Yesterday, immigrant families from 19 states across the country – including California, Alabama, Arizona, and Illinois – came together on Capitol Hill to tell their stories to lawmakers and explain why achieving comprehensive immigration reform is so important for American families. The event was the culmination of the 3 week Keeping Families Together bus tour that took families through more than 90 cities to come together at rallies to tell their stories and demand common-sense reform.
The centerpiece of the action in Washington, DC was a people’s hearing on immigration reform and family unity, featuring heart-wrenching stories from parents, children, and spouses – all of whom live in fear of separation from their loved ones, or have already seen their families torn apart by a broken immigration system. Among the families that spoke was a same-sex binational couple from Washington state, Otts Bolisay and Ken Thompson, who have done everything possible to stay in status while staying together and will soon be faced with the end of the temporary visa that allows Otts to live and work in the US. While Otts, who is Filipino, has two siblings whose US citizen spouses have sponsored them for legal residency and eventually citizenship, the federal government does not recognize same-sex partners for that same immigration benefit.
Representing LGBT immigrant couples along with Otts and Ken were Immigration Equality clients Santiago Ortiz and Pablo Garcia. Before boarding the bus to DC with 50 other New York immigrant families, Pablo and Santiago told their story at a kick-off rally in the city. After meeting in 1991, Santiago, a Puerto Rican American, knew he wanted to be with Pablo for the rest of his life. Pablo, a native Venezuelan, agreed to leave his family and friends behind to move to New York with Santiago. The fact that Santiago was living with HIV made it that much more urgent for the two to be together. They have maintained a loving and committed relationship now for over 20 years, and consider New York their home.