Steve Ralls

Matthew's Story

Filed By Steve Ralls | August 12, 2009 1:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Politics, Politics
Tags: comprehensive immigration reform, federal legislation, immigration, Immigration Equality, LGBT families, President Obama, Senate, The Advocate, The Washington Blade

For "Matthew," next year can't come soon enough.

The American citizen, who is featured in the September issue of The Advocate, chose the pseudonym to honor the memory of Matthew Shepard. He cannot use his real name because doing so will almost certainly mean that he and his partner will face unspeakable violence. This "Matthew" lives in fear that he may face the same fate as his more famous namesake.

The "Matthew" of September's Advocate, you see, lives abroad, in a Muslim country in the Middle East, because he cannot live at home, in the United States, with his partner. Under current U.S. immigration law, Matthew cannot sponsor his partner, who is Middle Eastern, for residency. As a result, they now make their home in one of the most hostile countries on earth for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Their story, movingly recounted by reporter Andrew Harmon, is a stark reminder of just how heinous U.S. immigration law can be.

So for Matthew, President Obama's pledge yesterday to pass comprehensive immigration reform in 2010 was welcome news. But he knows that Obama's pledge is the easy part. Fixing the immigration system for his family will take the support of the entire LGBT community.

"I'm hopeful," Matthew says in Crossing Borders, Harmon's in-depth report on efforts to end discrimination against LGBT couples under U.S. immigration law, "and that hope sustains us until one day when we can go home."

For now, though, "home" is the Middle East, next door to the man he loves. Just to be in proximity with each other, they are forced to make a life in a country where many such couples have even been sentenced to death.

"Today, the two men reside in a quiet neighborhood of side-by-side townhouses; they have separate entrances for keeping up appearances, though an interior hallway joins their two units," Harmon writes in The Advocate, which has just started arriving on newsstands.

"This is the life we live," Matthew tells Harmon. "It's not a life of tragedy or bitterness. But it is a life of lying and hiding - and not a life that an American citizen and taxpayer should lead."

It is, however, the life that is dictated by current immigration law, which refuses to recognize Matthew and his partner as a family. Unlike 19 other countries (and counting), the United States does not allow lesbian or gay citizens to sponsor their partners for residency. As a result, those couples (nearly half of whom are raising children) are often forced to choose between the person they love and the country they call home.

Today, however, Matthew does have hope because of President Obama's commitment to immigration reform and the tenacity of a coalition of allies who are working around the clock to ensure that any comprehensive immigration reform legislation also includes lesbian and gay families. For the first time, there is a very real possibility of fixing this blatant injustice as part of a bill to fix our broken immigration system.

Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has told reporters that he will finish writing an immigration reform bill - with significant contributions from GOP Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina - by Labor Day. And yesterday, the President sounded optimistic about the bill's chances, telling media at a press conference in Mexico that, "[U]ltimately, I think the American people want fairness."

Fairness dictates that lesbian and gay couples should be included in immigration reform, too.

This past spring, the White House indicated that it supports including LGBT families in a larger, comprehensive reform bill. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee - and lead sponsor of The Uniting American Families Act, a stand-alone bill for binational couples - has said he supports the measure, too. And in June, Congressman Mike Honda (D-CA) sent a strong message that no reform is truly comprehensive without our families, too, when he included LGBT families in his immigration bill, The Reuniting Families Act.

The surest and quickest way to right this wrong, however, is inclusion of families like Matthew's in comprehensive immigration reform. And the campaign to do that, Advocate editor-in-chief Jon Barrett recently noted, is "one of the issues that does seem to be getting some traction in Washington these days."

Immigration Equality, which represents Matthew and thousands of other couples who are separated or facing having their families torn apart, told Harmon that LGBT immigration reform "is the little gay issue that could." Its success, however, will mean hard work on the part of the entire LGBT community.

"If LGBT voters bring new support to a large, comprehensive bill, we also bring credibility to other fights that impact our families, too," Julie Kruse, the group's policy director, wrote earlier this month in The Washington Blade. "That's why it is so important that our community support comprehensive immigration reform and urge Congress to pass an inclusive reform package that benefits us."

Including LGBT families in comprehensive immigration reform will require speaking out. And, for families like Matthew's, the clock is ticking. It is imperative that each of us call our Senators and ask that they first weigh in with Senator Schumer, on behalf of an inclusive immigration bill that leaves no family behind. Then, it is imperative that we call on Senators to stand with us throughout the process, and refuse to allow Matthew, and other families like his, to be taken out of this critically important bill once we're in.

The American people do want fairness in immigration reform. And fairness means allowing Americans to be with the one they love, and ending the hiding that has gone on for too, too long.

The September 2009 issue of The Advocate includes 'Crossing Borders,' which tells Matthew's story in more detail and looks at the campaign to end discrimination against LGBT binational couples. The new issue is on newsstands this week.

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Thank you Steve, Matthew, the Advocate and The Bilerico Project for bringing this issue to the public. Unlike other unfortunate discriminatory practices against our community, here in the US and abroad, this is the one that either keeps partners apart, or forces them to choose between heart and home.

Imagine vacationing overseas, then getting on a plane to go back to the US with your partner, only to watch your partner be pulled aside by immigration officials and denied entry because of your relationship. Watching as cats and dogs are let into the US but not your partner. This is REALITY for tens of thousands of American citizens and their partners!

NOW is the time to end this discrimination once and for all. Call your Representative and your Senators today!

I live this pain. The names and country are different and my partner and I are together still after nine years and against all odds. We live in fear of his driving -- being out in the community, fear of harrassment, fear of being deported. I am an American -- very successful and able to do most anything we want to do, except that because of this unfair and unequal treatment, we are very limited -- no valid ID, so no flights, no travel outside the country. Constant constraints and constant fear.

Thank you for this wonderful article highlighting this unbelievable discrimination.

I too, know the pain and suffering that comes along with having a partner from outside of the US. And I know what it is like to live "undocumented" in another Country. I did it for 4 years. You are afraid to voice your opinion, drive, etc. My partner and I (of 12 years) are still together, but living in seperate Countries until something is passed. Oh... the land of the free.....
I have been signing petitions and meeting with Rep's for 8 years now. Someday, when my partner and I can both retire, we will move to another Country and finially start our life together. Obama is doing nothing... Congress is doing nothing... And forget the Senate.... Until a CLASS ACTION LAWSUIT is brought upon this Country for ALL CIVIL RIGHTS, nothing is going to change. We voted the Dem's in because we have no choice. They know this and will play on us Queers for another 40 years....
Am I angry? You betcha.... And now Santorum is thinking about running for President in 2012...
Just what this Country and red dogs need...

I've had to watch my partner leave time and time again! it NEVER gets easy as I know it's the same for him when I have to leave him! I've been to the states where I was pulled by immigration and they've told me to stop coming for a while. My partner has been back to the states and they've now told him he can't leave till they've investigated him! We've both never done anything wrong to anybody and we've kept everything leagal. Now we're not even allowed to visit each other for the fear of deportation. If this isn't discrimination then I don't know what is?

Thank you for this artical and bringing people like us and all our situations to light.

Chris in SF | August 19, 2009 11:32 PM

Thanks for the additional coverage on this story. It is amazing to me how few people, even in the Queer community, get that just because folks can marry in Iowa, it doesn't mean beans if you are gay and fall in love with someone who is not a US citizen. Good job, we need word spread and the Uniting American Families Act passed!