Lesbian Mom Shirley Tan Gets to Stay in the U.S. For Now


After a temporary stay keeping her from being deported back to the Philippines, lesbian mom Shirley Tan is here to stay. Possibly for good.

In a rare move, California’s Sen. Diane Feinstein introduced a one-off piece of legislation to grant Tan clemency. But it’s not the bill itself, but the legislative process that will keep Tan here: She gets to stay in the U.S. while the Senate decides, over the next 21 months, whether it wants to address the bill (unlikely); if they do bring it up, she’ll get to stay while it’s debated. Which means for the time being she gets to stay at home in the Bay Area with her partner of 23 years, Jay Mercado, and their 12-year-old twin sons.

But it’s not the end of the matter.

Without the passage of the Uniting American Families Act, which will allow same-sex couples to stay together even if one partner is an immigrant, Tan and folks like her (who don’t receive this type of media attention) are at risk of being forcibly separated. Just one more example of how same-sex couples are discriminated against by the feds; our straight counterparts can simply get married to keep one foreign partner in the U.S.

Here’s the note Tan’s attorney’s released when the news arrived about Feinstein’s bill:

A private bill was introduced 0on the floor today on behalf of Shirley Tan. She will not have to leave the USA un til this session of congress ends, and unless UAFA – Uniting American Families Act passes through Congress.

A great big thanks from the Tan-Mercado family to Rep. Speier and her amazing staff as well as Sen. Feinstein and her staff, all of whom showed extraordinary care and diligence through the process. A special mention to the organizations that lent their support. Marriage Equality, Immigration Equality, Out4Immigration, Love Exiles and all the Media that remained so patient and supportive. Sen Boxer is sponsoring UAFA and we now hope that Sen. Feinstein will do the same as many many others are in as bad a predicament as Shirley Tan has been.

When I spoke to Jay today she was crying with joy and said the whole family including the boys were absolutely ovewrwhelmed with emotion. The news was conveyed to her directly by Senator Feinstein’s office. It has been a long and arduous process and so a very special thank you goes to Attorney Phyllis Beech, San Francisco and Fresno. I will write more later – but now I have to call and tell everyone the good news.

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  • tropoSpice

    I belong to the group of people who would benefit from the UAFA .. my partner and I form a binational couple, with one being a US citizen, the other not. Its frustrating .. things are moving, but slowly – this issue does not carry much political weight for the administration or Congress.

  • InExile

    I am happy for Shirley Tan and her family, no family should have to face separation or moving to another country to live together “in exile”. Having to Live in exile has destroyed the life we spent years building in Los Angeles. We moved to France 3 years ago and our life is hell here! But at least we are together.

  • Supportive & Hetero

    When I read the article in People, my first thought was – why are they bothering this nice family? Aren’t there enough real bad guys out there? You know, the terrorists, drug dealers, child abusers and murderes?? Such a waste of time and very sad for the family. I wish them all the best.

  • tavdy79

    Surely the lack of immigration rights could be challenged under the equal protections clause of the 14th Amendment? Why hasn’t it been?

  • Alec

    @tavdy79: Oh, btw, it is actually the 5th amendment; analysis is basically the same, but the 14th amendment only applies to the states.

  • InExile

    @tavdy79: The reason it has not been challenged because courts tend to go the way of the laws in regard to immigration. Also, if you challenged the law, it shows intent to stay which is grounds for deportation. Usually when someone is deported, they cannot return to the US for 10 years even as a tourist. The stakes are too high to take a chance and challenge the law.

    My partner had a work permit ready to expire, we had two choices, separate or move to another country. We have been together for 14 years.

  • Alec

    @InExile: How’d you guys end up in France? Is that where he’s from?

  • InExile

    @Alec: Yes, he is French.

