On August 24th, San Francisco resident Bradford Wells sat down and penned a letter to the president of the United States. "Dear Mr. President," Wells said, "... I am writing you now because I desperately need your help."
Only a few weeks earlier, Wells learned that the Obama Administration had rejected the application he filed to sponsor his Australian husband, Anthony Makk, for residency in the United States. Wells and Makk have been together for nearly two decades, and legally married in 2004 in Massachusetts. In the years since, Wells has come to depend on his spouse as he battles serious illness. Like most Americans, he never dreamed the United States government would try to force his husband out of the country. Because Makk has exhausted the visa he has used to remain in the United States, however, and because he and Wells are a gay couple, that is exactly the reality they faced.
The story of Wells and Makk has captured international media attention, and put the plight of couples like them in the spotlight. They are one of tens of thousands of lesbian and gay couples where one spouse is an American citizen, and one is not. If those couples were straight, the American spouse would be able to apply for citizenship for his or her husband or wife. Lesbian and gay couples, however, have been barred from doing so. The result is a heart-wrenching reality in which American citizens have no power to share their home, their lives or their country with the person they love.
On the other side of the country, in rural Vermont, Frances Herbert and Takako Ueda have been watching the story of Wells and Makk closely.
Herbert and Ueda are also legally married. Yet, now that Ueda's student visa is coming to an end, she and Herbert are in the fight of their lives to remain together in the country they both call home. Like Wells and Makk, they have turned to the legal team at Immigration Equality for help. Last week, their Immigration Equality attorney filed an application on their behalf, too. The paperwork documenting their marriage, their life together and their plea for help was three inches thick.
In an interview this summer with CNN, Herbert could not hold back tears when Soledad O'Brien asked what would happen if Ueda were forced to return to Japan. "It's still really hard to think of that that," Herbert said. "It will feel really, really criminal."
Herbert described the uncertainty around Ueda's future as "anticipatory grief."
Two weeks ago, the Department of Homeland Security -- following the enormous media attention both couples have received -- announced that it now considers lesbian and gay couples within its definition of 'family.' It also announced a new policy to provide last-minute relief to some immigrant families facing separation. The policy change, however, does not impact Wells and Makk or Herbert and Ueda. In order to qualify, an individual must have already gone out of status, and be in removal proceedings.
Immigration Equality continues to lobby Congress for a change in federal law that would allow gay and lesbian Americans to sponsor their husbands and wives for citizenship. The organization has also announced it is planning a federal court challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) on behalf of LGBT immigrant couples. The end of DOMA, and full recognition of LGBT couples under federal law, provides the only permanent solution for Americans to protect their families.
In the interim, however, it is imperative (as pointed out by The Washington Post editorial board) that the White House hold the applications filed by gay and lesbian Americans on behalf of their husbands and wives. The Administration has placed similar holds on applications filed by others, including spouses of American military personnel. It has the authority to do so again. Last week, Immigration Equality delivered 5,000 petition signatures -- collected on behalf of LGBT immigrant families - to the White House, asking President Obama to do just that.
For Bradford Wells and Frances Herbert, such a policy change would make all the difference in the world.
"After nearly two decades of unyielding effort to remain here lawfully, it will be devastating if Anthony is forced to fall out of status before we are granted some relief from the threat of separation," Wells wrote in his letter to President Obama. "I cannot get through a day without his assistance."
"Please Mr. President," his letter concluded, "hold our petition and application... so that we can stay together here lawfully."