Commentary: Gay, Married and Waiting (Uncomfortably) for Immigration Reform

In this video Fi2W columnist Erwin de Leon opens up about the anxiety of being “stuck between two universes” while waiting for the outcome of the Congressional debate on comprehensive immigration reform. The video and accompanying essay originally appeared as part of the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance’s series Uncovering Our Stories.

Watch the video

Uncovering Our Stories: Erwin de Leon from Mia Nakano & Visibility Project on Vimeo.

I am married to an American citizen. I am highly educated, I have most of my family and friends in the U.S, and I have lived here legally for over two decades. Yet, I am still not a citizen. Not by choice, but by simply being an immigrant in America struggling with a broken immigration system.

My spouse and I have been together 15 years. My marriage would have ordinarily granted me a green card years ago, but we happen to be a same-gender couple. John and I have not been treated equally because of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). DOMA prohibited the U.S. government from acknowledging legal marriages of lesbians and gays in 13 states and the District of Columbia.

Under the recent Supreme Court decision striking down that part of DOMA, John is now petitioning for me, but I want to speak about my experience as part of the family visa backlog.

When I could not obtain a green card through marriage, my mother sponsored me as an adult child. (My mother came from the Philippines some years back, met and married my stepfather, and in less than six months received her green card.) Due to our country of origin and the existing backlogs, I expected to wait decades for my case to be processed.

Just a few months ago, I wrote to a friend:

“While I will be allowed to stay and work legally for one more year after graduation, my family’s future is uncertain. If an immigration bill doesn’t pass, one that expedites backlogs, what will happen to me and so many other waiting families? Will my husband and I have to leave our home, our parents, brothers, sisters-in-law, nieces and nephews, aunts and uncles, cousins, and dear friends?”

Not everyone has an American spouse to sponsor them. Thousands of families are still facing this uncertainty, and the Senate immigration bill drastically cuts sponsorship like I had – for adult married children – limiting it to those under 30. But the same bill does contain vital provisions to eliminate the family visa backlog within 8 years.

My letter a few months ago continues: “I will complete my Ph.D. at the end of this year. While Congress deliberates, we are stuck between two universes.”

I still will not rest easy until I have a green card in my possession. I know many less fortunate – with decades to wait – who feel the same. This is why I support immigration reform.

Fi2W is supported by the David and Katherine Moore Family Foundation and the Ralph E. Odgen Foundation.