Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 11 / 15 March 2018

Judge in SF postpones binational couple’s deportation hearing

A gay binational Bay Area couple got a reprieve today from the federal immigration judge handling their deportation case.

Brian Willingham, 37, a U.S. citizen, and Alfonso Garcia, 35, a citizen of Mexico, appeared before Judge Amy Hoogasian in San Francisco today (Thursday, March 22). Hoogasian postponed the hearing to October in order to allow the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services time to review Willingham’s green card petition for Garcia.

In an interview, Willingham, who lives with Garcia in Orinda, said the hearing was “fantastic.”

“The judge treated us with the same the respect they’d give to any married couple,” he said.

Willingham said the assistant U.S. attorney handling the case also was respectful and “didn’t try to force the issue.”

Despite living in the Bay Area for more than 20 years and, according to Willingham, Garcia not having a criminal record, the Obama administration’s been trying to deport Garcia to Mexico.

The couple has been together since 2001 and got married in New York in 2011, not long after that state legalized same-sex marriages. They didn’t marry in California during the brief period in 2008 when such unions could be legally performed. That window of opportunity ended that November when voters passed the state’s Proposition 8 same-sex marriage ban.

Because of the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act, the federal government doesn’t recognize Willingham and Garcia’s marriage.

Willingham said the seven months give the couple another kind of opportunity.

“Now, we’ve just got to somehow convince the Obama administration to step up and instruct folks at UCIS to hold the petition in abeyance if they can’t find a way to approve it,” Willingham said.

The couple has sought help from California Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein (both Democrats) and Congressman John Garamendi (D-Walnut Creek), but so far, there hasn’t been much progress.

“Not a single one of them was wiling to step up to the plate and do anything for today’s hearing,” Willingham said. However, he said he’s confident that over the next several months they can win the assistance of at least one of the lawmakers.

Spokesmen for Boxer and Feinstein have said the senators’ staffs are reviewing the case. A spokesman for Garamendi has said the options for how his staff can be helpful are “limited.”

Willingham said DOMA is unconstitutional (some judges have agreed) and officials “all know it’s wrong” that the law is being used to try to force Garcia out of the country for at least 10 years.

“Now, we just need to get them to support me at the local level,” Willingham said.

Garcia said the process has been “stressful,” and the couple’s had to put their lives on hold.

However, he said he’s “very happy” the judge has delayed their case.

“I’m fighting for what I believe, which is my right to marry Brian,” Garcia said.

— Seth Hemmelgarn, March 22, 2012 @ 6:01 pm PST
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