Bi-National Couple Fights DOMA Deportation Threat
Jon Evans and Nedo Stankovic are fighting against time. One year ago, the couple was married in a ceremony in New York City’s Central Park. Now they are anxiously hurtling toward February 2013 when Stankovic’s student visa will expire, putting him in danger of being deported to his native Croatia.
Evans and Stankovic plan to make a last-ditch effort to remain together as a married gay bi-national couple in the U.S. by applying for a green card this fall. Their only hope is that President Barack Obama orders all decisions on green card petitions to be put on hold until the Supreme Court rules on the Defense of Marriage Act.
"All he has to do is put the green card applications in abeyance," Evans said in an interview. "It’s not accepting them. It’s not denying them. It’s just putting them on hold. This is something he could so easily do. We need him to act now. We need him to be responsive to our community."
At issue for Evans and Stankovic, as well as tens of thousands of other couples in the same situation, is DOMA. Obama has declared the anti-gay law unconstitutional, and federal courts have overturned it seven times in the last two years; however, DOMA remains in effect and the Department of Homeland Security, through U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, continues to enforce it. Under DOMA, the federal government does not recognize same-sex relationships.
But earlier this month, the department provided some relief. DHS spokesman Peter Boogaard said in a statement to BuzzFeed that, while DHS will continue to uphold DOMA "unless and until Congress repeals it," the Obama administration will consider an applicant’s entire story when adjudicating green card petitions.
"When exercising prosecutorial discretion in enforcement matters, DHS looks at the totality of the circumstances presented in individual cases, including whether an individual has close family ties to the United States as demonstrated by his or her same-sex marriage or other longstanding relationship to a United States citizen," Boogaard said in the statement.
Immigration attorney Lavi Soloway, who is also a co-founder of Stop the Deportations: The DOMA Project, welcomed the DHS announcement, but said he wants more from the administration.
"It is entirely appropriate at this time for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to institute an abeyance policy for green card cases filed by gay and lesbian couples," Soloway said in a phone interview. "Gay Americans should expect policies from the administration that bring us as close to full equality as possible by mitigating the discriminatory impact of DOMA. The Obama administration has the opportunity to do that right now."
Soloway’s advocacy efforts with Stop the Deportations: The DOMA Project have had a positive impact. He cites preventing several "DOMA deportations" and getting the administration to "articulate policy that specifically protects same-sex marriages of bi-national couples in a deportation context" as examples of their success thus far. Evans and Stankovic shared their story on the project’s website.
"We are holding our government, particularly these federal agencies, accountable," Soloway said. "If they insist on discriminating against gay and lesbian couples, we won’t simply accept that as status quo and do nothing. The philosophy of our campaign is to go right in there and meet with the officers and judges who are going to make these decisions to talk to them about our marriages and our families."
Met seven years ago
Evans, 42, and Stankovic, 35, met in 2005 in Dubrovnik, Croatia, while Evans was finishing a degree in business management. The way they tell it, fate worked its hand and, after three seemingly random encounters at various cafes, Stankovic asked Evans for his number.
"I fell in love right away," Stankovic said in an interview. "I never had an intent to leave my country. I love my country. I had a good life there. It wasn’t anything fabulous but it was life. I laughed every morning. And then I met him and decided to leave all of that. He was worth it for me. And here I am."
Since moving to the U.S. in 2006, Nedo has integrated himself into his American life alongside Evans. He earned two AA degrees, one in landscape horticulture and the other in interior architecture, which led him to his dream job as the showroom manager for Living Green in San Francisco.
"We built our life over the last seven years," Evans said. "Every day that we’ve lived we have some sweet memory. Nedo has built all of that. Nedo is my family. And to think that in February we could be given this unfortunate option is really upsetting to me. We shouldn’t be in this position."
The U.S. Supreme Court has been asked to hear several of the DOMA cases in its next term, which begins in October. If it takes the cases, as is expected, a ruling would come sometime next year. In the meantime, gay bi-national couples remain stranded in a holding pattern until then. But Evans and Stankovic can’t wait that long.
"February 2013 comes along and it’s like a guillotine on their marriage," Soloway said. "They understand [the green card petition] can’t be approved at this time. What they want is for the final decision on their case to be put on hold until the Supreme Court rules on DOMA, so that during that time they’re protected, and so that Nedo has lawful status so he can stay here."
The pair credits their relationship with the DOMA Project for empowering them and giving them hope that Stankovic will be in the U.S. beyond February.
"Stop the Deportations: The DOMA Project literally is like a lifeline for us emotionally," Evans said. "All I want to do is take care of him. I want to be able to know that everything that I’m working for will help him have a future without worry. His life is here with me."