Reacting to POTUS Speech on Comprehensive Immigration Today in Las Vegas

I have waited a few hours to write. One reason, because I had to take a nap – I was completely worn out after we went to the high school in Las Vegas, waited for hours, met people, took pictures, heard the President speak, shook his hand and reminded him of our plight and came back to the hotel.

Two, I want to be careful what I say – and say what I say right. So here goes…

Getting an invitation from the White House to attend the speech was amazing – and I am glad that we decided to go after I originally declined because of cost. My constant reality is that we don’t have as much money as we used to, because of DOMA. In 2009 I faced the choice of staying in America without my wife, who was told to leave “for a long time” or being with her inside and outside America but taking early retirement.

For me, there was no choice. I chose Karin and our life together. But it means that I don’t have my optimum pension – and never will. And Karin, who does not live in the UK full-time anymore, cannot apply for and receive as much pension benefits as she could. So money is something we have to think about. And to do our activism about immigration reform we spend money to go places and speak or represent our cause.

But then family and friends helped us out and urged us to be there for the historic speech which would include – in the room and on the world’s airwaves – the words we so long to hear – immigration reform in America will include same-sex binational families and LGBT folks with the various issues they face about being together, becoming citizens, being able to start families, being able to get or stay employed, all that.

So we decided to fly to Las Vegas and be there for the historic speech.

We got to the high school and got our tickets and met a White House staffer – so that’s an important outcome. We thanked the White House staffer who invited us via text for our tickets – which were in the VIP section! That’s a big plus!

We were able to get a general admission ticket for a friend who does lots of immigration and LGBT and community organizing work in our home city, so that was a big plus.

Today we went to the event. I wasn’t able to sleep through the night – woke up at 4 a.m. and blogged and read news and emails. So I tried to go back to sleep and did, only to get a phone call from DC that I welcomed, but came before my alarm went off. So I was a bit off for the rest of the day, but this is a day that I wouldn’t be normal anyway…

As we got out of the taxi, we spotted Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis and got our picture taken with her. Wow!

Then we went to wait in the red ticket line and got inside after going through the metal detectors and being wanded by the security force.

We were directed to the very front row of seats by the White House staffer. That was a shock, but a great one. Then Jose Antonio Vargas came in and sat beside us. We were screaming and hugging each other because we are such fans of each other’s work. What a plus! We traded hopes and information and updates and he worked throughout the waiting period. I tweeted a bit but was mostly looking around and seeing what was going on.

I greeted California Speaker of the Assembly John Perez and he gave Karin and I duck pins. Wow! I had a long visit with Ruben Kihuen, Senate Majority Whip of the Nevada legislature and his mother Blanca.

Then things started happening and the DC folks and local and regional electeds came walking in and were seated in the row behind us. Right behind me was Valerie Jarrett from the White House. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano walked in and I shook her hand and reminded her that we same-sex binational families need help with immigration. As we clasped hands, she said “It’s in the President’s proposal.”

Before anything else could happen, big cheers erupted and I turned around and there was the President running to the stage – about 10 feet away if not closer.

His speech was strong and exciting and well-received. We did lots of clapping and standing up and yelling.

He shared his reasons why immigration reform needs fixing. He used powerful examples. He warned about “us and them” and the history in America that includes all of “us” as “them” unless we were the first Americans, Native Americans. He’s right!

So I am proud and glad. But the few words I was hoping to hear roll off his tongue were not to be today. He did not say anything similar to the magic in his second inaugural speech. He did not say “our lesbian and gay sisters and brothers with non-American spouses need immigration reform and a quick path to green cards” or anything like that. Am I mad? Can’t really say so – I don’t want to seem crabby or ungracious. Am I disappointed? Yes, sure, of course. I would have loved to have heard it and seen it with my own eyes here at this special event which turned our lives upside down for a few days and cost money we had not planned on spending for travel.

But am I happy? Yes! I had an experience of a lifetime! And I met folks working on immigration reform that I would never have met. They met me, and they learned of another slice of the immigration reform pie that they may not think of or know about.

I have more than half a dozen business cards and handwritten information that will be used to send signed copies of my book their way when I get back home.

So, exhausted and happy and still on an emotional roller coaster a bit, I am sharing this with you before I go to sleep.

We are seeing progress, but our victory is not here. Even if the President had said out loud today at this event what is in his proposal, our victory is not here. He is urging Congress to get this fixed and his proposal includes us – let me repeat, his proposal includes us. But we still need to be sure those of us who have applied for green cards will not be denied before the fix comes. We need our cases to be put in abeyance until either Congress acts or the Supreme Court makes its decision that kills DOMA, or perhaps something we can’t imagine will come from the White House to solve our dilemma. That’s not being ungracious or rude – that’s being realistic. We are not safe yet. We are not treated equally by our federal government and careers and families and lives are harmed by the way things are.

Karin and I have been under further review by USCIS since our marriage interview September 7, 2012. We can’t visit family and friends outside America. Karin would not be allowed back in. We have no guarantee our case won’t be denied. Other cases have been and will be. We have not been put in abeyance – the safe holding pattern that avoids denial while DOMA is being dealt with. So I hope you can see why my feelings are mixed.

But my feelings are good and proud too – so many people have worked so hard and spent so much and lost so much in this battle. I think of them today and wish them well as we continue down this road together. As we chanted in Las Vegas with the President today, si se puede!

I hope I won’t have to attend another family wedding via Skype. I hope I won’t have to offer comfort for a family member having surgery via Skype or email or telephone. I hope my wife and I can be safely here, federally recognized as married and blessed with a green card for her soon. I hope we can travel in and out of America safely together. We want to be treated like any other American married couple. We want to be able to enjoy our golden years with fewer problems and expenses. I am now getting used to Medicare – turned 65 this month. Karin will be 73 in August. We think it’s time for us to be free from all this immigration hassle…


So here’s my regular sign-off for posts:

Immigration Equality, Out4Immigration and Love Exiles Foundation are the three groups working on our issue – and the three groups who receive whatever money comes in from sales of my book, Torn Apart: United by Love, Divided by Law, Findhorn Press, 2011.
My newer project, with David W. Ross, whose new film “I Do: The Movie” will be out in June 2012, is a portrait project of LGBT binational families, United by Love, Divided by Law Portrait Project. It expands the reach of my book and will keep adding portraits as we find couples and funds to add more. We will hold events to assist the work being done for our families by Lavi Soloway and Stop the Deportations – The DOMA Project.
Check out the site at
and see the Facebook page at
To follow Torn Apart: United by Love, Divided by Law, go to its Facebook page at:
Read an excerpt of my book at this link:
Order online from the publisher at this link:
Elizabeth Gilbert wrote the foreword to my book. She is an ally in our fight and has suffered from the immigration situation herself as part of a binational relationship. Though she and her boyfriend were able to marry, they know what the drill was and they advocate for LGBT binational families. We like that!
Remember, too, you can follow me and what I am doing and thinking and reading on twitter   @tornapartbook
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