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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Gay Man Ordered to Surrender Partner for Deportation

Edwin Echegoyen and Rodrigo Martinez.
Edwin Echegoyen & Rodrigo Martinez

By Michael K. Lavers -
A gay Maryland man will have to surrender his partner for deportation on Wednesday if his last minute appeals fail.

Edwin Echegoyen met Rodrigo Martinez at the gym in 2003-Martinez had come to the United States from El Salvador on a tourist visa a couple of weeks earlier. The two men began dating. And they soon settled in Rockville, Maryland.

The men decided to vacation in Puerto Rico with three other gay couples in 2004 after Echegoyen’s mother passed away from cancer. Authorities detained Martinez as he and Echegoyen attempted to board their flight back to Maryland. They released Martinez after Echegoyen posted bail.

"He was released under my own custody and we’ve been working through the legal system to find some kind of relief for him to stay here with me," Echegoyen told EDGE.

These efforts included applying for a work visa and seeking asylum based on Martinez’s fear he would suffer anti-gay persecution in his homeland. Both petitions were denied. And Echegoyen received a letter from the Department of Homeland Security late last month that said he would have to surrender Martinez to federal authorities in Baltimore on March 9 because he posted his bail in 2004.

Martinez and Echegoyen married in the District of Columbia on March 1. Echegoyen obtained a certified marriage certificate from the court, and filed a marriage-based petition with the Department of Homeland Security that would allow him to sponsor Martinez for residency.

"It is so upsetting because we want to celebrate," said Echegoyen, noting some of his and Martinez’s friends attended their wedding during their lunch hour. "This is something we had talked about doing-getting married, but not under these circumstances."

DOMA Deportations
The Defense of Marriage Act specifically bans the federal government from recognizing marriages of same-sex couples for immigration and other purposes. The Obama administration announced last month it will no longer defend DOMA in federal court.

Congressman Chris Van Hollen [D-Md.], in whose district Martinez and Echegoyen live, co-sponsored a bill in the last Congress that would have repealed DOMA. Congressman Jerrold Nadler [D-N.Y.] has said he plans to reintroduce a DOMA repeal measure in the House, while U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein [D-Calif.] has indicated she would follow suit in the U.S. Senate.

"The recent news of deportations involving legally married gay and lesbian bi-national couples is heartbreaking," U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand [D-N.Y.] told EDGE in a statement. "It is critical that we repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and ensure that immigration laws respect all loving, committed marriages."

The Uniting American Families Act would allow gays and lesbians to sponsor their partner for legal residency, but it appears unlikely Congress will move the bill until at least after next year’s presidential election. Rachel Tiven, executive director of Immigration Equality, told EDGE Martinez’s pending deportation clearly demonstrates the plight bi-national couples face under DOMA.

"It’s a perfect example of what’s wrong here," she said.

Tiven further confirmed her organization is planning to challenge DOMA on behalf of gays and lesbians who cannot sponsor their partners under current immigration law. "The DOMA edifice is rapidly falling to pieces," she said. "Couples that are separated or about to be separated cannot wait any longer, and that’s why we’re moving ahead. It is taking shape very rapidly."

As EDGE reported on Feb. 18, federal officials issued an indefinite stay on Anton Tanumihardja’s deportation to Indonesia two hours before he was to have surrendered himself to federal authorities in Philadelphia on Valentine’s Day.

"In the name of the Defense of Marriage Act, gay and lesbian couples literally find their marriages being destroyed," said lawyer Lavi Soloway, noting many of the estimated 36,000 bi-national couples in the United States have children. "It’s the fabric of American society that’s being torn when you deport somebody. It’s not some other person, some stranger, some alien that the law would refer to that person."

Soloway, who also represents Martinez and Echegoyen, continues to pursue an emergency stay on the pending deportation and a petition to reopen Martinez’s asylum request. "We have a great opportunity to stop the deportation," he told EDGE just before a hearing before an immigration judge in Baltimore.

Echegoyen, however, said the ongoing legal battle has certainly taken its toll.

"We’re not sleeping because what if March 9 comes and there’s no relief," he said. "It’s such a horrible, horrible situation to put people in-to choose between your family and your country. What do you do?"

Michael K. Lavers manages the Fire Island News. His work has also appeared in the Village Voice, WNYC, the BBC, the Advocate and other media outlets. And he blogs at Boy in Bushwick [

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