Gay Immigrants on Emotional Roller Coaster Over Defense of Marriage Act

Spouses of gay Americans told they could stay in U.S., but will now be deported.

ByABC News
March 31, 2011, 11:05 AM

March 31, 2011— -- Venezuelan Henry Velandia legally married his gay American husband last year in Connecticut, and under federal laws that do not recognize same-sex marriage, he has faced deportation.

For months, Velandia's husband, Joshua Vandiver, a Colorado native who is earning his Ph.D. in politics at Princeton University, has been fighting to get him a green card. If they were a straight couple, there would be no problem -- a foreigner can live in the U.S. if married to an American citizen. Gay couples have not had the same right.

Their hearts soared this week when the Obama administration put a hold on decisions in immigration cases involving married gay couples -- a temporary reprieve while lawyers evaluated the law.

But their hopes were dashed Wednesday when the United States Citizen and Immigration Services announced it would continue to process deportations, potentially separating couples like Velandia and Vandiver.

There has been legal confusion over these cases since February, when the administration said the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional.

"The result of the USCIS changing course is that we are going to have families that are separated and torn apart and Americans citizen will lose their partners," said Steve Ralls, spokesman for Immigration Equality, a group that advocates for LGBT couples.

"We believe that it is unacceptable, given what the administration said and that Obama believes that DOMA is unconstitutional. It's inappropriate to use an unconstitutional law to force families apart."

He said there are 35,000 couples who will be affected by the policy being enforced by Homeland Security, which governs immigration services. Of those, about 47 percent have children, according to Ralls.

Velandia and Vandiver's dream to build a life together was derailed by the law, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman under all federal laws, including immigration.

American citizens are routinely allowed to obtain green cards for their immigrant spouses, but not if they are homosexual. Gay rights advocates have said the law is discriminatory.

"If you are a bi-national couple that is heterosexual, you get to stay here and work here," said Richard Socarides, president of Equality Matters, told The New York Times. "If you are gay, you get deported."

Vandiver told last year that he is the studious type who has rarely embraced activism.

"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."

Vandiver has applied for a petition to allow Velandia to stay in this country.

"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."

No one knows exactly how many of these gay couples have 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.