By Tammye Nash
Roi Whaley and Aurelio Tolentino, both HIV-positive, met in 2004 through a support group for people living with AIDS. Roi is a native of Gulfport, Miss., and Tolentino, a registered nurse, had come to the U.S. on a work visa from his home in the Philipines.
Then, during the process of applying for his green card, authorities discovered Tolentino’s HIV-positive status, and immigration officials informed him he would have to leave the country. That was back in 2006, before President Barack Obama rescinded the policy prohibiting HIV-positive people from entering the U.S., either as immigrants or tourists.
Tolentino wasn’t too keen on going back to the Philipines. For one thing, it would mean leaving his partner, Whaley. On top of that, he had already been attacked and beaten for being gay in his home country, and if he were to return, it would likely happen again.
So Tolentino applied for asylum in the U.S. That application was denied because he had been in this country already for more than a year, and U.S. policy says anyone seeking asylum must apply within one year of entering the country.
Left with no other option, Tolention moved to Canada to live with his mother, who already has legal status as a permanent resident. He applied for asylum there and, once again, was denied. Now he may have no other choice than to return to the Philipines where he would possibly face harassment, violence and even death.
To make matters, Whaley was recently diagnosed with terminal cancer. He left for Seattle on Friday, Sept. 3, for a visit to his oncologist, after which he planned to fly on to Canada to spend the month of September with Tolentino and his mother. It will likely be the last time the partners see each other, since Tolentino faces deportation to the Phillipines, and Whaley’s deteriorating health rules out the possibility of him visiting Tolentino there.
There is one hope: a plea to the Department of Homeland Security to grant Tolentino a humanitarian parole that would allow him to return to the U.S temporarily to be with his dying partner. But that’s not likely to happen, either, especially without intervention from Whaley’s congressman, Rep. Gene Taylor, a Democrat from Bay St. Louis, Miss.
With the help of Immigration Equality, based in Washington, D.C., Whaley and Tolentino have already asked once for Taylor’s help. An aide in Taylor’s office told Whaley no, the congressman wasn’t going to intervene. And Taylor’s office has failed so far to even return calls from Immigration Equality.
But Steve Ralls, director of communications for Immigration Equality, said Friday that neither the couple nor Immigration Equality is ready to give up yet. They are asking for the public’s help in lobbying Congressman Taylor to intervene and get Homeland Security to grant the humanitarian parole that will let Whaley spend his final days with the man he loves.
“Were Roi and Aurelio a married heterosexual couple, Roi would be eligible to apply to sponsor Aurelio for residency in the United States. Because they are a gay couple, however, that option is not open to them,”
Ralls said in a press release sent out Friday 3 September. “Now, with Roi’s health deteriorating and Aurelio facing a move to the Philipines — where it would be nearly impossible for Roi to travel and be with him — the couple face impending separation. They are one of 36,000 such couples, according to an analysis of the 2000 Census data, facing this kind of situation.
“Despite having followed every immigration rule and voluntarily leaving the U.S. when immigration asked him to do so, Aurelio is now being punished under the law for following the law,” Ralls said.
If you want to help Immigration Equality fight for Roi and Aurelio, or if you are yourself part of an international same-sex couple trying to negotiate immigration law, contact the organization at 202-347-7007.
If you want to contact Congressman Taylor and encourage him to intervene on behalf of this couple, go to his website here to find addresses and phone numbers for his office in Washington, D.C., and all five of his offices in his district.
Just to catch you up Tolentino, a registered nurse from the Philipines, had come to the U.S. on a work visa and met Whaley in a support group for people with HIV. When he applied for his green card, the federal government learned Tolentino had HIV and, under a policy that has since been revoked by President Barack Obama, officials told Aurelio he would have to leave the country.
Tolentino applied for asylum, since he had already faced violence in his home country because of his sexual orientation and would probably face more if he went back. But that was denied. So he went to Canada to stay with his mother and applied for asylum there. That, too, was denied and he now faces the prospect of having to return to the Philipines. And at the same time, Whaley has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. He is visiting Tolentino in Canada this month, but unless something changes, it will likely be the last time the two partners are able to see each other.
Whaley, with the assistance of Immigration Equality, had asked his congressman, Democrat Gene Taylor of Bay St. Louis, Miss., for help in getting a humanitarian parole that would allow T0lentino back into the U.S. to be with Whaley in his final months. But Taylor’s office had refused.
That seems to have changed now. Steve Ralls with Immigration Equality called me this morning to let me know that after we posted the earlier blog about the couple’s plight, Taylor’s office has reached out to Whaley to try and help.
“We heard from Taylor’s office today (Tuesday, Sept. 7). He has reached out to Roi and said they want to work with him to see how they can best help him,” Ralls said. “We hope that [Taylor] will work with Roi’s attorney here at Immigration Equality on finding a way for Aurelio to be here in this country with Roi. It is a very positive step forward.”
Of course, if Whaley and Tolentino had been able to be legally married, or even if the U.S. had dropped its antiquated rule on allowing HIV-positive immigrants and visitors into the country earlier, this wouldn’t be such a problem. But for now, let’s just hope that Taylor and Immigration Equality can find a way for these two people who love each other to be together when they need each other most.