Thursday, August 14, 2008

A one-two punch for local couple

A few of years ago, through the Wis-Kino filmmaking group, I met Lucie and Pam. Lucie had a show on WYOU, and both contributed regular short films to the group for our monthly screenings. I only got to know them a little bit--enough to know that they were a couple, that Lucie taught French out in Sun Prairie, and that both were active in various parts of the community.

Late last year, at a Wis-Kino organizer's meeting, Pam brought up the fact that they were currently fighting for Lucie's ability to stay in the country. Lucie, you see, is a French citizen, whereas Pam is an American citizen. Lucie's work permits were about to run out, and all of their efforts to extend her stay had failed. Legally married in Canada earlier this year, their partership is not recognized by the United States, and so Pam was unable to officially sponsor Lucie for citizenship, as heterosexual couples are able to do.

Lucie had to quit her job and head out of the country, leaving Pam behind. Melanie Conklin at the Wisconsin State Journal wrote an excellent piece on the couple and the problems they face in light of both US immigration and marriage laws. The article points out the absurdity of rules forcing a perfectly productive and loving couple to split up, and the bill currently stuck in committee that could change that:

Hathaway also calls it absurd that she is being forced to choose between her spouse and her country. But she is currently packing their belongings and quitting her job as a neighborhood organizer so she can move to Canada to be with Ferrari.

A year ago Ferrari left her post as a popular French teacher at Sun Prairie High School, where she is so missed the school has held her job in case she can return. Hathaway is seeking renters for their South Side home, hoping they will be able to legally return to Madison one day.

They pin much of that hope on a congressional bill called the Uniting American Families Act, which would amend immigration law to add the three words "or permanent partners" after each mention of spouse.

"It's a complicated situation and a very simple solution," Hathaway said. "If the laws change, our hope is to come back because we've built a life here. We don't want to move."

Both Tammy Baldwin and Russ Feingold support the bill's passage, and Baldwin has specifically said that she intends to tackle "immigration discrimination" and has formed an LGBT Equality Caucaus (currently with 70 members) to help on such issues. Obama has apparently even addressed and expressed support for the act.

First off, it strikes me as more than just a little ridiculous that our country would exclude people with a demonstrated desire and ability to hold a good (and important) job, who are active and positive members of their communities and abide by our laws, from gaining citizenship.

Secondly, this wouldn't have been a problem if this country would just get over itself and recognize same-sex marriages. Pam could have sponsored Lucie, and they would have had to prove the relationship just like any heterosexual couple has to do when one partner is sponsoring the other for citizenship. It's not easy, and nor should it be: but it's possible. And it should be possible for both different and same sex pairings.

We are a nation nurtured by immigrants from all walks of life, religion, country, experience, language, etc. and I believe that to be one of the major reasons that we are the diverse, colorful, intelligent, open, and relatively free society that we've become. Shutting down that source is xenophobic, harmful, ignorant, and mean-spirited.

I can only hope that Pam and Lucie find a way to come back to Madison, together, in the near future. I'd prefer that it be because we wised up and allowed them to enjoy the same rights and privledges as everyone else in this country.

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