My first visit to the capital of the United States was not exactly the tourist experience that is in brochures. In the time we had there I did not get to see the usual tourist sights. We had virtually no time for anything but working on our primary goal. I hope to go back there again one day and get to see the sights and sounds of Washington, DC. I don’t think it will be someday soon, though.
What I did get to experience while I was there was a new perspective on everything that Gary and I have been through in our fight to be together. One of the tough things about dealing with this kind of discrimination is that there are few people who can truly empathize with you. Our friends, family and neighbors have been amazingly supportive; they offer love, reassurance and whatever practical help they can. The phrase we hear from so many people is “I can’t even begin to imagine what it’s like to be going through this” – because literally, they can not. The idea that no one else “gets it” can make you feel very lonely, even when you’re surrounded by support. But, when we met with the other families from all over the country (more than fifty families in fact) at the center of them all were bi-national couple and families, leaving in fear that they could be torn apart at any moment. During time spent in meetings there we had the unique opportunity to not only share our story but also to hear dozens of others stories- each one unique. Some of the couples there had been fighting this battle for over a decade, living all that time, not knowing if they were going to be separated at any moment. Others were trying to raise children with the threat of deportation hanging over their heads. American citizens fearful of having to make a choice to leave their own country and return to the country of their foreign spouse (where they are legally welcomed as a spouse). Some of the bravest people there were the ones who were alone- their spouse having already been forced to leave the country. Their relationship is now sustained by sparse and brief visits whenever they could afford to travel, many times going years in-between visits.
Despite all the various tales we heard, some in more fortunate positions that we are, and some in much more desperate situations, there were always several common threads woven throughout. The first and most apparent thread was true and unconditional love and connection. Every couple we spoke to was very obviously in love. They behaved like every genuine long-term couple I’d ever known. Finishing each other’s sentences, straightening their partners collar while they talked, unconsciously reaching for their lovers hand when they needed to say something emotional or difficult. Another thread amongst American citizens was frustration. When you face injustice for so long, and have to spend every day, fighting, just to have the person you love by your side. Sometimes this frustration manifested as anger, sometimes as sadness. But alongside that was always a sense of determination. Giving up the fight wasn’t an option, no matter how hard it got. Their relationship, their love, was worth any price.
A thread that I noticed in common was one that I feel very strongly every day (and this was something I shared with many of the other foreign partners in the room)- a feeling of helplessness. When you have no legal status in a country, you can’t work, you can’t open bank accounts, you can’t get insurance, etc., you are totally dependent on your spouse to support you and to bear an unfair portion of the responsibility for both of you. Even when meeting with Senators and members of The House of Representatives, I had to rely on Gary to do most of the speaking- he is the US citizen with the right to vote and the right to speak with government officials.
I have had to watch the man that I love work himself to point of collapse to support the two of us. He works all day teaching, then he works a second and sometimes third job from home in the evenings and weekends, and on top of all of that, he has to make all the calls to banks, insurance companies, pay all our bills and do all the legal things that I cannot do. It is a horrible enough experience watching someone you love burn themselves out, giving everything of themselves over to work and responsibility. But when they are making that sacrifice just so that the two of you can be together, and you are unable, forbidden even, to help them in any practical way. It’s heartbreaking for me.
There were many other commonalities, and many shared moments of empathy, as we heard more stories through the day. You don’t feel so lonely, so isolated, when you have a chance to meet a room full of other people who really do “get it.” -but that feeling of reassurance doesn’t last very long. The staggering number of other people hurting and facing the unknown just as you and your spouse are, the way our and family is, you feel saddened and even more driven to do whatever you can to change it. But again, I can not work to change it. Only Gary and the people of this country I would like to call call home one day can do that.