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U.S. Immigration Law: Tearing Apart Life, Love & Home

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On Sunday, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Americans - and their allies - will travel from nearly every corner of the country to converge on Capitol Hill and call on lawmakers to support full equality for the LGBT community. The event, named the National Equality March, comes on the heels of growing calls for the federal government to pick up the pace on civil rights legislation, such as recognition for LGBT couples, repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and finally passing an inclusive employment non-discrimination act. Organizers say they are expecting tens of thousands - if not hundreds of thousands - of participants for the event.

Steve and Joe, however, will be notably absent.

The couple, who recently married in Connecticut and bought a home in Washington, D.C., will not be in the capital on Sunday. Instead, they will be packing Joe's belongings. Under federal law, Steve and Joe are no longer allowed to live together in the country they call home.

Joe arrived in the United States nearly a decade ago on a visa which allowed him to attend a university in the U.S. and earn his doctorate . . . with the help of a scholarship from the American government. When he finished his studies, he then went to work, putting his education to use, in the United States as well. He received a work visa for that purpose, too.

But earlier this year, the recession hit home for Joe. Despite assurances that his job was safe, he was nonetheless laid off, and his work visa was placed in jeopardy . . . . just days before his green card was expected to arrive. Suddenly, Steve and Joe were faced with the very real prospect of being torn apart. Because they are gay - and not an opposite-gender couple - Steve cannot sponsor Joe for residency in the United States, despite the fact that they have been together for 9 years, are legally married in Connecticut (and have a marriage that D.C. will now recognize) and bought a home together, too.

So while Steve told me over the weekend that he wishes he and Joe could be in Washington to march, they'll be with Steve's family, preparing for Joe's departure instead.

The couple have sold their Washington home, just a few months after finalizing its purchase. And they have paid for Joe's ticket out of the country. He is scheduled to leave on October 23.

In just over two weeks, another family will be torn apart because our government refuses to recognize some families as equal under the law.

The National Equality March has included LGBT-inclusive immigration reform on its list of priorities for the LGBT community to address on Sunday. For the estimated 36,000 couples our discriminatory immigration laws impact, time is of the essence. Like Steve and Joe, many are facing imminent separation. Others are already living separately - even on separate continents - because the U.S. government refuses to allow them to be together.

The reality these families face is harsh, and the impact on their livelihood is very, very real.

As Steve explained to me over the weekend, his own father feels like he is losing a son as he watches Joe prepare to leave. Their friends, at their recent wedding reception, recounted stories of how they first met the couple and how heart-wrenching it is to watch them being torn apart.

And Steve and Joe aren't even close to being alone.

As The Advocate reported earlier this year, couples are forced to make startling choices every day because of the inequality of our immigration laws. The magazine, which profiled several families impacted by the issue, noted that one couple is living together in a conservative country in the Middle East, where their relationship would have harsh condemnation . . . but where, unlike the United States, they are nonetheless able to live side-by-side.

In California, Judy Rickard has also recently bought place tickets. Her partner, who is British, must also leave the country soon. Judy took early retirement so she could leave the country to be with her, too.

In fact, LGBT bi-national couples spend tremendous amounts of time and money (above and beyond even the expenses outlined on Saturday by The New York Times) in order to be together. Yet at every turn, our laws are working to keep them apart.

Congress can fix this exodus of talent, money and families from our country by simply passing legislation that says lesbian and gay families are families, too. There are currently two bills pending - The Uniting American Families Act in the House and Senate and the House version of The Reuniting Families Act - which would do just that. Others may be on the horizon. And later this year, lawmakers are expected to begin debate on comprehensive immigration reform which, if it will claim to be truly comprehensive, must include these families, too.

In the meantime, Sunday's gathering in Washington will be at least a few people short. Which is why it is all the more important that those who are on the capitol lawn make sure those families have a voice.

When it comes to keeping families together, our government is falling far behind. No law is as heinous as one which dictates the person with whom you may share your life, your love and your home.

For more information on binational LGBT couples, LGBT-inclusive immigration reform or to register to march in Washington in support of binational families this Sunday, visit Immigration Equality online.

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