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WaPo: Obama Admin Should Halt Binational Spousal Deportations

PhotobucketToday the Washington Post weighs in on the dilemma of Bradford Wells and John Anthony Makk, calling it a illustration of the “profound injustices meted out by DOMA” in an editorial today. The Editorial Board’s opinion reads:

[Attorney General] Mr. Holder asked an immigration court to determine whether Mr. Dorman should be considered a “spouse” under New Jersey law and thus entitled to stay in the country. Mr. Makk’s deportation should also be put on hold, as should those involving anyone in legally recognized same-sex relationships whose only infraction involves immigration status.

It is not easy to win a reprieve from deportation based on marriage to a U.S. citizen. All who make such a claim must not only show proof of their lawful relationship but also that removal would cause an “extraordinary and extremely unusual hardship.” But the law at least allows heterosexual individuals to make their cases; that opportunity should be extended to those in same-sex relationships also. Immigration agents enjoy broad discretion and should make it a priority to remove foreign nationals who have committed serious crimes — not those, like Mr. Makk, who are otherwise law-abiding, contributing members of society. Common sense and common decency will go a long way toward avoiding indignities, but true justice will not be achieved until DOMA is wiped from the books.

This is at least the second time the Washington Post has called on the administration to perform this action. Back in May 2011 WaPo, in an editorial implored the administration, “Don’t penalize undocumented gay immigrants in civil unions with U.S. citizens,” saying:


The attorney general has vacated the court decision and asked the Board of Immigration Appeals whether Mr. Dorman’s civil union makes him a “spouse” under New Jersey law and whether, absent DOMA, he would be considered a “spouse” under immigration law. Mr. Holder should erase any confusion by declaring a moratorium on removal of foreign nationals in state-recognized same-sex unions until federal courts determine DOMA’s constitutionality. He should ensure that the government is not focusing on breaking up otherwise law-abiding families.

If the administration were to heed the call of the Washington Post to deprioritize the expulsion of all non-citizens in same-sex marriages, it would reap benefits beyond Wells and Makk. Another couple, Sujey and Violeta Pando of Denver, Colorado, face a hearing this Friday that may determine the fate of their five year relationship.

Sujey and Violeta’s situation has received considerably less attention, but they face a more immediate threat of deportation than John Anthony Makk. A key hearing that may decide their fate is scheduled for Friday. There are only three days left to save Sujey and Violeta’s marriage. Their story after the fold.

Sujey and Violeta Pando (l to r) on their wedding day, Iowa, November 15, 2010.

From Stop The Deportations:

My name is Violeta. I am a 27 year old American citizen. I live in Denver, Colorado where I was born. I hold a degree in Criminal Justice and work as a Correctional Case Manager. My wife, Sujey, and I, are one of the many same-sex couples who are threatened with being torn apart because of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Because of DOMA, I cannot pursue the most obvious solution which would be to petition for her as my spouse; instead we are fighting for asylum due to her past experiences of extreme harm that she suffered in Mexico and her fear of returning there. All our hopes are on this asylum application–a long, difficult and painful struggle for Sujey, who has had to re-live traumatic incidents of physical and sexual assaults–but there is no guarantee that it will be granted. What is so obvious, is that we should never have had to fight in this way at all. We have been together for almost 5 years as a couple and we are married. No American citizen should have to beg for protection for her spouse; the right to sponsor my spouse for a “green card” should be automatic for me as it is for all other American citizens.

The couple moved in together in 2006, and share responsibility for their large brood of pets; 4 dogs, 2 cats, and a red tail Boa. Violeta talk about how grateful she was for the support of Sujey when she was working to get her college degree. Sujey would stay up late with her as she studied and read her term papers.

After a two year engagement, the couple wed in Iowa in November 15, 2010. (Heh, also a red-letter day for this author, coincidentally.)


Sujey’s life in America is a respite from an awful childhood in Mexico. There she suffered abuse at the hands of her grandmother who raised her:

Sujey was the victim of extreme cruelty and abuse because she was a “tom boy.” One family member in particular was determined to show her “how to be a girl” and raped her repeatedly. No one could protect Sujey. Even the Mexican authorities refused to intervene.

