Will tomorrow be Shirley Tan’s last day in the United States? It’s looking that way. The same-sex partner of 23 years to Jay Mercado and mother to twin 12-year-old sons is likely to be deported from California’s Bay Area back to the Philippines, given her un-recognized status as a married immigrant.
Though Sens. Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein’s offices are working on emergency legislation that would allow for at least a delay, the bill hasn’t moved, and it’s expected Tan will be in federal custody on Friday. Her only option then is to request an emergency stay.
How did Tan end up here?
Tan first came to the United States as a visitor in 1986, stayed for about six months, then returned to the Philippines. She returned to the United States in 1989 and has stayed in this country since then, according to the documents, which also state that Tan failed to leave the United States by March 22, 1990, as her visa required.
In 1995, Tan applied for asylum based on past persecution and fear of future persecution from her cousin, but her case was denied. Tan fought that decision but in May 2002, the Board of Immigration Appeals gave her 30 days to leave the country voluntarily or be deported.
Tan claims that she didn’t know about that decision until it was far too late. Her recent motion to the Board of Immigration Appeals to reopen proceedings and stay her deportation while her motion is pending states that the notice had gone to an old address for Norma Molinar, the attorney representing her at the time.
While Tan and Mercado face the most difficult of circumstances, federal legislation has been reintroduced in Congress that would protect binational same-sex couples. Unfortunately, it comes too late for Tan and Mercado as no action has been taken yet by Congress.
The Uniting American Families Act – House bill 1024 and Senate bill 424 – is proposed federal legislation that would protect thousands of couples like Tan and Mercado. The bills were re-introduced February 12.
The act would enable gay Americans to sponsor their foreign same-sex partners for legal residency in the United States. Under the current Immigration and Naturalization Act, an American citizen can only sponsor his or her opposite-sex spouse for a green card, representing legal residency.