Steve Ralls

This Thursday: Stand with Shirley & Jay

Filed By Steve Ralls | April 13, 2011 8:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Action Alerts, Marriage Equality
Tags: Congress, immigration, immigration equality, Jerrold Nadler, shirley tan, uniting american families act

On Thursday afternoon, Congressman Jerrold Nadler of New York will reintroduce the Uniting American Families Act in the House of Representatives.

Tan Mercado Family.jpgThe bill, which would finally allow lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans to sponsor their foreign-born partners for residency in the United States, finished the last Congress with a record number of co-sponsors - and for good reason. Every year, more and more LGBT Americans are being forced apart from their families, or forced abroad, as their options for remaining together in the U.S. come to an end. The discrimination LGBT families face under our country's immigration laws is severe, and all too real. Immigration Equality hears, almost every day, from another family that is facing this untenable and unconscionable choice.

On Tuesday, one of those families issued a call to our community to meet them on Capitol Hill.

When Congressman Nadler reintroduces UAFA on Thursday, he'll be joined by Shirley Tan, Jay Mercado (her partner of more than 20 years), and their twin sons, Joriene and Jashley. The Tan-Mercado family is traveling to Washington from their home in northern California because they know, first-hand, just how devastating our immigration laws can be.

Shirley and her family became the public face of UAFA after immigration officers took her into custody and threatened to remove her from the United States, and tear her apart from her family. Despite the fact that her partner, Jay, and her twins are all American citizens, they had no ability to keep her in the United States. Had Senator Dianne Feinstein not stepped in with a private bill on her behalf, Shirley would have been forced from her family, and sent back to the Philippines, where she had been brutally shot by a family member years earlier. (To learn more about the family's story, watch this recent documentary from Immigration Equality.)

Though the entire family is grateful for Senator Feinstein's advocacy on their behalf, they also know that Shirley's reprieve from deportation is not permanent . . . and that, for thousands of families like them, even a temporary reprieve is often not possible. They have testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee... told their story at the White House and tirelessly worked for UAFA's passage.

Now, as more families than ever face separation - and the Obama Administration refuses to hold green card applications for LGBT spouses as the Defense of Marriage Act is challenged in court - Shirley, Jay, and their twin sons are returning to Washington and inviting the community to rally with them on Thursday.

The Tan-Mercado family will be joined by other families from around the area as they press lawmakers to support - and pass - UAFA. A rally in support of Congressman Nadler's reintroduction will take place at 1pm on the House Triangle, and the family, along with Immigration Equality, are calling on the public to come stand with them and send an unmistakable message to Congress and the Administration: it is time to stop tearing LGBT families apart.

Bilerico readers in and around Washington, D.C., are invited to join Shirley and her family on Thursday afternoon. You can RSVP, via Facebook, online here. And, you can ask your lawmakers to support UAFA's reintroduction by visiting the Immigration Equality Action Fund, here.

There are tens of thousands of families who are facing the very real prospect of being torn apart from their loved ones. Shirley, Jay, Joriene and Jashley are waging a heroic campaign to make sure no other family faces the same situation they have endured. But, they cannot do it alone.

If you're in Washington, join them on Thursday. Ask your lawmaker to support UAFA as a co-sponsor. And tell the Administration: The LGBT community - and our friends and allies - will not stand quietly by as our families are ripped apart.

This is our moment to stand together - with Shirley & Jay and our champions in Congress - and demand change. Let's make it count.

This Thursday, come stand with Shirley and Jay.

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Question: If UAFA passes and then DOMA is repealed, doesn't that set up different standards for immigration? Under those circumstances, LGBT people would be able to sponsor their spouses or their boyfriend/girlfriends - which straight couples can't do.

I was going to comment about DOMA repeal too. Since the House isn't going to take up either, perhaps LGBT orgs should present a united front on that issue. The government has already said that the only reason it isn't allowing these partners to stay is because of DOMA.

Steve Ralls Steve Ralls | April 13, 2011 2:11 PM

There is a potentially significant difference between passage of UAFA and demise of DOMA for many binational couples.

UAFA would immediately benefit all binational couples, regardless of where they live, or if the American partner's home state recognizes marriage or not. The ability to sponsor a partner for residency, under UAFA, is dependent (as with straight marriages) on verifying the validity of the relationship. Couples who are unable to marry in their home state would still qualify for immigration benefits under UAFA.

Should the courts ultimately strike down DOMA on a limited basis, not all couples would immediately benefit. So, for example, if a U.S. Supreme Court ruling ultimately found that the federal government could not deny federal benefits to couples in states with recognized marriages . . . but not find mini-DOMAs at the state level unconstitutional . . . then only couples in states with marriage recognition would benefit from such a ruling.

Of course, couples could conceivably relocate to states where their marriages would be recognized. That, however, would require uprooting settled lives in their home state. For many couples, that also presents economic, employment and other barriers, too.

There's no doubt that DOMA's repeal would help binational families. But to ensure that the most families benefit as quickly as possible, UAFA still remains a critical piece of legislation.

I hope that's helpful insight!

thank you for this! a necessary call to action!

I'm sorry if I'm being dense, but as far as I can tell, Shirley and Jay are a heterosexual couple. So I don't understand why they can't get married and how this situation applies to them. What am I missing?

Steve Ralls Steve Ralls | April 14, 2011 10:32 AM

Rory: Shirley and Jay are a lesbian couple. As such, Jay is unable to sponsor Shirley for residency under U.S. immigration laws.

Thanks, Steve. Couldn't tell that from the photo or the name.