For years it seemed that Cristina Ojeda would be separated from her Argentina-born wife Monica Alcota because the so-called Defense of Marriage Act denied the legally married couple access to a green card. But they stuck out the protracted deportation legal process and found that Obama made good on his promise to stop deporting “low-priority”, foreign born LGBT spouses (even though the Department of Homeland Security forgot to mention it in their “prosecutorial discretion” guidelines). Alcota now gets to stay in the U.S. because of her community ties and her good behavior.
But what about legally married LGBT couples like disabled U.S. Coast Guard veteran Benjamin Anderson and his long-term Italian-born partner Mattia Lumaca? They don’t want to break by overstaying Lumaca’s visa like Alcota did? But the alternative, moving to Italy, isn’t great either.
This past Wednesday, Anderson married Lumaca in Manhattan ceremony. But because Lumaca’s visa runs out in a month, the couple has decided to move to Italy where their lawyer says they can receive better immigration benefits based on their New York marriage, including medical and tax benefits they wouldn’t receive as a federally non-recognized couple in the U.S..
“We were told, ‘Well, you can always go off status,'” Anderson told The NY Daily News. “But we’re not illegal people. We don’t want to do anything illegal.”
Alcota and Ojeda had a high profile lawyer Lavi Soloway who kept their case in the limelight as part of a larger campaign to stop the DOMA deportations. But not all bi-national LGBT couples can afford the time, money or stress of navigating the immigration courts as newlywed outlaws, especially when an immigrant like Lumaca could get arrested for overstaying his visa.
So while Anderson and Lumaca fly off to Italy, the countless other bi-national LGBT couples here face a critical choice while the courts sort out the DOMA mess: overstay their visas and become criminals in the U.S. or leave for a more legally secure life elsewhere. Not a pleasant decision for a newlywed couple to make.