Benjamin Anderson will spend this Thanksgiving packing. The Coast Guard veteran, who currently lives in Salt Lake City, is preparing to leave the United States because current immigration laws have made it nearly impossible for him to remain in the country he honorably served.
Benjamin's partner, Mattia Lumaca, is Italian. He has remained in the U.S. under a student visa while studying English. During that time, he has also been Benjamin's primary care-giver. Benjamin became ill, and developed diabetes and heart complications, while serving in the Coast Guard. He relies on Mattia to administer his insulin, and for nearly every aspect of his day-to-day care, including driving him to doctors' appointments.
Mattia's student visa, however, does not come with work authorization. And Benjamin's income is significantly restricted due to his health problems, which render him unable to work. The two live on a limited income provided by Benjamin's disability benefits and, increasingly, simply cannot survive on such small resources.
If Benjamin and Mattia were a married, straight couple, Mattia's ability to work would be all but assured. The couple would be more than willing to move to another state where they could tie the knot. In fact, they will marry in New York in early December. But that will be during an Empire State stop-over as they leave the United States, possibly for good.
Because of the Defense of Marriage Act - and the discriminatory immigration laws still on the books in the U.S. - Benjamin has no legal recourse to sponsor Mattia for residency. That, in turn, means Mattia cannot obtain authorization to work in the U.S. either. That lethal combination has force the couple, along with so many before them, out of the country they call home.
Ironically, now that 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' is off the books, Benjamin and Mattia plan to spend the night in military housing during their brief visit to New York. But the one benefit Benjamin would like most isn't available to him. Despite his service to our country, he has no power to keep Mattia here.
"I'm really frightened," Benjamin told HuffingtonPost over the weekend. "I don't know what's going to happen. But I'm not going to give up Mattia -- he's my life. I've waited my whole life for someone like him, and I'm not going to give him up."
Benjamin and Mattia (pictured) are just one of more than 40,000 LGBT couples facing potential separation under current immigration laws, according to a new report from The Williams Institute. Some couples, out of temporary options to remain together - and unable to move abroad - have fallen out of status even though, were it not for DOMA, they would be able to remain in legal status based on their committed relationship.
And while the Department of Homeland Security has said removal of immigrants with U.S. citizen family members who fall out of status would be a "low priority," the Administration refused, last week, to put that commitment in writing.
Instead, an anonymous source told The Washington Blade that, ". . . we want to include individuals who are in long standing domestic partnerships so we can capture more same-sex couples." The same source went on to say that, "We used the term the family members largely so that domestic partnerships would be included in the standard."
That's great, but it also underscores why a written policy clarifying just that is so important. If the Administration believes - as it should - that even couples in states where marriage is not an option (like Benjamin and Mattia, in Utah) should be considered 'family' for immigration purposes, it needs to tell its agents and officers just that. Instead, the Administration seems to have opted for verbally communicating its stance to employees . . . leaving far too much room for interpretation . . . and, in turn, leaving far too many families in peril of separation or exile.
Indeed, the guidelines issued by the Administration last week concretely spell out a number of individuals who should be "low priority," including DREAM Act-eligible youth; military veterans; and the elderly. It neglected, however, to include a bullet point making clear that LGBT spouses fall under that category, too.
Though Benjamin and Mattia will depart the country before Mattia's status expires, that option isn't a realistic one for some couples.
In Massachusetts, for example, a couple currently working with Immigration Equality's legal team have pleaded with ICE to exercise discretion. To date, they have refused to do so, and as a result, the immigrant spouse (who is legally married to his American husband in Massachusetts) faces deportation to a virulently homophobic country in the Caribbean where being "out" is impossible, and merely trying to be safe is a challenge. Though he has no criminal record, a high likelihood of violent persecution if deported, and a U.S. citizen husband, ICE has refused to act, having no written policy that requires them to recognize the couple as family.
As a result, this could be their last Thanksgiving, too.
President Obama, of course, has the ability to help Benjamin & Mattia, and Immigration Equality's Massachusetts couple, as well as other families like them. He can, in short, instruct DHS and DOJ to hold, in abeyance, green card applications filed by LGBT couples. Doing so would allow those couples to remain together in the United States until DOMA's constitutionality, and fate, is settled. It's an option with clear legal precedence, and one that more than 60 Members of Congress have asked for. And, he can instruct DHS to put - in writing - its commitment that LGBT spouses should be "low priority" for removal, too.
"I'm being forced out of the country I love, the country I fought for, because I am in love with a man," Benjamin recently said. "I just wish people could see that we love each other and deserve the same respect straight people have."
As a country of immigrants, where less than 2% of the population is truly native, it seems like the least we could do.