Immigration Rights Article for QURVE magazine
By Drew Newell Riley
June 2001

LOVE: Right or Privilege?

We are tall with blue eyes. We are highly educated people in the medical field. We have humanitarian occupations. We pay taxes. We are committed to volunteer work. We love dogs. We are spiritual. We are committed. We are monogamous. We are loyal to friends. We are well balanced. We strive to be role models. I guess you could say that we are just your basic, fun-loving, guy next-door, all-American type. Ooops…did I say “all-American”??? I take that back. Allow me to start over. My name is Drew and his name is Steve. I am the blonde American and he is the Canadian (the foreigner or alien, if you will, as the U.S. government likes to call him)………and we……..are in love.

How do I know we are in love? Well, that is a good question. In fact, it is a question that a very dear friend of ours asked the both of us just the other night at dinner. At first, we were both thrown off by the question. We had never been faced with the forward question of having to come up with the words to define our love before. We just KNEW we were in love, you know? Of course, you know. I am sure that all of you have thought you were at that place in your life at one point or another. Well, we looked into each other’s eyes for a few moments and then started answering – each in our own way, which is special in its own right. Steve says that he loves me because of how he feels – he just “knows” it and feels it in his heart. He loves me because I treat him kindly, because I am protective of him, because of what he feels when he looks into my eyes, etc. (Yes, I am sentimental, by the way. Can you tell?) For me, on the other hand, while I FEEL that I love him and I do believe that love is an emotion, I also believe that LOVE is a DECISION. I have made the decision to LOVE Steve no matter what, no matter what we have to go through, no matter of the good times or the bad times, to be committed and monogamous to him no matter what kind of hunky guy may cross my path, no matter what legal hurdles we may ensue, and no matter where we live.

Legal hurdles??? Where we live??? As you read that, you might be thinking to yourself, “Why did this writer interject that idea at that particular point? It seems out of place!” Well, in the lives of many gay and lesbian couples, who are both American citizens, it may well have been out of place, had they been writing this article. However, for my beloved, Steve, and myself it is a very vital issue – one that we must live with each and every day of our lives. You see, we are what is called a “binational couple”. Gay people have never done well with limits, am I right??? We do not like to be put in situations where we feel “restricted”!!! We have been restricted for way too long anyway, right? So, why should GAY American citizens limit ourselves to falling in love with ONLY other gay and lesbian American citizens? Heterosexual American citizens certainly do not limit themselves to just other American citizens, so why should we? Are you getting my point yet?

Binational heterosexual couples have and EXERT the RIGHT to fall in love with whomever they choose and then co-exist with them legally here in the United States, no matter where the “foreigner” partner is from. At this time in the American Immigration “game” (and trust me, that is ALL it seems to be at this point, is a big game to certain legislators), GAY AND LESBIAN binational couples have only the PRIVILEGE of falling in love with each other, BUT NOT THE RIGHT TO LOVE THEM HERE IN THE UNITED STATES FOR AS LONG AS THEY BOTH SHALL LIVE!!! Could it be that I am the only one in this predicament, and that the anger and hurt coming from inside of me is my own little isolated case? Could it be that I am just bitter and that is why I write with such disdain? HARDLY!!! Read on…

Consider the esteemed 20-year relationship between Shelby and Yvonne. Shelby is the younger, outgoing one that speaks with a continuous, vibrant energy in her voice. She is the stunning Caucasian American. Yvonne is the older one that speaks only occasionally, yet with a quiet wisdom – the one that sings with a melodious voice, as Shelby put it. She is the dark New Zealand splendor. As soon as Shelby heard Yvonne sing in that small Louisiana Mormon church back in 1981, she knew she felt a chemistry that would keep them together for a long time. Little did she know all of the hurdles and battles, that their love and passion for each other, would make them face over the next 20 years. Shelby and Yvonne are another homosexual binational couple. They are exercising their privilege to be in love with one another and live with one another in their own home. However, even after 20 years of a committed and monogamous relationship, they are still fighting for the RIGHT to co-exist as a loving and adoring couple legally, here in the United States.

Their story is a sad one. Wait, let me rephrase that. Their story is a wonderful story of love and passion, full of triumphs and defeats. Many have tried to make their life together an unhappy one (as many of us already know far too well with our own homosexual lifestyles). We, as gay and lesbian couples, have far too many other things trying to tear us apart. For example, right wing Bible-beating religions (Jerry Falwell), our right wing and conservative parents, friends, businesses, and other homophobic humans – this list could go on and on. However, should the government of the United States be one of those listed above? A resounding NO is the only possible answer!!! However, no matter how much we want the answer to be a “no”, the government of the United States is indeed one of those obstacles listed above for gay and lesbian binational couples all over America.

