Here’s my prepared remarks for the UNITY 12 panel I was part of – I hope what I said was pretty much what I prepared!
Reminder, re-posting the description, names and IDs of the panelists and moderator:
- Floyd E. Vasquez Jr., Assignment Manager, KOB Eyewitness News 4/HBI / email@example.com
- Wendy Feliz Sefsaf, Communications Director, American Immigration Council / WSefsaf@immcouncil.org
- Judy Rickard, author of Torn Apart: United by Love, Divided by Law / firstname.lastname@example.org
- Eric K. Ward, Programme Executive, U.S. Reconciliation and Human Rights The Atlantic Philanthropies / email@example.com
I first invited the audience to take a look at the mounted portraits of same-sex binational couples and families with children that were at the back of the room.
(If you are not aware of this portrait project, you can check it out on Facebook at
https://www.facebook.com/unitedbylovedividedbylaw?ref=hl and see some of the powerful portraits of those who face discrimination because of DOMA, Defense of Marriage Act).
Who I Am:
I am a journalist of color. My color is lavender – or rainbow! I am Judy Rickard. I am 64 years old. I am subjected to extreme cruelty by my government. Why? Because I am married to a woman, Karin Bogliolo, who is not an American citizen. My wife, 72 this week, was born in Germany but has been a British citizen since she was a young adult. She has also lived in France and Spain for several years each. She is truly European.
So What, You Might Say – Cruelty? America is Cruel?
DOMA, Defense of Marriage Act, Is Our Enemy.
Ever since Karin and I committed to each other in 2006, I have been fighting to keep my wife here with me. DOMA, Defense of Marriage Act, won’t let us be together here. DOMA won’t let me sponsor my legally-married wife for immigration to the U.S. as my spouse. Since 1996, DOMA has worked against Americans with spouses from other countries. Glenn Greenwald, for example, had to leave the country to be with his Brazilian husband.
Overlapping Hot Topics
Because we live in that part of the universe where two hot topics overlap – immigration and same-sex marriage – I have to keep working to show my government that my life with my wife is the same as anyone else’s and that we are equal and are to be treated with respect and equality.
DOMA defines marriage in America as one man and one woman. The Immigration and Nationalization Service allows Americans to sponsor spouses, parents and children for immigration. That’s the law. But to the federal government, we are not spouses.
Karin and I – as well as an estimated 36,000 other American spouses with same-sex non-American spouses – don’t qualify for the same right other American spouses do. We face government cruelty. We are discriminated against. We are not recognized. So right now we wait. Or break up. Or live apart. Or go underground. Or some or all of these poor options.
Disgusting Choices We Have to Make
No American should have to choose between country and spouse. No American should have to choose between country and career. No American should have to leave America to be with the one they love.
But we are faced with these disgusting choices. I had to take early retirement – with a reduced pension for life – just to be able to be with my wife when she has to leave the country. And I am one of the lucky ones, I was near retirement age when we met and got married. Young people can’t get jobs, can’t keep jobs, can’t start families, can’t keep families because of DOMA.
Put Yourself in My Shoes
How would you feel if you were separated from your wife or husband half the year each year? Or worse, longer than that? Or worse than that – how would you feel if your children and spouse were elsewhere for long periods of time? That’s what we face.
I’d rather be enjoying my golden years with my wife doing other things, but until we win this battle, we fight. So I have challenged my government to recognize my marriage and allow me to keep my spouse with me. And I am documenting it on my blog – calling it The Green Card Trail.
YOU Are Part of Our Solution!
I am thrilled to be sharing this topic, this information, our story with you today. As journalists, you are my allies, our allies, in the court of public opinion. This is the court where change happens. And you wield the power to break the stories and place the message in front of America and beyond her borders. That work means that Karin and I and the rest of us have a shot at a safe and normal life here, together.
How Did I Get So Brave?
People tell me I’m brave. I guess I am but I am scared most of the time too. I’m scared right now! I am challenging the government for my future with my wife – and the future of all of us.
I have empowered myself to do what I need to do. It came from not wanting to lose my wife, to lose our life together. It came from discrimination fatigue. It came from that place that says ENOUGH already!
Everyone can’t do what I have done or what I am doing, but everyone can do something.
I wrote a book about this issue, Torn Apart: United by Love, Divided by Law, Findhorn Press, 2011, with a foreword by our ally Elizabeth Gilbert.
I partnered with film maker David W. Ross to make a portrait display of affected families, United by Love: Divided by Law Portrait Project.
