Editor’s Note: In March 2012, our reporter Saul Elbein wrote a profile of Richard Dennis and Jair Izquierdo, a gay couple from New Jersey whose relationship was broken up by immigration officials. After President Obama’s decision to reassess how the U.S. deals with illegal immigrants in same-sex relationships, we decided to follow up with Richard and Jair. You can read the original story here.
When undercover immigration agents lured Jair Izquierdo out of his home with the false promise of a job offer, they weren’t exactly nailing a hardened criminal.
But Jair, a hair and makeup artist, had indeed broken a law: he was living in the country illegally after overstaying his tourist visa.
If he’d been straight, it wouldn’t have been an issue: he could have gotten married.
Jair is in a loving, stable, committed relationship. But the Federal Defense of Marriage Act forbids the government from providing benefits like citizenship to homosexual couples. That’s true even in states that recognize gay civil unions like New Jersey, where Jair lives.
Sorry, make that lived. Jair, 35, got deported and now lives in Peru, where he was born.
But it’s dangerous being gay in conservative Peru and Richard, 48, says it hasn’t been an easy transition.
“Jair has to act very differently then he would if he were here,” Richard tells Latitude News. “You can’t be open and express yourself how you wish down there. You just have to change your behavior. When I visit him, we can’t hold hands. We have to act like friends.”
Richard and Jair are appealing the U.S.’s decision to deport him. A final decision won’t be made for months.
In the meantime, they’re making it work long distance. Richard has visited Peru five times since Jair was ordered onto a flight to Lima in December, 2010. The couple has also taken a trip to Sweden, where Richard’s mother lives.
“It’s difficult,” Richard explains. “The only good thing is we’re in the same time zone so there’s no six or eight-hour time difference. We text and email and Skype and what have you. But it’s difficult. I can’t go down there because of financial reasons and time reasons, you know. I can’t just pop over there for a weekend.”
Obama steps in
Then, at the end of last month, the Obama administration announced immigration officials could for the first time consider “long-term, same-sex” relationships when making deportation decisions. The Boston Globe called the policy shift a “small but significant advance for gay and lesbian immigrants.”
Unfortunately, it’s too little, too late for Richard and Jair.
“If Obama had done this three years ago,” says Richard, “then Jair would still be here. So I’m displeased with his timing. It seems to me more like election year posturing than a true commitment to the issue.”
If Jair loses his appeal or the Defense of Marriage Act isn’t repealed by Congress or overturned by the courts, he’ll never come back to America. And that means the U.S. might lose out on Richard too.
Although Rabobank, where Richard works, doesn’t have a branch in Peru, it does keep several offices in South America, and he’s thought about asking for a transfer. He’s simply getting fed up with a country that treats him as an inferior.
“We just want the same rights that everybody else has,” Richard says. “I’m not asking for anything special. I’m just asking to have my spouse stay here as any heterosexual American would be able to do. And I don’t see any justification for legal discrimination.”
And if South America doesn’t work out, well, there’s always Sweden, which recognizes immigration rights for same-sex couples.
Either way, it won’t be home.