  • gaby

    @Alec: I@InExile: my partner and I are in the same predicament. He’s a successful businessman from Italy, and I’m a successful (or was) a successful Engineer here in the states. When we first got together 4 years ago we lived apart for 1.5 years and decided we couldn’t do it anymore. He left his job and his life to move here to be with me. In Italy, we would live a life of ridicule based on our relationship. We’ve had to get him a student visa which allows him to pursue another college degree, but once he graduates we’ll be in a rut. Recently I was laid off from a major oil company, but we have enough in savings to get us through for about 6 months. Hopefully, I find something before then. He’s been unable to get sponsored for a work permit. I know they have lots of things to well over in Washington, but I hope this one gets signed, and fast….

  • Jack

    You know what? This makes me angry. At the same time they are passing bills to keep illegal aliens in the states, the federal government is preparing to deport THOUSANDS of legal aliens in the CNMI.

    These are families with children. They came here legally. They have kept legal by the law all of their time here and just because the Feds have decided to change the goalposts, they will be deported back to countries they haven’t lived in for more than 20 years.

    Case in point is a woman I know. She is from the Federated States of Micronesian. FSM citizens can live and work in the US without a visa. She is married to a Filipino man. Under CNMI immigration law, she is eligible to apply for an IR permit for her husband and for the last 20 years he has lived in the CNMI. They have 5 children, all born here in the CNMI which means they are all US citizens. Within a year, the feds will deport the husband since he is ineligible to have any status under the new federalization of CNMI immigration law. That is just one case of thousands.

    May I suggest that you put your effort into truly ensuring immigration equality for all and that starts with first making sure that those who play by the rules are not destroyed.

  • Chad


    I am a heterosexual man who has been married for 14 years. We have 2 sons.

    So I must admit, I have gay friends! I also must admit, I have no comprehension on how allowing gay and lesbian couples to be married affects me in a negative way. No really, I do not see how it affects me. I cannot fathom it. Do I lose any benefits? Uh no. Do I not get to call my wife, well my wife? Uh no. Does it make me less of a man? Uh no. Does it invalidate my marriage? Uh no.

    Oh I know, do I even care that gay and lesbian couples get the right to marry? Hell yes I do. We live in the 21st century, we need EQUAL RIGHTS for everyone NOW.

    I feel really bad for anyone who does not get the same rights that I do. Keep up the good fight and my wife and I will continue to help out anyway we can.

    One last thing. Let Shirley Tan stay in America. Her and so many other families deserve it.

    Thank you for reading my rant.

  • Di

    I am replying on the UAFA to pass too, we desperately want to be able to live together. We are constantly flying to and from. We want to settle down, I want to start my career and have a family. Please change this cruel law!!! We just want what any other couple want!

  • Another Exile

    I finally got it…. This is the one issue that confirms that we gays are third-class citizens and that our countries (the ones that don’t allow foreign partners to immigrate) don’t care one bit about us as human beings.

    It took awhile to let it sink in. I don’t know why I didn’t get it when Reagan kept silent while thousands of us died miserable deaths and the rest of us were terrified of suffering the same fate. Could it be that we internalized the discrimination?

    I have no more space for anti-gay rhetoric and discrimination. I feel I’ve reached the same degree of up-to-hereness that African-Americans reached in the sixties.

    Enough of the ignorance, and enough of the cruelty. Give us the same damned rights as you have whether you’re enlightened enough to know we didn’t “choose” to be gay or not.


  • david jones

    i am from the uk here on a work visa which is about expire my partner of 10 years is an american veteran we may have to leave a country we both love friends and family,this cruel immigration policy has to be changed now .its time that we are treated with equal rights if we have to leave at least the uk will welcome and allow my american partner to live and work their david nyc

  • Tony

    I am an American citizen and almost 2 years ago met the love of my life while working together. He was here on a work visa. I never imagined I would have fallen in love with someone from another country and had no idea there were so many cruel and unjust immigration policies here in the United States (the country I was born and taught to love). My partner is what this country is all about. He is extremely smart, hard working and speaks over three languages. He is a daily inspiration to me. We have been apart for some time now and everyday he assures me that one day we will be together again. It is time that the United States gives us the same rights as hetero-families. Together we make a family and together we are stronger than most hetero families that I know. We have a true and real love for each other. Why would the United States want to deny human rights? WHY in 2010 are we still at these crossroads?

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