Some fantastic news came down federal immigration officials today: Henry Velandia, the Venezuelan spouse of Josh Vandiver,a graduate student at Princeton and an American citizen, will not be deported, after a long battle for the right to stay in the United States. According to the couple’s lawyer, this is the first time that deportation procedures have been closed against the foreign-born spouse of a gay American.
The couple were legally married in Connecticut last year, which should mean that Velandia, a salsa dancer who immigrated to the United States in 2002, should be able to stay in the country. However, Velandia was initially denied legal residency as Vandiver’s spouse under the Defense of Marriage Act, because even though same-sex marriage is legal in Connecticut, immigration officials said that DOMA overrode state law.
The situation looked bleak for Velandia and Vandiver for several months, and raised crucial questions about whether foreign-born spouses could stay in the United States, even if they were part of a same-sex union. The couple was part of a larger struggle both to repeal DOMA and to stop deportation hearings against foreign-born spouses in same-sex marriages.
“We would be willing to leave this country together and go someplace like the U.K. or Europe or Canada where we could be together, but I don’t want to be a refugee in my own country,” Vandiver said in an article last fall. “I never imagined that I would face this kind of discrimination from my own country and potentially have to flee it to be with the one I love.”
The Obama administration’s announcement that it would no longer defend DOMA in courts seemed to hold potential for the deportations to end until courts could decide whether the law was constitutional. And last month, a judge in Newark placed a hold on Velandia’s case, saying that he wanted to give the attorney general and the courts more time to determine whether these foreign spouses might be eligible for legal residency.
The Velandia decision carries significant implications for other immigrants in same-sex marriages. ”This action shows that the government has not only the power but the inclination to do the right thing when it comes to protecting certain vulnerable populations from deportation,” said the couple’s lawyer.
Velandia and Vandiver are understandably thrilled about the decision, but they both emphasized that the fight was not over until the federal government recognized same-sex marriages as equal to heterosexual marriages.
“Now that our marriage is saved, we are committing ourselves to work for full recognition of our marriage so that I can sponsor Henry for a green card like a non-gay American can,” said Vandiver.
This is an inspirational move on the part of federal immigration officials. Let’s continue to support couples like Velandia and Vandiver as they fight to have their marriages recognized.
Photo from Fibonacci Blue’s Flickr photostream.