By Dawn Wolfe Gutterman
Amy met the love of her life when she was nineteen, during a semester abroad in England. Friends at first, the two fell deeply in love despite the difficulties of a trans-Atlantic relationship. Eventually, Amy and her love settled down in Amy’s country, the United States, to begin what should have been their happily-ever-after life together.
The only problem is that the love of Amy’s life is named Sandra, not Sam. And according to U.S. immigration law, it doesn’t matter that the couple has been living together for six years. Their joint finances, their two cats, two salamanders and their dream of starting a family together are irrelevant. What matters is that Sandra is about to over-stay her welcome – and because Amy isn’t Andy, she can’t sponsor her wife for a green card.
Amy first met Sandra “about nine years ago.” They met online while Amy was searching for ways to make contact with people before leaving for an unfamiliar country to pursue her education.
“We were friends for a couple years,” Amy said. “I actually went with my brother and we stayed with her parents at their house, and so we got to know each other that way. And we took a lot of trips together, with her and her friends – we went to Ireland, and Scotland … we ended up getting together as a couple – I think, probably two years after.
“It was weird because I considered her more like my best friend, but whenever I was here without her I’d feel so depressed, and I’d get really upset and I’d wonder what it was, but then I realized it was because [I wasn’t with] her, you know?”
Sandra said of their early years, “We stayed in touch, and she would come and visit. And then … our friendship changed into something more on one of those visits, and then we decided that we wanted to be together, and to try to find a way to be together.”
“But it was challenging,” she added.
First Amy tried living with Sandra in the U.K. “but then we decided to come here because we both wanted to live here,” Amy said.
“So we thought if she could be a student here my parents could sponsor her, it would work out really good. And she ended up getting a student loan here so that she could support herself, and I helped out too with working full time – and we thought we could get through this, we’ll be in debt but it will be worth it, she’ll get a job,” and the two would then be able to really begin their life together.
However, because Sandra lacks work experience, her employer isn’t willing to sponsor her for a work permit. If Sandra doesn’t find an employer who will sponsor her by mid-January, she will have sixty days to leave the country.
The couple could move to the U.K. or to Canada – both of which recognize the right of bi-national same-sex couples to keep their families together. However, not only are those options not practical, the difficulties of moving to another country – whether across the bridge or across the ocean – have the couple wondering whether they’ll be able to make it.
“I don’t know if we’re going to move to Canada, if I’m going to have to move to England – I don’t know if she’s going to be able to get a job,” Amy said. “I know we could live over there, but honestly I have a lot of debt, too. I have a student loan, I have my car, I have things I can’t just up and leave now. We have two cats, and you know that’s going to take time to try and get them over there, and it’s just going to be like uprooting our life here.”
“I know I would have to apply to work there and all that stuff, and I don’t know if I can really go through that without having any income,” she continued. “[People] say that money doesn’t really matter, but it does when you need money to live. And we’ve gone through this … but god, we’re already nearing thirty, we need to start to feel like we’re earning something, you know – maybe even going to buy a house, not going backwards and getting into even more debt.”
“And, you know, over the past six years, we’ve accumulated stuff like anyone does,” Sandra said. “You get settled in your routine, you put roots down.”
“And what’s really upsetting, too, is that she’s worked here for a year, she’s paid taxes,” Amy said. “She’s gotten a student loan; she’s went to school here. She’s volunteered for the AIDS Walk Detroit every year for the last five years – I mean, she’s put so much more into things in this country that [U.S. citizens] don’t even do.”
Asked what they would say to U.S. policy makers if given a chance, both said that all they want is to be treated equally.
“I would just want to be treated fairly and equally,” said Sandra. Opposite couples don’t face the same challenges. “It’s just a breeze in comparison. This is what really frustrates me. Say you meet a woman on the Internet and decide that you want to get married. [You sponsor] the person to come over here on a fiancee visa and then you get married, and … it just takes like six months to eighteen months. But as long as you can prove that you’re not in the relationship purely to live in the U.S. then there should be no reason why you can’t automatically sponsor your husband or wife to live here, to work here, to have all the rights a citizen has except for voting.”
“I guess I really want the same rights as any other American citizen to marry who I love and to allow them to stay here legally,” Amy said. “I just think it’s silly that if she married my brother it’d be fine.” But because Amy and Sandra are both women, they have no legal standing under the law.
“I feel disappointed in my own country,” she said. “I feel like it’s my right to live here and be with who I love.”
Editor’s note: “Amy” and “Sandra” are fictitious names used to protect the identity of the couple in this story. Under U.S. immigration law, Sandra could be barred from ever re-entering the country if, while under her current visa, she expressed an interest in remaining in the country.
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