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After DOMA Ruling, Bi-National Gay Couples Face New Issues

Brian Mathers calls his husband Isidro in Mexico from his living room in Sioux City, Iowa. Brian and Isidro have been separated for more than a year by immigration laws that did not recognize their marriage. For this couple, the Supreme Court's DOMA ruling may have come too late.

After the Supreme Court struck down a key section of the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, same-sex couples can apply for their foreign-born husbands, wives and fiancées to join them in the United States.

There are an estimated 28,000 gay and lesbian bi-national couples in the country, and for years many have been separated by immigration laws that didn't recognize their marriage.

Brian Mathers and his husband Isidro have been together for 13 years, but they've been living in different countries for the past 15 months. Isidro returned to visit his family in Mexico and couldn't return to the U.S.

The couple was living together in Sioux City, Iowa, when Isidro's visa expired. Because they're a gay couple, Mathers was unable to sponsor Isidro for a green card at the time. Without DOMA, none of this would have happened.

"We could have just gotten married then, it's legal in Iowa; it was then," Mathers says. "He never would have had to leave [and] we would have never had to go through this separation."

Isidro tried to stay in the country to be with Brian, but it became difficult to find work. He lost his job on the assembly line at a meatpacking plant.

"I was working in a car wash, cleaning houses [and] painting," Isidro says.

Because Isidro stayed in the country on an expired visa before he left, it will be more difficult for him to apply for permanent residency now, even though he and Brian married in Mexico City earlier this year. But Isidro says they'll keep trying.

"That's our goal ... to be together for the rest of our lives. It's hard to live apart," he says.

Mathers says the separation has been tough. Isidro's clothes are still in the drawers upstairs and the garden he planted grows larger every year. Now, following the Supreme Court's DOMA decision, he's keeping his focus on their application for Isidro's permanent residency.

"We are going to be denied because it's an automatic denial for someone who overstayed their welcome," he says. "And then we'll have to file a waiver; it's a specific kind of waiver that is based on hardship to the American citizen spouse."

Des Moines immigration attorney Jim Benzoni has been working with Brian and Isidro for the past year. Benzoni told them their case was difficult, but not impossible.

"We're just going to sit down and require the same evidence we always require to get a case going," Benzoni says. "We'll have to go back and show a relationship before the marriage: letters, emails [and] living together."

The Department of Homeland Security issued a statement soon after the Supreme Court decision, saying that Immigration Services would now review visa petitions for same-sex spouses the same way as straight couples. Brian and Isidro say they just want resume their life.

"We kind of feel like there's been this interruption, but ... it's something we'll work through and we'll get to the place that we were," he says.

Brian says the ruling gives them hope, but they can still be denied. If that happens, one of their few remaining options would be to move a country like Canada, where they could be together.

"But I don't want to do that," he says. "I love my country and I love my state and I love the community and all that stuff, so if there's a way to make this work that's going to be our first choice."

Brian and Isidro hope to be reunited, somehow, by this time next year.

Copyright 2013 Iowa Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.iowapublicradio.org.

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