Worlds Apart

When it comes to immigration for gay bi-national couples, love does have borders

Russell Ahr of the Phoenix INS says the agency doesn't keep track of how many homosexuals are deported annually. However, he does say seeking out same-sex couples is not a priority for the INS.

"There's a universe of deportable aliens out there," Ahr says. "What we are currently focusing on are criminal aliens."

At the meeting, Christopher Nugent, an immigration attorney and executive director of the Florence Immigration and Refugee Rights Project, offered practical advice on how to survive as an undocumented person.

"You want to avoid any interaction with law enforcement to the best of your abilities," Nugent says.

For example, driving south of Phoenix is not recommended for the dark-skinned individuals in the audience who may be pulled over for what Nugent calls "driving while Mexican." Nugent also reminds people that if police stop them, they do not have to offer any information about their documentation status.

He outlined some of the loopholes in the law. Immigrants might seek asylum protection if their home country persecutes homosexuals, or they could try to find an employer to sponsor them for citizenship.

Cee-Cee was excited to meet William Calvo, another Costa Rican who says he was recently granted political asylum because he was able to prove that he feared persecution if sent home.

"I knew there was a good reason I came here today," Cee-Cee says.

The best possibility for bi-national, same-sex couples might be the Permanent Partners Immigration Act of 2000, introduced by Representative Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat. This bill would provide same-sex couples virtually all the immigration rights that legal spouses enjoy. The bill defines "permanent partners" as people older than 18 who are involved in a lifelong committed relationship and are not eligible for marriage. This means heterosexual couples are not eligible for permanent partner status because they have the option to marry. The couple must be financially interdependent and provide testimony from friends and family about their relationship.

So far, no Arizona congressmen have endorsed the bill.

"That bill is our only hope," says Diane.

Thirteen other countries already recognize lesbian and gay couples for immigration purposes. They are Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Iceland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, Sweden and the United Kingdom. Eric Schmeltzer, press secretary for Nadler, says the bill may not stand a chance unless the Democrats take back Congress.

"I wouldn't be surprised if it isn't heard right away," Schmeltzer says. "If you look at the Republican record on gay rights, it's pretty abysmal. And immigration doesn't seem to be one of their favorites, either."

Couples like Diane and Emola, Cee-Cee and Anne hope the United States will be added to this list soon. In the meantime, they are surviving on one salary, paying out-of-state tuition and living with the fear that they will be deported. They also realize that the passage of this legislation is a long shot, with the GOP domination in Congress and the possibility of a Republican president on the horizon.

"I figure we should start staking out real estate in Canada if Bush is elected," Anne says.

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