A legally married man faces deportation because he is gay

Henry Velandia is married to a U.S. citizen, but he might be deported anyway.  That’s because the Venezuelan-born salsa teacher’s legal same-sex marriage in Connecticut isn’t recognized by the federal government. So his husband — Josh Vandiver, a Princeton University doctoral student from Colorado — can’t sponsor him for residency the way he could in a heterosexual marriage.  The New Jersey couple of four years say the Defense of Marriage Act, which legally defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman, could force them to leave the country.  “You come here and you expect to get a better life. I’ve been working really hard in this country. I finally realize who I am, and who I love, and then everything blows up. It’s like a slap in the face,” Velandia told AOL News in a phone interview today.  Velandia’s application for a green card was denied, and he’s scheduled to appear before an immigration judge in Newark, N.J., on Nov. 17. Although Velandia entered the country legally, he unwittingly let his visitor status lapse, making him ineligible for the green card, said the couple’s attorney, Lavi Soloway.  Soloway said Velandia thought his immigration status was in good standing, and he had even been sponsored by an employer. “He thought he was doing what he was supposed to be doing,” he said. Soloway noted that had Velandia been married to a woman, he would very likely be able to establish residency anyway.  ICE confirmed that Velandia is facing deportation hearings, but said they were unable to comment on the pending case.  Vandiver said he feels like he’s been treated like a second-class citizen in his own country. “It’s discriminatory to me as a U.S. citizen that I can’t have a successful petition for my spouse’s green card,” he told AOL News. “It’s an injustice toward me and Americans like me.”  Velandia, who came to the United States in 2002, said he has established himself in the country and doesn’t want to move.  “I started from zero in this country — new language, new culture,” he told the Daily Princetonian. He started his own dance school in Princeton, called HotSalsaHot. The dance instructor said he hoped going public with his story would help other couples in the same position.   “As a gay man I need to stand up for my beliefs when there are so many other couples out there. We are fighting for them too,” he told AOL News.  The couple are lobbying against the Defense of Marriage Act and have set up a Facebook page, “Save Our Marriage — Stop the Deportation of Henry Velandia,” to support their cause.

Written by: Harlan York

Immigration Attorney Harlan York is Former Chair, Immigration Section, NJ State Bar Association and Former Co-Chair, NY State Bar Association CFLS Immigration Committee. Mr. York appeared on National Television on CBS This Morning with Charlie Rose and Primer Impacto on Univision, as well as Telemundo, NBC, and PBS. He was honored as First Ever Immigration Lawyer of The Year in NJ by Best Lawyers.

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