University couple continues legal fight
Despite the Obama administration’s recommendation that the Justice Department should no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act, which was described as unconstitutional by the White House last week, the fight of Joshua Vandiver GS to stop the deportation of his husband Henry Velandia appears far from over.
Vandiver, a sixth-year Ph.D. student in the politics department, and Velandia, a professional modern dancer from Venezuela, met at the University in 2006 and married in Connecticut last August.
In light of the recent statements from President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder, Vandiver is petitioning the Board of Immigration Appeals against the U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services’ rejection of his proposed sponsorship for Velandia’s green card application.
Under DOMA, the federal government — which directs immigration policy — is prohibited from recognizing same-sex marriages. This law prevents same-sex partners from sponsoring each other for green card applications.
“Ours will probably be the first appeal that they will have heard on this new ground,” Vandiver said. “It’s very exciting to be at that position, to be the first ones to test the waters ... Our marriage license looks like everyone else’s, so I don’t understand why my federal government is denying me the right I always expected.”
Vandiver and Velandia are represented by attorney Lavi Soloway, who has been representing binational couples for 18 years.
Soloway said that marriage falls under the constitutional authority of individual states and not the federal government, though only nine states recognize same-sex marriages. U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein and Patrick Leahy will soon introduce legislation to repeal DOMA, he added.
“In the course of the civil rights movement, it’s not uncommon for the government to take one position and then, reviewing its position, reverse itself,” Soloway explained. “The Obama administration's change of position on DOMA will begin the process of inevitably repealing the statute. Everybody’s on the same side here; the executive, the legislative branch and the courts are all moving in a direction that is consistent.”
In October, the couple launched a petition to Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano requesting that the deportation of the spouses of gay American citizens be stopped until the situation is resolved. Vandiver said he fears for Velandia’s deportation while immigration reform efforts and DOMA challenges are pending.
The petition currently has over 2,600 signatures. The couple’s Facebook group, “Save Our Marriage — Stop the Deportation of Henry Velandia,” currently has over 10,000 members.
The couple is continuing their efforts outside of the political sphere as well. On Sunday, Velandia performed a dance piece that was based on the couple’s story as part of a performance titled “Love in the Time of Green Cards” at the W Hotel in New York City. The show drew a crowd of over 100.
“It was really important to me, as a dancer, to express what we’re going through by dancing,” he said.
Vandiver will also be speaking about the couple’s fight in a talk titled “Love in the Time of Green Cards: Immigration, Same-Sex Marriage & Citizen Activism against the Defense of Marriage Act” at the Fields Center on Friday. He will also speak at the Freshman Q-Talk this April at Harvard, where he received his undergraduate degree.
“Princeton’s students and faculty have been enormously supportive,” he said. “It’s been amazing.”
Vandiver also said he was interested in working with the Princeton Equality Project, a student group that was approved at Sunday’s USG meeting, on its proposed Marriage Equality Project.
The Marriage Equality Project hopes to bring together speakers and students to promote greater understanding of marriage equality on campus, project manager Elektra Alivisatos ’14 said. “I don’t think anyone understands the ramifications of such laws,” she added.
“What we’re wanting to do this spring is to gather a lot more student signatures,” Vandiver noted.
In spite of all the controversy, life on campus goes on for the couple. Vandiver is expected to complete his Ph.D. dissertation this year while Velandia continues to perform across the country with his dance team and teaches dance classes at Whitman College and at his dance school, HotSalsaHot.
“We’re not really activists, but we’re doing this because we’re fighting for our love, for our lives and for our equality,” Velandia said.
According to Soloway, there are over 36,000 binational same-sex couples in the United States. These figures do not account for couples that live in “exile” abroad or that have been forcibly separated, he said.
“We’re a young couple and we have many dreams and hopes, but I think the main one is to be together,” Velandia explained.