who has rarely embraced activism. But now, just months into his legal marriage to Venezuelan Henry Velandia, he is fighting to save his husband from being deported.
Had the couple been straight and not gay, Vandiver would have been allowed to apply for permanent residence status for Velandia, who could then later apply for citizenship.
But their dream to build a life together is been derailed by the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defines marriage as between a man and a woman under all federal laws, including immigration.
"I am a scholar of ancient Greek political thought and the Renaissance and politics," said Vandiver, 29. "I never intended or wanted to be an activist. But I have to do what is necessary to save my marriage and to keep the one I love in this country. I think that is my right as an American citizen."
On Nov. 17, the couple will go before a federal immigration judge to ask that deportation proceedings be halted until legal challenges or a Congressional repeal of DOMA have been resolved.
Vandiver has applied for a petition to allow Velandia to stay in this country, an application that will surely be denied. And with that rejection letter, the couple will consider a lawsuit. "I see that as discriminatory," said Vandiver.
"I am really frightened thinking that I will have to live without my other half," said Velandia, a salsa dancer. "But we have faith and are doing the best we can."
The United States is home to about 24,000 same-sex couples in which one partner is an American citizen and the other is not, according to an analysis of 2008 census survey data by the
Williams Institute, University of California Los Angeles Law School. About 25 percent of those couples have children.
No one knows how many of these couples are with immigration problems. Some obtain legal residency through work visas, applying for asylum or getting green cards on their own. Others leave for countries that have more favorable laws.
"We are bringing this to light to help policy makers understand exactly how it impacts lives and to find a remedy and to consider whether it's a high priority to deport a lawfully married spouse," said their Los Angeles lawyer, Lavi Soloway.
Soloway is representing the couple and 11 others around the country who face deportation of a foreign-born spouse.
"At the time [DOMA] was passed, gay couples in the U.S. didn't have the opportunity to be married," he said. "Now, we finally have a critical mass of same-sex couples who are seeing the impact of DOMA."
Velandia immigrated to the U.S. in 2002 on an employment-sponsored visa, founding his own dance school, HotSalsaHot. He has appeared in the Spanish-language television show "Mira Quien Baila."
Vandiver and Velandia have lived together in New Jersey since 2006. Princeton recognized them as domestic partners in 2007, and this summer, they married in Connecticut, where same-sex marriage is legal.
"I started from zero in this country -- new language, new culture," said Velandia. "It's been like the American Dream."
But when his visa expired, an application for a green card was denied. In 2009, Velandia received a notice of deportation. If deported, he could be barred from entering the U.S. for 10 years.