The story of Shelby and Yvonne is a great example of what two gay binational individuals have to go through to stay together. At first, Yvonne stayed in America on a “visitor visa”. This is a visa, which is usually good for approximately 6 months. After this one expired, Yvonne applied for the F-1 student visa, which allowed her to stay in this country and study at a certain college/university. Yvonne ultimately obtained a Masters Degree in Social Work over the course of about 10 years. Then Yvonne applied for the H-1B employment visa. The employer on behalf of the “foreigner” usually completes this visa. This visa grants permission to stay in the country and work for that particular employer for a total of three years, with a possibility of a one-time renewal for another three years. This is where Yvonne is at this time. Her H-1B visa just expired this year. So, what does this mean for her and Shelby? It means that she either has to get another F-1 student visa and go back to school as a “way” to stay in America or go back to New Zealand. Please remember that Yvonne has been in this country for 20 years, has been working as a social worker for a Psychiatric hospital, has been paying taxes, has been a law-abiding person, and has been in love and living with the love of her life in a committed relationship the entire time. However, all that means nothing to the American government.

There are many countries around the world that do indeed accept same-sex couples as a legitimate couple and even offer immigration benefits. New Zealand and Canada are among them. Some might ask, “Why don’t Shelby and Yvonne just go to New Zealand to live if they don’t like the way things are run here in America?” The answer is quite clear: THEY SHOULD NOT HAVE TO!!! First of all, they have made their home here in the United States. They have a house, friends, and family here. Second, all of their degrees are from the United States and will not mean anything in the country of New Zealand. Third, New Zealand is a country with socialized medicine, therefore, Shelby would not make nearly as much money there as she does here, as an Optometrist, and they have no need for a social worker in New Zealand. But still the question remains, “Why should they have to leave in the first place?” After 20 years of living together in a particular place, WHO would want their roots to be torn up and then transplanted to another country against their will?

As I interviewed these two courageous women, I could hear and feel the hurt in both of their voices, mainly Yvonne’s. Yvonne broke down at one time and spoke of how extremely hard all this can be on a relationship. She shared that at this time, she can no longer contribute to the household income, due to her visa expiring, which no longer allows her to work. They have spent thousands upon thousands of dollars already on legal fees and college tuition fees. Yvonne mentioned that the financial strain of a binational couple is one thing, but the emotional stress and frustration far outweighs even that. She was employed by someone who knew of her situation and took advantage of it on a daily basis. You see, when you work for an employer on the H-1B visa, you can work for ONLY that one employer for the entire duration of that particular visa, and that employer knows it. People with these visas do not have the luxury of quitting a job – no matter what. You could be sexually harassed, emotionally harassed, financially harassed, abused in any way and there would be nothing you could do about it. You quit or get terminated, then you lose your visa, and then you are deported back to your country. Can you imagine how some employers take advantage of that very fact? In the case of Yvonne, they did. Shelby says it is very stressful to come home to a depressed Yvonne at the end of the day, especially since Shelby loves her own job so much. Shelby wants to encourage Yvonne in every way that she can, but the only thing that is going to take away this type of stress is for Yvonne to be able to find the position that is best suited for her and at this time, she is not able to do that.

So, at this time, Yvonne is now awaiting for school to start, so that she can get yet another degree (that she does not need), thus granting her a little more time here in their home they call America. I can hear the sorrow in her voice as she says, “I am weary, I am tired, I want for this to all be over with now. I do not want to be 70 years old and still trying to get different visas and worrying whether or not I will still be able to live here with Shelby. It is not right. I am getting older and I just want the frustration to go away. I just want peace as we grow old together.” Yvonne then turned to Shelby and with her eyes solemn, thanked Shelby for putting up with her and all of these legal hurdles for all of these years. Shelby then said it best when she said, “ALL people of America need to realize just how UN-American this is. I am a United States citizen and I SHOULD have the SAME rights as every other American citizen – NOT special rights, but EQUAL rights. I DESERVE to have Yvonne live by my side as my life mate for the rest of my life legally and at peace!”

April Herms works at the National office for the Lesbian and Gay Immigration Rights Task Force (LGIRTF) in New York. She oversees a lot of the political work and grant writing. She is also a great source of information for couples like myself, Steve, Shelby, and Yvonne. She states that at this time, the Permanent Partners Immigration Act (PPIA) has been reintroduced into legislation. At this time, there are 435 Representatives in the House of Representatives. You must have half of them co-sponsor an Act to pass. At this time, the PPIA has approximately 75 co-sponsors, so as you can see, we have a lot of work ahead of us. You can understand that this will not be an easy task, especially with our current Republican administration. April said it might be several years before this Act will pass.

