By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
That’s just the decision that Freddie, 30, a Parisian, made in October, when his tourist visa expired. He chose to stay illegally with his partner, Nick, 40, an ad salesman for the Los Angeles Times, in their Silver Lake home.
Holding hands like newlyweds in a West Hollywood restaurant, this model-handsome couple, who asked that their last names not be used, recounted tales of their initial meeting in Paris in the summer of 2002, their romance and trips home to meet the parents. “My dad called me the next day and he says, ‘Nick, that Freddie, he’s the one.’ They just loved him.”
The two of them hired a high-profile immigration attorney and tried to find a way for Freddie to stay, but they learned they had no viable legal options. Instead, they’re taking their chances, living with the terror of sudden separation.
“I wake up in the middle of the night freaking out the love of my life sleeping next to me will be pulled out,” Nick said. “I’m a good person,” Freddie added. “I’m not doing anything bad. Now, every single day, I think where will I sleep tonight — in prison or on a plane back?”
Freddie considered marrying an American woman, but “that goes in the face of everything we’re fighting for,” Nick said. “We’re being true to our love. We’re trying to answer to the higher laws.” Still, civil disobedience presents dilemmas. Freddie’s father is sick from an accident a few months ago, but “I can’t leave,” Freddie said. “If I need to fly to him, I will do it, but I will not be able to fly back.”
Neither Nick nor Freddie was particularly political before their predicament, but when they realized most of their friends — gay and straight — were ignorant of the laws, they joined Immigration Equality, a Los Angeles support, education and advocacy group for same-sex bi-national couples.
With 300 couples on the group’s e-mail network, 20 or so meet every month and share “gut-wrenching stories about being separated and being in fear,” said board member Sophie Fanelli, 29, a civil rights activist from France, who has been in a relationship with Los Angeles teacher Molly Sides, 29, for five years.
Sophie and Molly own a house together in Mount Washington and would like to have kids, but their situation is “just not stable enough,” Sophie said. Because she is only here on a temporary work visa, she has had to endure three separations from Molly for as long as five and a half months while she returned to France waiting for paperwork to arrive.
“I look at it as a tragedy,” Sophie said. “At this point, I’m not here permanently. I don’t have a green card. I can’t get legally married.”
She hopes to eventually secure permanent status through her job, but the process is extremely difficult, the standards are stringent, and the number of employer-sponsored green cards granted is very small. Given the uncertainty, the two are hedging their bets and applying for residency in Canada, where they would have to “start from scratch,” Sophie said.
Because the guiding principle of immigration law is family reunification, the vast majority — 65 percent to 75 percent — of green cards go to those with family already in the United States. But as long as the U.S. government doesn’t consider same-sex partners family, “For us, it’s family separation,” Sophie said.
Sophie can no longer bear to attend weddings because “It makes me so incredibly depressed,” she said. “We’ve been together five years. We have a house. For all intents and purposes, we are a couple. It makes no sense to me.”
Molly and Sophie got involved with Immigra-tion Equality because “Lots of our friends in the gay community really didn’t get it,” Sophie said. “It felt really lonely.”
Occasionally, the group is bolstered by a victory in its ranks. Doug Haxall, 39, a Web engineer from South Pasadena and Immigration Equality board member, spent more than $10,000 on legal and education fees for his partner of five years, Marco, 29, from Brazil, who was not allowed to work or drive in the United States. They waited more than two years for Marco’s student-visa approval.
“They basically leave you hanging for an ungodly period of time,” Haxall said. “You’re in limbo. You have no rights, and they make you sweat it out.” Marco finally got fed up and decided to apply for asylum. The government was receptive to his claims of persecution in Brazil and granted his request.
“That was an emotional day,” Haxall said. “When your partner is granted the right to stay, your whole life changes in a second. Now we really are permanent partners.”
Haxall got the good news at the office, and his boss took the whole team out for martinis. But the celebration was tempered by the fact that so many of his friends from Immigration Equality haven’t had a positive outcome.
“We’re two guys who got lucky in a group of 300 people who are not lucky,” he said. “When [the Permanent Partners Immigration Act] passes, that’ll be the party. We’re going to keep fighting for this thing. The right to live together is all we’re asking for.”