It wasn’t their wedding, nor a birthday or anniversary; it was an interview with an immigration adjudicator that would decide if de Leon could finally become a U.S. citizen after two decades of student and work visas.
Although thoroughly prepared for the interview, de Leon recounted feeling “the anxiety of the interview and not knowing what you’re going to be asked. You get a notice saying this is your interview date, and they give a list of suggested things you should bring and it’s a long list.”
Following the repeal of Section 3 of DOMA, John (a U.S. citizen) initiated the sponsorship process via a petition sent to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in July, and shortly thereafter, the couple received notice that they would be interviewed on October 23 to prove the authenticity of their marriage.
That’s where the couple’s binder filled with 15 years of their love won the day, and de Leon became a documented U.S. resident; in three years, he can apply to be a citizen. The couple along with many other LGBTQ binational couples living in the U.S. have started to see the positive results of DOMA’s repeal.
“It was smooth and expeditious,”de Leon said. “It was easy and all along it’s been denied to gay couples all this time.”
This proved to be the case when, on November 1, de Leon’s green card arrived at the couple’s Washington, D.C. home.
“In a way now, we are still processing the whole thing. We’re just scratching our heads. That was it?” de Leon said. “In my case, after 23 years, hoping and trying to figure out a way to get permanent residency, and as a couple for 15 years dealing with this, you just scratch your head. We’re happy.”
However, not all binational LGBTQ couples face an easy road toward citizenship. Not being out to one’s family or community may compromise a couple’s application.
Furthermore, there are approximately 11,500 binational LGBTQ couples in which neither spouse is a U.S. citizen, which precludes them from entering the citizenship process. Additional factors, such as having a criminal record and being undocumented, socioeconomic status, and barriers to legal services pose challenges. As de Leon notes, even with the repeal of DOMA, the “fight isn’t over” in advocating at the intersections of LGBTQ and immigrant rights.