April did a superb job of explaining all of the different visas, what they mean, and how long they last. They include the visitor visa, which is usually good for 3 – 6 months. To get this visa, you must show strong ties to your own country, in order to show that you do not intend to stay in America. The F-1 student visa is good for the life of your college career, as long as you are studying courses that apply to your final degree. The H-1B employment visa is good for 3 – 6 years and allows you to work for only one employer during that time. The Labor Certification visa allows you to work for only one certain employer, but allows you to do so for an indefinite amount of time. Then lastly, one would apply for their “green card”, which of course allows you to finally stay in this country indefinitely and allows you to work for whomever and whenever. This particular visa is extremely expensive to obtain and can take a considerable amount of time to obtain as well. April mentioned that most people obtain these visas in the order mentioned.

April was very positive in that she said to never give up hope. We must all fight for the PPIA to pass as soon as possible. She advises all binational couples to see an Immigration lawyer for help in all immigration legal matters. More importantly, she says that you should definitely visit the LGIRTF website and contact them, so they can help you in any way that you might need. Their website is rich in information and they are always open to receive any questions and are always ready to help in any way possible. Steve and I can testify to that fact. It is because of this organization that we have maintained our relationship here in America. They have also helped in that we have met numerous couples in the same predicament as we are in. You can only imagine the sense of empowerment that one feels when you have others like you around for support.

In fact, it was through this organization, that we were led to the DFW chapter of LGIRTF. Shelby and Yvonne belong to the Houston chapter of LGIRTF. We all agreed that finding this group was one of the best things for our relationship. This organization is made up of couples much like us – binational couples from all over the world. The chapter here in Dallas gets together once a month and we usually have a guest speaker come to speak to us on different issues concerning our immigration rights. This chapter offers a wealth of knowledge for any struggling binational couple. However, it is much more than that. It has been so rewarding to find other binational couples that are going through exactly what you are going through. I remember our first meeting. It was cathartic – kind of like your first PFLAG meeting, where you found out you were not the only other gay person on earth. In fact, this group has been so helpful, that many agree, that if this group had indeed existed 10 years ago, many would not be in the dilemma that they now find themselves in.

The DFW chapter of LGIRTF meets once a month. Please see the website at the end of this article for the web address. We have a public radio show coming up soon on Lambda Weekly, which airs on KNON, as well as a Legal Clinic with Immigration Attorneys coming up in August. The group gets together for both information giving and political strategy sessions. We also get together for Happy Hour on the first Friday of the month. We have members of all types – from binational couples to single friends who just want to help with our great need and cause. Contact someone at the addresses below for more information regarding upcoming events or if you have any questions whatsoever.

So, OK, GAY AMERICA, gay family, gay community, and yes even you, STRAIGHT AMERICA (I have many straight friends who stand behind the PPIA), it is time for you to take a stand!!! Yes, I know that we, as the gay community, have a multitude of “stands” to take already, but this is definitely one more that we need to add to our list. Perhaps you are a binational couple and have been hurting and searching for answers all alone. Perhaps you are someone who had no idea that this issue even existed. Well, now you know. All of us in this world who are granted knowledge are then called to act upon that knowledge. We must all make a conscious decision to either act on the knowledge we have just gained, take a stand, and possibly make a difference OR we have the ability to just waste that knowledge and not make a difference in the lives of a person, a couple, or even your own community. There are so many things that each and every one of us can do to make it so that we not only have the grand privilege of falling in love with that certain someone, but also to have the RIGHT to bring that person here to America to live in peace for the rest of our lives together.

I can only guarantee you the following, as far as my own relationship, and I know that many out there agree with me. Steve and I are very much law abiding people and we will abide by the law of the land, but if the government tries to come and take Steve away, they will definitely have a one big battle on their hands (Elian Gonzales comes to mind). Nothing will ever separate Steve and I. If we have to, if things become so unbearable in this country, then we will move to Canada, but what about the countless other couples who do not have the opportunity nor the privilege of moving to a country that does accept same-sex couples on an immigration basis? Can you imagine how helpless they feel? Can you imagine the pain and agony of losing your loved one, your soul mate, your life mate because of some backward law, especially from a country, like America, that pretends to be one of the most advanced societies in the world? Imagine what that must feel like for just one minute, for just one second…… lose the one you love. Come help us and countless other binational couples stay together……help us enjoy our privilege and gain our RIGHT….won’t you help…….please?

National Office of LGIRTF - 212 – 818 – 9639 – hotline

Dallas Chapter of LGIRTF
Contacts in DFW with questions:

Posted with permission of Drew Newell Riley

Copyright ©2001 Love Sees No Borders