I filed for a marriage-based green card to sponsor my spouse with the guidance of our lawyer, Lavi Soloway.
I am among a small group of gay men and lesbians who are doing this to get our government to do its job, to get the U.S. Customs and Immigration Service to do its job and allow our spouses to be here with us.
My story, our story, is just one. But here’s the basic deal for us:
Karin and I want you to understand that we are the same as you.
We are a couple.
We live normal lives.
But because of DOMA, Karin has been on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean for half of our relationship.
Because of the orders of USCIS, Karin was told to leave the country for a long time. In order to be together, I had no choice but to take early retirement. That means when we have to be out of the country, which costs us money, we have less to live on. It’s expensive to live in two countries at the same time.
Last year, our first effort was to ask for a visa extension for Karin. It was denied. That’s a loss, and an expense.
So I filed for a green card for Karin in January. So far, it has not been denied. So far, it’s a victory, and an expense.
We are waiting for our marriage interview now. Our Congressman’s request that our interview be delayed until after DOMA is decided by the Supreme Court or Congress was denied. That’s a loss.
When we have the marriage interview with immigration, we are sure we will be denied what we ask for – that I can sponsor my wife for immigration. So we will have to appeal, to go to court. That’s a loss and more expense.
Extreme Cruelty For Us Right Now
But extreme cruelty because of DOMA is more than Karin being placed in a cell and questioned for three hours – denied her request for a glass of water and a phone call in 2008 at the San Francisco Airport.
DOMA keeps us from family in the UK. In just a few hours, our son is getting married in Scotland. We can’t go to the wedding because Karin can’t leave the country while we are in proceedings for her green card. If she leaves, she likely won’t be able to return. So early tomorrow we will watch the wedding on Skype in our hotel room.
Our story is real – it’s not an abstract concept. Others have real stories too – many more painful than ours. Others are separated from children and spouses all the time. Or from elderly parents or from siblings. Or from careers they can’t keep – or can’t take – because of their spouse’s citizenship.
No American should have to choose between family and country.
No American should have to choose between career and country.
No American should have to leave America to be with the one they love.
We see the hope of change. The current administration has gone on record to say that DOMA is unconstitutional and will not be defended in federal court. But people are still having to leave the country to stay together. That’s not right. And it’s not the solution we need.
I challenge the hypocrisy, the cognitive dissonance of the government’s position and the USCIS actions that still occur. They say one thing and do another.
DOMA has to go, but until it is gone there must be ways the government can do its job and use all its options, create solutions to avoid ending the marriages and careers of lesbian and gay Americans with non-citizen spouses.
We need a moratorium on deportations.
We need same-sex binational couples and families protected and kept together.
President Obama can mitigate or lessen the effects of DOA as we prepare for a future when all families are treated completely equally.
All couples should be allowed to marry.
All married couples should be treated equally.
I am/we are engaging the system to treat us like all Americans are to be treated.
We have enlisted our federal legislators.
We have engaged USCIS.
We are making them face the consequences of what the President and Attorney General and Secretary of Homeland Security have said and the way things are going on day by day. We see stories of deportations in the media still, in spite of the fact that cases are to be held in abeyance.
YOUR Opportunity For Stories Of Grave Importance
Your opportunity is rich with subjects. There are families anxious to get your help to share their stories and get this solved for all of us. You can capture the passion of their particular experience. You can educate the community – including the LGBT community – about how this issue affects the country.
In the long run, we are better as a country when all are treated equally.
Today, same-sex binational couples are not treated equally as other Americans. Just ask me – I’ll tell you.
Be sharp in your message. Use careful language. Talk about the pain of separation, the human cost. Talk about the injustice of what the administration has said and what is still happening. Feature what binational couples have done to solve their problems.
You can help us get the message out that the green card process needs to be put on hold until DOMA is decided by the Supreme Court in the next several months. This Congress won’t don anything about it, that’s for sure.
You can help Americans not become expatriated because of who they love and who they married. We will all be grateful for the help.
Yes, There Are Laws Trying to Happen – But Congress Won’t Help Right Now
There are three pieces of legislation related to this issue, two trying to keep binational couples together via sponsorship for immigration and one specifically written to take down DOMA. The two seeking immigration sponsorship change are UAFA, Uniting American Families Act and RFA, Reuniting Families Act. The one to take down DOMA is Respect for Marriage Act. You can find out about them online at Thomas from the Library of Congress.
Thanks for your attention and your help!
Here’s my regular sign-off for blog 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: http://bit.ly/eIyGxh
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