New York--- In Emilio Ojeda and Tom Smeraldo’s house luggage has been converted into symbols of freedom and at the same time immensly sad. The same for the play house in the yard that it is waiting for a couple of kids that they dream to adopt, when those luggage filled up with memories of a country – USA, that didn’t permit them to live their life together just for being gays.
“We kept all the card board boxes from the last move in case we have to move again. We bought this house when my immigration status wasn’t sure here and still isn’t. We always wanted it to adopt some children but we were afraid that some day if I was deported the kids would suffer”, said the Venezuelan Emilio Ojeda, 44 year old, partner of Tom Smeraldo for five years.
It is Sunday and today, in the Smeraldo-Ojeda home, there is a big BBQ with Tom’s family, native of New Jersey.
In the garden they seed tomatoes, basil and peppers with which Emilio cooks a delicious sauce that they packages in jars. Their nieces and nephews running around the ample house, without notice that soon their uncles will emigrant to Canada.
They are an example of the forgotten in the immigration reform that these days has been intensely discussed in the country. Concretely some 40 thousand couples, according to Immigration Equality organization’s data, that live as Tom and Emilio, condemned to suffer because the immigration authorities do not recognize a same sex partner.
For them there isn’t at least a debate in favor or against, even though there is a law proposal bill (The Uniting American Families Act),from house representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) that getting the approval, would grant to those American citizen and residents the same rights that heterosexual have, to ask to regularize the migratory situation of their partners. The NY state legislatives approved in March a resolution supporting this proposal.
“I am angry with the Country where I was born, a country that offers freedom, equality and democracy but with one big exception, if you are a GLBTI citizen. We are forced to pay the same taxes and we do not have the same rights simply because we have a different sexual orientation” affirms Tom Smeraldo, financial analyst 40 years old.
To emigrant to Toronto, Canada, isn’t easy to Smeraldo, so close to his family, especially to his parents, the ones they helped take care of last year when they suffered serious health problems. But at the same time he is thankful: “Canada is is offering to me the possibility to remain all my life with the person I love the most in this world”, he said.
Canada, with another 18 countries of the world like Spain, Israel, Australia, Brazil, Great Britain and France, and anothers, recognize –in diverse levels – same sex couples for immigration. And Smeraldo, who has asked for Canadian permanent residence, would be able to migrant with his partner: Emilio, a Venezuelan whom could live with plenty of freedom being gay – something for which he was persecuted in his own country – and feel much gratitude to USA, but now he is running into with the reality of being gay and living in US.
To Gloria – and executive of 38 year old- and Celeste – Argentine student of 25 – their love in USA ends, within this moment. In Vancouver, Canada, they learn the unique possibility to remain together. Celeste, who was in USA with tourism visa, was denied of the student visa when she returned to her country and solicited it and took away her tourist one. As Celeste couldn’t return to USA, they decided to reunite in Canada to search for a job that secure their migratory situation in this country.
“ I have never in my life thought to emigrate, I have too many years working in my own company and I love it, but we have to go to a third country to remain together”, affirms Gloria, of Puerto Rican origins.
In their rented house, where they live since 5 months ago with Dante, their dog, trying to find job. They have a tourist visa for 6 months and they are afraid that they would suffer a separation after the time runs out: Gloria to USA and Celeste to Argentina, till they are be able to find the Canadian residence.
“The best of this time is remaining with my partner and my little dog, and all of this has no price. The worse, the instability, the do not know what we are going to do now” said Gloria.
Gloria said she had never felt discriminated in USA because her sexual orientation. “But now the immigration laws of my country doesn’t permit me be happy, to be with the most beautiful human being, the best person I have ever met. Our dream it is simple enough: being in any calm place, with no worries, travel time to time, have a home and have a family. But before that happens we have to find a place to live where our relationship is accepted”, said Gloria in an telephone interview, while she sighs and her voice is filled with emotions.
Immigration Equality, an non-profit organization that represents gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and HIV people, Rachel B. Tiven, a executive director, receives each day more calls from broken couples because the immigration authorities had deported their immigrant partners.
“ The mayor challenged it is to show the suffering with this discriminatory immigration laws, that they are not permitted to be with the person they most love in this world because they are gay or lesbian. Those calls are exasperating. Some times, we receive call from people crying telling us that immigration officers got in to their houses and they don’t know anything about their partners and, on occasion, they have more than 20 years together”, explain Tiven, she recalls that prior to 1990 the immigration authorities wouldn’t permit the entrance of people that are openly gay or lesbian.
To live this other face of immigration has convert the Americans like Andrew, an International development consultant, an activist for the immigrant rights. He knows what it means to live far without his partner, Hector, now in Mexico, waiting for a tourism visa to comeback, and fight the injustice that he feels he participating intensively in protests and campaigns in favor of an integral reform for the 12 million illegal immigrant in USA.
“When we resided in Europe with my work, we had no problems, but in my country the agony is strong and we never know what it is going to happen with us”, said Andrew, of 33 year old.
Now Andrew, who lives in Manhattan, is preparing to emigrate to Mexico – a country where he has traveled several times to enjoy his partner’s family – and to whom he wants to be closer practicing the small Spanish he knows with the Mexican waiters at the restaurant and cafes that he frequents in NY city.
“We want to have a family, be happy, and my country does not permit me because I am gay. Sometimes I feel that it is hard to believe. It is like suddenly, when living with all we are suffering, and learning that immigration laws in my own country cause that much pain that I have to leave the country I love most, my own country”, he said.