A Sugar Land man has just become the first person in Texas to win a green card petition because he is married to an American citizen.
Of the same sex.
“It’s so overwhelming,” says Wilfred “Fred” Smith, Isaias Gregorio Rivas-Guzman’s husband. “We finally let go of the anxiety and fear we’ve had since Isaias was picked up in New Orleans in 2009.
Rivas-Guzman fled his native Mexico in 2004 due to discrimination for being gay. He met Smith at a church dinner here in 2005, and they have been together ever since. But while traveling in 2009, immigration officials detained Rivas-Guzman, and he had been fighting deportation since then, despite the Obama administration’s 2011 policy to grant Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials prosecutorial discretion to close cases of illegal immigrants who have deep ties in the U.S. and no serious criminal record.
Rivas-Guzman and Smith are legally married, having tied the knot in Massachusetts in 2011. But it took two requests and almost two years before the ruling to administratively close the deportation case came last January after guidelines were finalized instructing ICE officials to recognize LGBT families on a case-by-case basis for deportation relief.
But it wasn’t until this summer, when the Supreme Court struck down section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)—which defined marriage as between a man and a woman for all federal laws—that Rivas-Guzman could apply for his green card. On August 22 the couple was interviewed at the Department of Homeland Security for the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
“The female officer who interviewed us was so engaging and warm,” says Smith. “It was like we were just talking to a friend.”
But the process did take some time, and after the interviews the couple waited and waited. When they were finally called back into the hallway, the officer handed them the approval form. And apologized for taking so long.
“She said it was the first same-sex marriage application the state had approved, and they weren’t sure how to handle the paperwork,” explains Smith.
“We are thrilled with the decision,” says their attorney Raed Gonzalez. “USCIS has maintained their end of the bargain with these cases. This is finally equal immigration rights, and hopefully the beginning of equal rights in all legal aspects.”
At least three other immigrants in same-sex marriages were given green cards before Rivas-Guzman. The first was Traian Popov, a Bulgarian immigrant who lives with his American spouse, Julian Marsh, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Another green card was awarded July 15, to Karin Bogliolo, in San Jose, California, making Bogliolo the third gay immigrant to become a lawful permanent resident based on a same-sex marriage. Bogliolo, a U.K. citizen, and her U.S. citizen spouse, Judy Rickard, have fought for years to stay together.
As for Smith and Rivas-Guzman, they celebrated the next day at Baba Yega, reveling in the fact they will never again be separated by ICE.
“He can get a driver’s license now, and a job, and even go home and not worry about coming back,” Smith says. “He hasn’t seen his mother in Mexico in eight years, so this is just life-changing for him.
“The first thing he said when he got that piece of paper was that he finally feels safe.”
Rivas-Guzman has said he wants to go to college and start a business, maybe a food truck. But first, he’ll get a driver’s license and buy a car.
“I’ve never seen someone so determined to get somewhere,” Smith says. “Isaias will take five buses for an hour to get to his English classes. For him to be able to just get in a car and drive somewhere will be a blessing.”
The USCIS maintained a list of marriage cases that had been denied since the Obama administration had stopped defending DOMA in 2011, and will now reconsider those cases. There are an estimated 28,500 bi-national, same-sex couples in the United States who now have hope of staying together.