By Melanie Nathan
Britta is a Binational Lesbian, who marched alone this weekend in support of UAFA, to include binational couples in Immigration reform; Well, there were thousands of others, but no rainbow flags.
In June 2009, when I heard about Britta, she was being held in detention in a Florida Detention Facility; she had been caught in an ICE sweep and was unable to provide documentation of legal status in the USA and I was on my way to D.C. for the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the Uniting American families Act, that would provide immigration equality to LGBT spouses.
The blonde, blue-eyed beauty from ‘civilized’ Germany, such an unlikely candidate for detention, had indeed overstayed her US visitor visa. When she was detained Britta had been visiting friends in Florida, but never made it back to her home and partner, Carla, in New York City.
She lingered in detention for over three months, suffering emotional torture that ought to belie the conscience of any good American. Britta has a big story to tell about her experience in detention and suffered in the same way as any other person, regardless of race or creed. She also has a big story to tell that would make her case for asylum.
What was different about Britta to others in detention is the fact that she had Carla, her permanent partner, with whom she had been living as a couple for the preceding ten years. Had Carla and Britta been an opposite sex couple, they would have married and Carla would have sponsored Britta for a green card. This plain, simple and inexpensive process available to straight spouses, a basic right for any American, yet not if you are gay or lesbian.
While Britta lingered in detention, with her asylum case pending, Carla did everything imaginable under the sun to find a way to have Britta released from detention. There simply was no help.
She called LGBT organizations – and was unable to get a single interview with any LGBT organization or group; each time she was told that because she was from Germany, she did not have a viable case. Yes, profiled by her own – profiled by an organization that purports to represent her minority community. Profiled as not fitting in even though her case, had it been reviewed, would be seen as absolutely with merit.
When Carla heard about the Shirley Tan case and my work on that, she contacted me. Cutting a long story short, Carla worked with the office of Jerrold Nadler, her Congressman in New York, and the Sponsor of the Uniting American Families Act, the very law that if enacted would have eradicated this awful inequity. However at this time Britta remained detained despite all efforts by Carla.
After receiving the documents in the case, I realized that it was a good one, with merit and so I planned on speaking to Congressman Nadler on behalf of Britta, myself. When I arrived at the hearing – Congressman Nadler happened to be sitting in front of me. I asked if we could talk and he agreed.
Congressman Nadler took Britta’s plight to heart, in fact he was horrified she was in detention, and proceeded to help effect Britta’s release, and also the transfer of her case from Florida to New York, on her own recognizance, where she could at least be with her partner, Carla, for the pending ordeal of an asylum hearing.
In the meantime, Britta was broken and had much work ahead of her to ensure her emotional. Shopping for an attorney to handle the case in New York with no money for a retainer is no picnic, especially since the couple has already exhausted their financial resources for lawyer fees and other expenses in Florida.
Britta met with many attorneys, but so far none will take the case pro bono; and no organizations in the LGBT community has provided any help with exception of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, & Transgender Community Center in Manhattan.
When Britta returned home to Carla they went to Connecticut to marry legally, yet still Britta must face her impending asylum and Carla still cannot sponsor her for a green card. Heterosexual immigrants simply apply for adjustment of status when in court proceedings after they got married to an American citizen, and adjustment is granted by their Judge – case closed.
Britta had lived in the shadows of fear for so long and the last thing she would have thought was that from this harrowing experience she would turn activist. However, one night Britta and Carla attended a meeting with NYCLU and another event with Kristin Gillibrand, their Senator.
After being embraced in their plight by New York Civil Liberties Union, Britta has boldly stepped forward and is now appearing in some programs that are set to help UAFA and the possible inclusion of LGBT partners in Comprehensive Immigration Reform.
However, we cannot rest until we see a BILL to the point of passage that includes LGBT couples. Many are fearful that even if included, permanent partners will become the public option of Immigration Reform, and rejected even by center democrats.
This weekend, Britta attended an IMMIGRATION RALLY in New York and was disappointed in the lack of LGBT participation, providing Lezgetreal with the following statement:
“I am disappointed in the LGBT community; I attended the immigration rally with the NYCLU (New York Civil Liberties Union). While participating in the march I was looking for Immigration Equality representatives as well as some gay flags or at least some gay activists – I was standing alone holding up my sign to include LGBT binational couples in CIR. Except for NYCLU nobody else was apparently representing us. If we don’t show up, if we don’t take a stand in front of this nation and the world, if we don’t talk nor share our stories, how else can we ensure UAFA is included in CIR (Comprehensive Immigration Reform)? In the end majority & visibility counts! “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends” (Martin Luther King Jr.), and today I remember the silence of my community while I am holding the fort fighting until the battle is won!”Britta’s case for asylum will be heard in September – the Judge will not allow another continuance to find an attorney. She may have to represent herself in this daunting and complicated proceeding.