2 de Mayo de 2006

Family, Unvalued

Discrimination, Denial, and the Fate of

Binational Same-Sex Couples under U.S. Law



Copyright © 2006 Human Rights Watch/Immigration Equality    All rights reserved.

Printed in the United States of America      ISBN: 1-56432-336-6

Cover photos: © 2006 Private      Cover design by Rafael Jimenez

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Human Rights Watch is dedicated to protecting the human rights of people around the world.

We stand with victims and activists to prevent discrimination, to uphold political freedom, to protect people from inhumane conduct in wartime, and to bring offenders to justice.

We investigate and expose human rights violations and hold abusers accountable.

We challenge governments and those who hold power to end abusive practices and respect international human rights law.

We enlist the public and the international community to support the cause of human rights for all.


Immigration Equality is a national organization that works to end immigration discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and HIV-positive people.

Immigration Equality provides legal services, information, and support to immigrants, activists, attorneys, and legislators.

We help win asylum in the United States for those persecuted in their home country because of their sexual orientation, transgender identity, or HIV-status.

Through education, outreach, advocacy, and the maintenance of a nationwide network of resources, we fight for those who are threatened by persecution or the discriminatory impact of immigration law.

Human Rights Watch conducts regular, systematic investigations of human rights abuses in some seventy countries around the world. Our reputation for timely, reliable disclosures has made us an essential source of information for those concerned with human rights. We address the human rights practices of governments of all political stripes, of all geopolitical alignments, and of all ethnic and religious persuasions. Human Rights Watch defends freedom of thought and expression, due process and equal protection of the law, and a vigorous civil society; we document and denounce murders, disappearances, torture, arbitrary imprisonment, discrimination, and other abuses of internationally recognized human rights. Our goal is to hold governments accountable if they transgress the rights of their people.

Human Rights Watch began in 1978 with the founding of its Europe and Central Asia division (then known as Helsinki Watch). Today, it also includes divisions covering Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe and Central Asia and the Middle East and North Africa. In addition, it includes three thematic divisions on arms, children's rights, and women's rights. It maintains offices in Berlin, Brussels, Geneva, London, Los Angeles, Moscow, New York, San Francisco, Tashkent, Toronto, and Washington. Human Rights Watch is an independent, nongovernmental organization, supported by contributions from private individuals and foundations worldwide. It accepts no government funds, directly or indirectly.

The staff includes Kenneth Roth, Executive Director; Michele Alexander, Development and Outreach Director; Carroll Bogert, Associate Director; Peggy Hicks, Global Advocacy Director; Iain Levine, Program Director; Dinah PoKempner, General Counsel; Aisling Reidy, Senior Legal Advisor; James Ross, Senior Legal Advisor; Joe Saunders, Deputy Program Director; and Wilder Tayler, Legal and Policy Director.

The division directors of Human Rights Watch are Brad Adams, Asia; Joseph Amon, HIV/AIDS and Human Rights; Peter Bouckaert, Emergencies; Bruni Burres, International Film Festival; Holly Cartner, Europe and Central Asia; Richard Dicker, International Justice; Jamie Fellner, United States; Bill Frelick, Refugees; Arvind Ganesan, Business and Human Rights; Steve Goose, Arms; LaShawn R. Jefferson, Women's Rights; Scott Long, Lesbian, Gay Bisexual and Transgender Rights; Joanne Mariner, Terrorism and Counterterrorism; Peter Takirambudde, Africa; José Miguel Vivanco, Americas; Lois Whitman, Children's Rights; and Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa.

The advocacy directors of Human Rights Watch are Steve Crawshaw, London; Loubna Freih, Geneva; Marianne Heuwagen, Berlin; Lotte Leicht, Brussels; and Tom Malinowski, Washington, DC.

