Frances Herbert, right, and her wife, Takako Ueda, at their home in Dummerston. Dummeerston's Select Board is urging federal immigration authorities to allow Ueda to remain in town without a spousal green card. AP photo: Matthew Cavanaugh

Vt. Gay Couples In Legal Clear After DOMA Ruling

By Dave Gram

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) - Two same-sex married couples in Vermont are celebrating their new immigration status after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling cleared the way for the foreign-born spouse in each to gain legal residency in the country.

"It is so amazing the position we are in today," said Peru-born Christian Pinillos, who got his green card from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services this past week. "Sometimes I feel like we're living in a dream. We've been waiting so long for this. It's been eight years we've been together."

Pinillos and his spouse, Jason Kirchick, of Stowe, and Japan-born Takako Ueda and Frances Herbert, of Dummerston, were interviewed in August at the St. Albans office of CIS, and both couples were given strong indications they would be approved to live in the United States as binational married couples.

The decisions came about two months after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the section of the Defense of Marriage Act that denied federal benefits to same-sex spouses.

The worries of Pinillos and Kirchick, both 32, were heightened this past winter when the ski lodge where they worked ran into financial trouble and it appeared both would lose their jobs. Pinillos was in the U.S. on a work visa and feared that a job loss would cause him to lose his legal status and that federal authorities would demand he leave the country.

Ueda did get such a demand in December 2011, a few months after the student visa she had been relying on expired. She later got a deferral of deportation but remained in legal limbo until the federal court decision.

Also hailing the development were Vermont's U.S. senators and lone congressman.

Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy was in the forefront of the fight, introducing his Uniting American Families Act to change federal policy on same-sex binational couples every year since 2003. Those efforts always were unsuccessful, including earlier this year, when he tried to include his legislation in a comprehensive immigration reform bill as it moved through the Senate. Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, withdrew the measure in frustration after he failed to garner support for it from his fellow majority Democrats.

Weeks later, the Supreme Court decision made the change Leahy and the Vermont couples had sought.

Leahy called the news that Ueda and Pinillos had been given the green light to remain in the country "a joyful and long-awaited moment for these couples."

In a statement issued by his office, he said, "I know from years of working with them about the hardship and worry that has been part of their everyday lives. I share the great happiness they feel today."

He added that many of the estimated 36,000 binational same-sex couples living in the U.S. had long been forced "to choose between the country they love and being with the one they love. This destructive policy was tearing families apart and forcing couples to make the heart-wrenching choice no American should have to make."

Officials with CIS said they couldn't say how many same-sex binational couples had received green cards since the June decision since the form couples fill out to sponsor their spouses makes no such designation.

Talking on speakerphone from their home, Ueda, 58, and Herbert, 52, said a huge burden was lifted from their shoulders when they got the call Tuesday that a green card was in the mail. Ever since Ueda's visa expired, they had feared she could be arrested and deported.

Now, "Takako doesn't have to have a heart attack every time she sees the police," Herbert said with a laugh.

Ueda added, "To release that kind of energy is a tremendous - ah! - relief."

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