To more rights for mixed-immigration status couples in 2012

2011 brought a higher profile to the plight of mixed immigration status couples in the form of news articles and public campaigns, but there is still much work to be done to educate the public about the impact of immigration bars, detention and deportations on tens of thousands of American families.

U.S. Rep Luis Gutierrez, a Chicago Democrat, held tours throughout the spring touting family reunification and the Dream Act. Most of the coverage focused on his call for President Obama to use his administrative powers to halt deportations of people with strong family ties to the Unites States.

The events that Gutierrez held included hundreds mixed-status families, however the spin often focused on the U.S. citizen children, which some polling has shown to be the most sympathetic victims of deportations, rather than spouses. Also, media coverage tends to label, or dismiss these stories as “Hispanic issues.” However, American citizen spouses also gained some traction in the press in 2011.

In one of the most high profile cases of the year, Pedro Guzman and his U.S. citizen wife, Emily Nelson Guzman, won a reprieve and were reunited [with video] in May after Pedro spent 19 months in immigration detention.

Being the spouse of a U.S. citizen didn’t help much. Emily could petition for him to become a legal resident, but in that scenario, an attorney told her, Pedro would have to leave the country before being accepted for reentry. He would also have to obtain a special waiver because of his arrest record. She was advised that his chances would be slim.

In May, Kevin Sieff wrote an interesting Washington Post story about the families of deportees trying to educate their kids in Texas.

In June, three exile bloggers were featured in a UPI wire story about the many online ties that bind their community together. Kelsey Sheehy, a reporter at Medill News Service, which I think is a service of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern (though it’s hard to tell for sure), starts with Cheryl Arredondo at Monterrey, What the Hell?.

Arredondo is part of a growing online demographic: American-born wives of deported immigrants who are using blogs, forums and Facebook to find support and sanity. Their spouses entered the country illegally and, when the immigration system caught up with them, their wives relocated to Mexico to keep the family together.

Erica Pearson at the New York Daily News wrote a similar story in July.

Bonding with each other online, the wives describe enduring months of separation or moving to their husband’s home country to face learning a new language or figuring out where to send their kids to school.

And in September, PRI’s radio program The World ran a piece from Britta Conroy-Randall that discussed the vibrant online club of “deportees wives,” quoting Emily Cruz, the Real Housewife of Ciudad Juárez:

“I’m so happy because in Juarez of all places, I’m not afraid to go to the movies, we can go out and be about and be normal and not constantly be afraid,” Cruz said. “I feel more-free in Juarez, Mexico than I did in the suburbs of Phoenix.”

And as the year went on, more and more American spouses began to use the online petition site to rally support for their families.

Another high profile couple was reunited in August—Tony and Janina Wasilewski were featured in the documentary Tony and Janina’s American Wedding. Janina was deported back to Poland and Tony, her naturalized Polish-American husband, fought a long battle to get her back.

2011 was also a fast paced year for same-sex bi-national couples. The repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and the Obama administration’s decision to not defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court leant much momentum to the movement for equal immigration rights for same-sex couples. Still, Obama’s Department of Homeland Security has not moved as quickly as many would like to either delay decisions on spousal visas until DOMA is officially repealed or to begin to grant them administratively.

Anthony John Maak and Bradford Wells, a married, bi-national couple from San Francisco, were denied a visa in August, but appealed the decision and Maak has not been deported yet, as far as I can tell.

Same-sex couples have had some success in winning stays of deportation, based on new DHS guidelines that require adjudicators to take into account an immigrant’s ties to the country before deporting them.

Sujey and Violeta Pando are one recent couple that has been able to stay together after Sujey won a delay pending establishment of the new deportation guidelines. Henry Valendia and his husband, Josh Vandiver, won a similar reprieve in June. And a Connecticut congressional candidate, Mike Williams, and his Dutch partner Bart Hoedemaker, raised the issue in August, when Hoedemaker’s job was to come to an end, costing him his work visa.

And then there is this couple, which makes an excellent point:

In 2012, our book, Amor and Exile, will tell the stories of more mixed-status couples—both gay and straight—to demonstrate that a broken immigration system affects the rights of American citizens in very serious ways. We look forward to continuing this dialogue here, on our Facebook page and through my Twitter feed, where most of these links have appeared previously. May the new year be prosperous for the ever-winding American experiment with democracy!