The members of the board of directors are Jane Olson, Chair; James F. Hoge, Jr., Vice-Chair; Sid Sheinberg, Vice-Chair; John J. Studzinski, Vice-Chair; Omar Amanat, Lloyd Axworthy, David Brown, Jorge Castaneda, Dorothy Cullman, Edith Everett, Jonathan Fanton (Chair 1998-2003), Michael Gellert, Richard Goldstone, Vartan Gregorian, Wendy Keys, Robert Kissane, Bruce Klatsky, Joanne Leedom-Ackerman, Josh Mailman,  Susan Manilow, Kati Marton, Linda Mason, Barry Meyer, Joel Motley, Samuel K. Murumba, Catherine Powell, Sigrid Rausing, Victoria Riskin, Kevin Ryan, Domna Stanton, John Taylor, and Shibley Telhami.

Emeritus board members are Roland Algrant, Lisa Anderson, Robert L. Bernstein (Founding Chair 1978-1997), William D. Carmichael, Adrian W. DeWind, Alice H. Henkin, Stephen L.Kass, Marina Pinto Kaufman, Peter Osnos, Kathleen Peratis, Bruce Rabb (Secretary), Orville Schell, Gary Sick, and Malcolm B. Smith.


This report was written by Scott Long, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Rights Program of Human Rights Watch; Jessica Stern, researcher in the LGBT Rights Program of Human Rights Watch; and Adam Francoeur, program coordinator of Immigration Equality.  Jessica Stern conducted the bulk of the interviews with assistance from Adam Francoeur and Scott Long. 

The report is based on research conducted between 2003 and 2006.  Immigration Equality surveyed binational same-sex couples via questionnaire between March 2003 and November 2004; they received approximately 900 responses that laid the groundwork for future documentation and conceptual development.  In late 2004, Human Rights Watch and Immigration Equality formally decided to collaborate on this report.  Human Rights Watch and Immigration Equality conducted interviews via telephone and in-person around the United States between October 2004 and January 2006 with thirty-three binational same-sex couples.  Sixteen were lesbian-identified, fifteen were gay-identified, and two had one partner who was transgender.  In addition to the range of countries represented among the 900 survey respondents, the non-citizen partners among the couples interviewed were from: Argentina, Australia, the Bahamas, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Jamaica, the Netherlands, Rwanda, Spain, Taiwan, Turkey, the United Kingdom, Uruguay, and Venezuela.  Numerous people in the U.S. and in exile around the world who cannot be named for reasons of security participated in this research in invaluable ways.  We give our deep thanks to the many couples and individuals we worked with on this report.

At Human Rights Watch, this report was edited by Joe Saunders, deputy program director; Dinah Pokempner, general counsel; Alison Parker, senior researcher in the U.S. Program; and Jamie Fellner, director of the U.S. Program.  We are grateful to our colleagues for the advice they gave us: Rebecca Schleifer, researcher in the HIV/AIDS Program; Joe Amon, director of the HIV/AIDS Program; and William Frelick, director of Refugee Policy.  Andrea Holley, manager of Outreach and Public Education, provided endless support with all aspects of production.  We give our deep thanks to Jessica Robertson, intern in the LGBT Rights Program, who provided critical research assistance and beyond.  Lance Lattig, media editor, provided communications advice.  Liba Beyer, associate director, Development and Outreach, was instrumental in developing outreach and advocacy strategies. 

Human Rights Watch expresses its gratitude to Henry van Ameringen, Alvin H. Baum, the David Bohnett Foundation, the David Geffen Foundation, the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation the Gill Foundation, James C. Hormel and Timothy Wu, the Pomegranate Foundation, Ann B. Snitow, Jeanne and Joseph Sullivan, the Tides Foundation, and Reid Williams for their ongoing support of its work on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people's rights. 

Immigration Equality thanksits entire office along with former staff and interns. Specifically, we thank Lavi Soloway, Jennifer Higgins, Pradeep Singla, April Herms, and Heather Betz for their advice, encouragement and work with same-sex binational couples and LGBT and HIV-positive immigrants. We also thank former interns Tara Polansky, Fadi Hanna, and Aaron Morris for their contributions to drafts of this report. We give our deep thanks to Rachel B. Tiven, Victoria Neilson, Sarah Sohn, and Adam Pedersen-Doherty for their support in publishing this report.

