Gay Man Ordered to Surrender Partner for Deportation

by Michael K. Lavers
National News Editor
Monday Mar 7, 2011

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Hollen [D-Md.], in whose district Martinez and Echegoyen live, co-sponsored a bill in the last Congress that would have repealed DOMA.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?"

Based in Washington, D.C., Michael K. Lavers has appeared in the New York Times, BBC, WNYC, Huffington Post, Village Voice, Advocate and other mainstream and LGBT media outlets. He is an unapologetic political junkie who thoroughly enjoys living inside the Beltway.


  • Brent, 2011-03-07 17:30:33

    The title of this article should read "husband," not "partner". Martinez and Echegoyen are legally married.

  • , 2011-03-07 20:25:05

    Good luck to them, I’ve been there. It wasn’t wise to go to Mexico, though. Guess it’s time to pull a vanishing act a la Anne Franke.

  • , 2011-03-08 01:07:05

    OK, I’m all for gay rights, marriage and all... but Martinez was here on a tourist visa (normally 90 days) and was still here a year later (violating the terms of his visa), got caught, and tried to get out of paying the penalty by getting married. I don’t see what being gay has to do with it, he broke the law, tried to work the system, and has failed so far. That’s the price you have to pay sometimes... or am I missing something?

  • , 2011-03-08 03:42:06

    What you’re missing, fellow anon, is that the marriage trick *works* for straight people. It doesn’t work for gays. That is unjust.

  • , 2011-03-08 03:53:19

    ... "the marriage trick *works* for straight people. It doesn’t work for gays. That is unjust." I had some hetero friends who has a similar situation... she was here on a student visa, they met, got married, tried to go to Ecuador to visit her family, were told she wouldn’t be allowed back in. Had to go through the whole applying for citizenship scenario which took years of legal wrangling and she was nearly deported in the mean time. Her visa was expired when they got married, thus the problems. Martinez was here for 5+ years without a visa, without being married. He got caught. That fact seems to be buried under the cry of "but he’s gay!" If he was here legally, got married legally, and then was going to be deported because his spouse couldn’t sponsor him, that would be a different story, but that doesn’t seem to be the case here, though many facts seem to be missing.

  • Franck Rabeson, 2011-03-08 08:28:18

    anon: I’m pretty sure they would have gotten married as soon as he entered the US, but that wasn’t an option for them until very recently. And, simply, the whole point here is just that: if you’re gay, the option of immigration through marriage just doesn’t exist.

  • , 2011-03-08 13:53:05

    I know this situation oh too well. It is wrong in every possible way. It is embarrassing to live in a country that is supposed to be a beacon of light for all the world to follow and it doesn’t even practice what it preaches. Liberty and justice for all.......not yet anyway.

  • , 2011-03-08 14:34:19

    "anon: I’m pretty sure they would have gotten married as soon as he entered the US" How on earth could you possibly assume that? There is nothing to support that, in fact the article says "This is something we had talked about doing-getting married, but not under these circumstances." leading us to believe that they felt pressured to get married sooner rather than later to keep Martinez here, not because they felt they were ready and wanted to just because it was time. Besides, I would distrust any marriage that took place within 90 days of people meeting, especially when one isn’t a citizen. The thing is... I think marriages, straight or gay, done for political, financial, or convenience sake undermine the entire concept of marriage and make it more of a political tool.

  • Franck Rabeson, 2011-03-08 14:43:51

    Just speaking as someone who’s in a binational relationship here: people like us often promise ourselves we’d get married when ready but are pressured into doing so earlier by the realities of life. I know my partner and I had initially held to the concept of "immigrating so we can get married." Now, with all other avenues for immigration pretty much closed to me, we’d have nothing against getting married if it helps with the immigration process. That’s the purpose of a CIVIL marriage, anyway. For the more emotionally important meaning of marriage, we can always have another ceremony later (or earlier).

  • DaveUSEricUK, 2011-03-17 17:14:08

    The fact is, DOMA forces bi-national same sex couples to chose to either; 1)Break the law and have the non-American Partner overstay a visa. 2)Try to make a Long Distance relationship work when the there is no foreseeable way to end the distance and be together. 3)The American Partner leaves the US and moves to the other person’s country - (which only works if that country respects the civil rights of LBGT people. ) or 4). Break up with the person you love because the United States has fewer civil and human rights than South Africa. Heterosexual couples have the sponsorship option, same sex couples do not. It is a simple question of fairness. Gay and Lesbians Americans are taxed as full citizens of the US but treated as second class citizens. THAT is the real issue with DOMA

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