As a little girl, Sujey loved sports. At school, however, she was often in too much pain from her abuse to play sports which would result in dismissal from class. At home, Sujey would get in trouble for being dismissed and would get beaten up by her uncle. Sujey has lasting physical injuries resulting from the physical and sexual abuse she suffered growing up in Mexico. Her history makes me want to cry when she talks about it, but I can’t cry in order to support her, I have to be strong and be as optimistic as possible. Some days it is very difficult to keep a positive attitude. I can see the fear in her eyes, sometimes she thinks that her tormentor will come to the United States to look for her. I have to calm her down and reassure that I am here for her and that she is safe.

A heartbreaking history of betrayal from Sujey’s family, she is one of many “throw-away kids” who was rejected by her family for being gay. In Sujey’s case, not once, but twice:

Once, when she was 16, Sujey was thrown out of her house in Mexico and was forced to hide at a neighbor’s house for a few days. Desperate, she decided to call her mother, who by then resided in the United States. Her mother was married, but had never told her husband that she had left a daughter behind in Mexico. On the phone, Sujey’s mother refused to help her, but her mother’s husband intervened, to his credit, and forced Sujey’s mother to go to Mexico to get her. And that is how Sujey was brought to the United States, where for the first time she met her three American-born brothers.

Things were not great in her new American home though. Sujey tells Outfront Colorado of life under her mother’s and stepfather’s roof:

While her brothers were enrolled in school, Sujey took on household duties. She was the proverbial maid. She was charged with cooking and cleaning.

“It was like living with strangers.”

In what little spare time she had, she took odd jobs for her neighbors. She had work, but no support system, no friends. As she learned English, one of the neighbors connected her with a job. There she met co-workers who were like her: lesbians.

They helped her get to and from work. Showed her around Denver. Worked on her English.

And just as Sujey, then 17, was becoming more accustomed to her new life in Denver, she returned home from work to find she was locked out.

From Stop The Deportations:

A few months after Sujey was brought to the U.S., her mother discovered that Sujey was gay and threw her out into the street. Even though her mother was a green card holder she refused to sponsor Sujey. Sujey was left to fend for herself and find a way to survive in the United States without any support.

Sujey’s undocumented status came to the attention of authorities during a routine traffic stop in 2008. The couple has been struggling ever since. If she is deported she will be barred from re-entering the US for ten years. Violeta says:

“There are no words to describe the anguish we feel as the days countdown to August 19th. We hope and pray for a miracle.”

The cruelty of splitting this couple up is compounded by the threat of returning Sujey to a country where she has not lived in since she was just 16, where she has no supportive family and likely no friends. Nothing good can be accomplished by this act.

This is the sort of situation that Representative Jerry Nadler (D-NY) was referring to when he introduced the Uniting American Families Act this year saying:

“It is this kind of injustice, this kind of gratuitous cruelty, that motivated me to introduce – and continue reintroducing – the Uniting American Families Act. Gay and lesbian Americans in loving, committed relationships deserve the same rights as everyone else.”

This is definitely not the sort of situation that President Obama was discussing when he assured supporters in El Paso, Texas this May what his administration’s deportation priorities were:

“But I want to emphasize we’re not doing it haphazardly. We’re focusing our limited resources and people on violent offenders and people convicted of crimes — not just families, not just folks who are just looking to scrape together an income. And as a result, we’ve increased the removal of criminals by 70 percent.” (Applause.)

The United States has fallen far behind the rest of the our allies in recognizing the moral imperative to extending immigration rights to LGBT families. Until Uniting American Families passes, or DOMA falls, there are administrative remedies that can be taken to ease these families’ burden. And they should be taken.



U.S. Representative Diana DeGette: (202) 225-4431 Denver (303) 844-4988 E-mail
U.S. Senator Michael Bennet: (202) 224-5852 Denver (303) 455-7600 E-mail
U.S. Senator Mark Udall: 202-224-5941 Denver (303) 650-7820 E-mail

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