Vandiver and Velandia were married Aug. 29 in Connecticut. But Velandia’s application for a work visa was denied and his current visa has expired, which means that he now risks being deported to Venezuela, his home country.
Typically, foreigners married to American citizens can obtain green cards through sponsorship from their spouses. But the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act defined marriage as the union between a man and a woman for all federal laws, including immigration regulations. The law means that no member of a same-sex married couple can sponsor a spouse’s application for legal residency.
“It’s frustrating to find my passion and the love of my life, yet still run the risk of deportation,” Velandia said. He will appear before an immigration judge in Newark, N.J., on Nov. 17.
Velandia and Vandiver are now fighting for the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act. They are also appealing to members of Congress to immediately cease deportation hearings against foreign-born spouses of U.S. citizens.
“Part of our fight is to bring awareness to people and make them see what’s really going on in this issue that nobody is talking about,” Velandia explained.
The couple hosted a presentation about their campaign Thursday afternoon in Whitman College, and they have launched a Facebook group — “Save our Marriage – Stop the Deportation of Henry Velandia” — that has gained more than 1,000 supporters in two days.
On Thursday afternoon, Vandiver and Velandia spoke with Rep. Rush Holt, who was on campus to speak at an event sponsored by College Democrats and Tigers for Israel. During a question-and-answer session following Holt’s speech, Vandiver asked Holt to appeal to the Department of Homeland Security to cease deportations of spouses of U.S. citizens while debate on the Defense of Marriage Act continues. Holt said that he was opposed to the law and was in support of gay rights.
Vandiver, who is from Colorado, received his undergraduate degree from Harvard, spent a year at Oxford and is now in his sixth year of study for his Ph.D. in the politics department at Princeton.
Velandia, who met Vandiver online, emigrated from Venezuela in 2002. “I started from zero in this country — new language, new culture,” he said.
In the United States, Velandia took up salsa dancing and founded his own dance school, HotSalsaHot. He has appeared in the Spanish-language television show “Mira Quien Baila” and now teaches salsa five days a week at his dance school. He also teaches dance classes in Whitman College.
Current undergraduates who know the couple spoke about Velandia’s importance to the University community.
“It’s very sad and disappointing that if this were a straight couple, their marriage would be recognized,” said Lexi Meyer ’11, who takes dance lessons from Velandia and has had Vandiver as her preceptor. “Henri’s not a graduate student, but he still contributes what he can to the campus culture and has cultivated a great group dynamic.”
Graham Ezzy ’11, who had Vandiver as his preceptor and resident graduate student in Whitman, said, “The saddest part is that he’s really established a life here. To see that disrupted when it’s clearly only benefiting is annoying.”
Vandiver and Velandia ultimately acknowledged that their commitment to one another is more important than the location of their residence.
“We would be willing to leave this country together and go someplace like the U.K. or Europe or Canada where we could be together, but I don’t want to be a refugee in my own country,” Vandiver said. “I never imagined that I would face this kind of discrimination from my own country and potentially have to flee it to be with the one I love.”