Immigration Equality expresses deep appreciation to those who have made our work possible: the Arcus Foundation; the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr., Fund; the Ford Foundation; the Open Society Institute; and the Paul Rapoport Foundation. 

Human Rights Watch and Immigration Equality thank Congressman Jerrold Nadler and his staff, along with Senator Leahy and his staff, for their leadership in Congress struggling for justice for same-sex binational couples and LGBT immigrants and their families.

Human Rights Watch and Immigration Equality wish to acknowledge gratefully the work of the many organizations and individuals supporting the rights of binational same-sex couples.  For their advice, insight and wisdom, we particularly thank: Anna Browne of Bay Area Immigrant Rights Coalition; Nancy Buermeyer, Cerissa Cafasso, and Mark Glaze of The Raben Group; Cathy Chang and the members of Las Buenas Amigas; Debanuj Dasgupta of the Queer Immigrant Rights Project; Marta Donayre and Leslie Bulbuk of Love Sees No Borders; Jennifer Hope of CUNY Law School; Mark Kightlinger; Martha McDevitt-Pugh of Love Exiles; Matthew McTighe of the Human Rights Campaign; Andrew Park;Roberta Sklar of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force; and Paul Zakrzewski..  Human Rights Watch and Immigration Equality offer our gratitude and thanks to Steptoe and Johnson, LLC; William Isasi; and our colleagues in Brazil, Sonia Correa, Roger Raupp Rios, and Beto de Jesus for their research on global same-sex immigration rights.  We thank Gary Gates for his thorough research into same-sex binational couples according to the 2000 U.S. Census.  Human Rights Watch and Immigration Equality thank Chris Daley of the Transgender Law Center, Shannon Minter of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and Cole Thaler of Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, for their guidance on transgender issues in immigration.  We also thank Sebastian Cordoba, Machu Latorre and Tracey Luszcz for their visual expertise and support. 

For their participation in a conference call during the developmental stages of this report, Human Rights Watch and Immigration Equality wish to thank: Dusty Aráujo, International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission; Leslie Bulbuk, Love Sees No Borders; Jason Cianciotto, National Gay & Lesbian Task Force; Marta Donayre, Love Sees No Borders; Gary Gates, UCLA School of Law - The Williams Institute; Ariel Herrera, Amnesty International - Outfront; Steven Kang, Gay Asian Pacific Islander Men of New York; Davina Kotulsky, Marriage Equality U.S.A.; Martha McDevitt-Pugh, Love Exiles; and Matt McTighe, Human Rights Campaign. 

Finally, we acknowledge the groundbreaking work of Lionel Cantu. Mr. Cantu's research on the impact of sexuality and migration within Mexican men-who-have-sex-with-men communities was highly influential in this report. We also thank Nancy Naples for her support and efforts to continue Lionel's work. Lionel Cantu died unexpectedly in Santa Cruz on May 26, 2002. We hope this report will help sustain his legacy and work.

This report is for the thousands of binational same-sex couples who struggle under the devastating burdens of U.S. immigration policy and non-recognition of their relationships for a simple wish: to be loving families with one another.  

The first time that I dreamed, we were in flight. …

We came at once to a tall house, its door

Wide open, waiting for the long-lost heirs.

An elderly clerk sat on the bedroom stairs

Writing; but we had tiptoed past him when

He raised his head and stuttered: "Go away."

We wept and begged to stay;

He wiped his pince-nez, hesitated, then

Said no, he had no power to give us leave:

Our lives were not in order; we must leave.

W. H. Auden, "The Lesson"

I love my partner with every thing in me. … Thanks to the immigration laws they have taken my dreams and my heart and thrown them to the wind.  I always thought when I found the love of my life, the onlyapproval I would have ever cared about was of my mom and dad. Who would have thought that I needed the government to tell me that I can only fall in love here in the United States and even here I don't have a choice. The heart has no boundaries, it merely goes where it is loved.

E-mail from "Denise" (a clerk at Wal-Mart in Louisiana), forced to live on a different continent from her Dutch partner "Karla"