by Immigration Equality Staff Attorney Tom Plummer
On Wednesday, Michael Thomas and John Brandoli received life-changing news. After a year and a half fighting to remain together despite threats of deportation against Michael – and living with the constant fear of their family being torn apart – John and Michael received news that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) had agreed to join in a motion to stop Michael’s removal from the United States.
John and Michael are a loving couple of over six years who were married in Wilbraham, Massachusetts on March 28, 2010 surrounded by family and friends.
Michael and John’s attorney reached out to Immigration Equality over a year ago to consult with our legal team and to devise a strategy to keep the couple together. John’s spousal petition, asking for Michael to be recognized as his legal husband, was ultimately denied. And on Valentine’s Day of this year, an immigration judge ordered Michael to be deported, despite his marriage to John.
While John and Michael’s attorney appealed those rulings, Immigration Equality began working closely with the family to halt Michael’s deportation, seizing upon recent guidelines for discretion and the Administration’s pledge to stop separating families, including gay and lesbian families, too.
On Thursday, the Department of Homeland Security confirmed to Immigration Equality that ICE had agreed to join in a motion to close Michael’s case.
As I spoke with John and Michael about the decision, they expressed their heart-felt gratitude for everyone who had worked so hard on behalf of their family.
They noted, in particular, the incredible advocacy of U.S. Senator John Kerry. In April, Senator Kerry sent a letter, along with eleven of his colleagues in the U.S. Senate, calling upon Secretary Napolitano and Attorney General Holder to exercise discretion on behalf of gay and lesbian families like John and Michael.
When Immigration Equality brought John and Michael’s case to Senator Kerry’s attention, his staff met with John and Michael, and an incredible team of advocates on the Senator’s staff immediately leapt into action on their behalf. On August 23rd, Senator Kerry sent a letter to ICE Director John Morton specifically asking that the agency join in a motion to halt Michael’s removal.
On October 27, 2011, ICE initially informed Michael’s attorney that they had decided not to exercise discretion in the case. Undeterred, Senator Kerry continued to advocate for the family. His office continued to monitor the case closely and to communicate their strong commitment to the family. In a November 26, 2011 Boston Globe story on John and Michael’s case, Senator Kerry spoke out again, saying “This is a law-abiding, lawfully married couple being denied basic civil rights solely because they’re gay. . . . We’ve got a vicious cycle where protections for some Massachusetts families are not protections for all.’’
Michael and John also noted the work of Immigration Equality’s policy, media and legal teams, and the advocacy of their attorneys, Tony Collins and Marina Brakefield. They are also incredibly grateful for the care with which the Boston Globe and the Huffington Post told their story, and the efforts of PFLAG to bring attention to how the case was affecting their family.
Finally, John and Michael were fortunate to have the constant love and support of their entire family. Everyone in the Brandoli family stood by John and Michael through this ordeal. The love and support of the family is evident in a December 12 column at the Huffington Post, in which PFLAG Executive Director Jody Huckaby shared the plea of John’s mother Lenora to allow her family to stay together. In her letter Lenora wrote:
“Everyone deserves a family, and every family deserves to stay together. . . . this letter is a plea, a mother’s plea. Michael is my son. . . . Michael and John truly love each other and have made a life and home together. Michael is accepted — not just accepted but loved — by all our friends and family members. He belongs with us. He belongs with John. We love him and he loves us. I ask you from the bottom of my heart to give this wonderful man a chance at life, a chance to stay with his family. Every family deserves this. Please close this case for Michael and for us.”
This week’s victory was possible because a brave couple stood by each other; a U.S. Senator advocated fiercely for lesbian and gay families; legal, communications and policy teams worked hand-in-hand; an Administration stood by their commitment to recognize gay and lesbian families; and a family came together to ensure a mother’s plea was answered.
When I spoke with Lenora about the outcome in her sons’ case, she noted that her family would celebrate the Holidays together without the fear of losing Michael. On this note she simply said, “there is no greater gift that I could ask for.”