Married to an American, but Can’t Stay in America

Posted by David Olson at The Press-Enterprise:

"Doug Gentry and Alex Benshimol have been together nearly six years. The Cathedral City, California couple plans to spend the rest of their lives together.

"But Benshimol, a Venezuelan immigrant, faces deportation for overstaying his visa. The couple's marriage last year in Connecticut doesn't protect them because the U.S. government does not recognize same-sex unions.

"'We're married but we're nothing to the government,' Benshimol said.

"An increasing number of gay illegal immigrants are going public with their stories, some risking deportation to homelands in which lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people face harassment or violence.

"Some, like Benshimol, are in marriages, civil unions or domestic partnerships with U.S. citizens, legal bonds that are typically no help in gaining legal residency.

"Others fled anti-gay and transgendered repression.

… "'Benshimol, who is from Venezuela, is in deportation proceedings because the U.S. government does not recognize same-sex marriages. Gentry and Benshimol married last year in Connecticut.

… "Rep. Joe Baca, D-Rialto, last year co-sponsored the Uniting American Families Act, which would treat permanent same-sex partners of U.S. citizens and legal residents the same as opposite-sex spouses for immigration purposes.

… "About 24,000 U.S. same-sex couples include at least one foreign partner, according to an estimate by UCLA's Williams Institute.

"Marriage is not a guarantee of residency for all heterosexual foreign spouses, but marriage strengthens the straight partner's case.

"Benshimol entered the United States on a visitor visa in 1999. It expired six months later.

"He said he and his then-partner left Venezuela for Miami because they were unable to live as openly gay for fear of harassment. The two broke up, but Benshimol stayed in the United States, moving to Cathedral City, then meeting and later marrying Gentry.

"Gentry helped Benshimol opened a pet-grooming business and then petitioned for a green card for Benshimol.

"'We tried to do the right thing and get the paperwork,' Gentry said. 'But by trying to do the right thing and filling out the paperwork he of course became part of the system.'

"In 2009, the government initiated deportation proceedings. The next hearing is in July.

"'Our big fear is we'll either be separated or have to move to another country,' Gentry said. Some gay and transgendered immigrants came to the United States after facing violence at home. The government has recognized a well-founded fear of persecution based upon sexual orientation as a valid asylum claim since 1994.

… "Same-gender sex is illegal in more than 80 countries, and gay people face the death penalty in several, including Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, according to Amnesty International."

Read the full article here.