Alfonso Garcia and Brian Willingham get their marriage license (Photo courtesy Stop The Deportations)
The Department of Homeland Security was created in the wake of 9/11 because it was clear that federal agencies were too territorial and not sharing vital information and policies. It feels as if that bureaucratic confusion between DHS and the Department of Justice remains when it comes to immigration and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
Last October, the DHS came under intense criticism from Latino groups after the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) revealed that the Obama administration had deported a record number of illegal immigrants for the third straight year. “These record-breaking deportation numbers come at a time when illegal immigration rates have plummeted, the undocumented population has decreased substantially and violent crime rates are at their lowest levels in 40 years," the ACLU's Joanne Lin said in a statement. "Our country can no longer afford to pay for uncontrolled, unwarranted DHS spending, at the cost to U.S. taxpayers.”
The figures came in the wake of an agreement made last August between DHS and DOJ that they would form a working group to review the active deportation cases on a case-by-case basis to make sure they focused on high priority targets - ie, people who pose a threat to national security. The guidelines were hailed by LGBT immigration reform advocates anxious for the DOJ to consistently apply its declaration that DOMA is unconstitutional to cases of married bi-nationals facing deportation because of DOMA.
Indeed, as Stop The Deportations: The DOMA Project has pointed out, individual deportation cases have been successfully judicially deferred. But the policy has not trickled down to enforcement officials - forcing gay bi-national couples to still endure the pain, cost, humiliation and anxiety of possible deportation.
Such is the case with married couple Brian Willingham and Alfonso Garcia - Garcia has been denied a green card because of DOMA and faces a deportation hearing in San Francisco on Thursday, March 22.
As Willingham describes, their lives became a "weird, Orwellian, 1984, Big-Brother" nightmare after they were stopped for a routine traffic stop and Garcia was detained by local authorities and placed on an "immigration hold" by the federal government. "They took my husband away in chains and put him in a county jail," Willingham writes. Garcia was moved to two more jails before he could get a visit. "Even though he is not a criminal, they brought him in to a tiny visitation booth in handcuffs and we sat there talking and crying until they took him away 10 minutes later."
The agony didn't end there: even though he secured bond, immigration decided to fly Garcia "on a prison jet" to "a facility out in the desert somewhere in Arizona." Finally, "Immigration and Customs Enforcement allowed him to return home, but not before initiating formal "removal" proceedings to deport Alfonso to Mexico, a country has not lived in for more than 20 years. If the government succeeds in deporting him, Alfonso will be barred from returning for 10 years."
Willingham and the DOMA Project have now sent a letter to President Obama asking for his direct intervention and clarification of the policy. (They have also launched a petition asking for your help, too.) Willingham writes:
I am denied the right to sponsor my husband for a green card because of DOMA. So Mr. President I need your help. I am calling on you to stop the deportation of my husband. Not with vague references to a deportation policy that has been reformed to keep families together, but with explicit written directives to stop deportations of couples like [us], who but for DOMA, would have access to a green card. I deserve to see that in writing. It is an outrage that the administration hides behind general language, and leaves it up to local ICE officials to implement "prosecutorial discretion" guidelines. I have filed a green card petition for Alfonso on the basis of our marriage. I understand that DOMA, though it is unconstitutional, may prevent my petition from being immediately approved. But Mr. President, there is no law on the books that says my petition must be rejected. I implore you to hold my marriage-based petition in abeyance until the day when true justice can be served and the petition can be approved. Please instruct Attorney General, Eric Holder, and Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, to hold in abeyance my petition for Alfonso and all green card petitions by married gay, bi-national couples. Alfonso and I have spent the last 10 years of our lives together in a loving, committed relationship. Please don't force us to spend the next 10 years torn apart.
In addition to signing the petition, you can also call the couple's elected officials and ask for their help, too: