When this photograph was taken, on rather short notice and at the urging of a close friend, Jenny, who is American, and Ottie, who is Dutch, had been living in the United States for over two years. They both had jobs and were saving to buy a small house.
Jenny and Ottie met in the Netherlands some 15 years before, when both were taking their toddlers to play group. Both were married to men, but the mutual attraction between them grew quickly and new emotions and unfamiliar feelings needed to be understood. Soon a relationship was born.
After many years of living together in Holland, Jenny made a trip back to the US to be a bone marrow donor for her seriously ill brother. The transplant gave her brother another 10 months of precious life, but eventually, he succumbed to his illness. Jenny returned to the Netherlands and after much discussion, she and Ottie determined that they needed to move to the US to help with her aging parents now that her brother was gone. Their children were grown and it still would be difficult to leave them, but other family members needed them more. Says Jenny, "we always have each other no matter what country we are going to be in, we wanted to be in my country for a while. I’d been in Holland for 27 years. I missed my family a lot all those years so we kind of thought it was time to come here, be with the family."
They thought they had their paperwork in order. The dying brother had previously promised them an affordable place to stay in the US. Ottie had her "Employment Authorization Document" (EAD), which had allowed her to work for the past two and a half years and was good for yet another year. She was hoping to stay in the US with a work visa. Her boss was prepared to sponsor her since, due to immigration laws, Jenny was not permitted to claim her as her partner or spouse. They were settling in.
Jenny's 21yr old daughter had joined them and was preparing to make a new home in the US. But then the Office of Homeland Security came calling and Ottie's permanent residency request was abruptly denied. Apparently, they had mistakenly filled out the incorrect paperwork.
Jenny and Ottie tried every channel and appealed to several government officials to no avail. Ironically, it is legal for same-sex couples to be married in the Netherlands, but in the USA, only heterosexual marriage partners can sponsor a spouse for immigration. Nineteen other countries around the world recognize and respect same-sex relationships in their immigration laws.
This photograph was taken on August 25th, 2009. On September 14th, they were scheduled for an interview with the "deportation officer" from immigration services. In Jenny's words, "we don’t know what exactly he’s going to say but 'deportation officer,' that kind of says it all, so we kind of know what to expect. But we are just hoping he’ll have a kind heart and he won’t ban her from the country for 3 to 10 years. Because in that much time so much could happen and I could lose one of my parents, or one of my family members. I’d have to travel alone, you know, to come to the funeral." But even more pressing in this moment, was the threat that Ottie would be immediately deported after the interview without even the opportunity to return home to get her belongings.
The Uniting American Families Act, proposed in 2009, died in Congressional committee but would have been the law that would have saved Jenny and Ottie.
Ottie was deported and there was never any doubt that Jenny would return to the Netherlands with her. "She's my life's partner. I love her."
"It’s really sad that I have to choose between the country and my family that I love and the partner that I have chosen for my life to be with. That's just so unfair."
The Uniting American Families Act of 2011 has been referred to committees in both the House and Senate. It is estimated that approximately 36,000 couples would benefit from this bill.