The San Jose Mercury News
By Mary Gottschalk
Judy Rickard's problem is one she describes as both simple and complex.
"I want to be together with my partner/wife Karin, who is not a U.S. citizen. We prefer to be together in San Jose, California," says Rickard, who has lived her entire life here.
"We can't do that legally and we don't want to do it illegally. I want to be together with Karin, but right now because of American marriage and immigration laws, I can't.
"It's that simple and it's that complex."
Rickard met Karin Bogliolo on a lesbian dating website in 2005. By January 2006, following emails and visits, they were in a committed relationship, and Bogliolo moved from her native England to Rickard's Cambrian area home.
The happily ever after they hoped for became a series of separations as Bogliolo could only stay in the United States on visas of six months or less, depending on the whim of the immigration officer on duty whenever she arrived.
Unwilling to endure the separations, Rickard reluctantly took early retirement from her marketing job at San Jose State University in May 2009, resulting in a reduced pension. The two spent time traveling in Europe until a family illness brought them back to San Jose in 2010.
When Bogliolo's visa expired in October 2010, she was forced to leave once again, but Rickard stayed behind to help nurse her dying brother-in-law and support her sister.
Distressing as they find their situation, Rickard knows that she and Bogliolo are not alone or unique.
"There are some 36,000 binational same-sex couples dealing with this, and we want the law changed so we don't have this discrimination," Rickard says.
If immigration law were amended to include the phrase "or permanent partner" where the word spouse appears, it would end the enforced separations.
If the "Reuniting Families Act," first introduced in 2000, were to ever come to a vote and pass, it would allow U.S. citizens and permanent residents to file a visa petition on behalf of their foreign national same-sex permanent partner for immigration.
One tool that Rickard hopes will bring about awareness and change the "ifs" into reality is her newly published book, Torn Apart: United by Love, Divided by Law.
It is a comprehensive look at the subject of same-sex couples, immigration reform, where it has been and seems to be going, as well as resources, websites and other pertinent information.
However, what is most likely to enlighten those unfamiliar with the struggle are the personal stories Rickard has written of 17 other binational lesbian and gay couples.
One is about Shirley Tan and Jay Mercado, a Pacifica couple together since 1986, parents of two sons and active in their church, school and community.
In 2009 immigration officials showed up at 6:30 a.m. one morning to handcuff and take Tan away for deportation to her native Philippines. Mercado and their sons are U.S. citizens, but Tan is not.
Legislation on their behalf, introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein and U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, has temporarily delayed deportation efforts but not ended them.
The foreword to Rickard's book is by Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the best seller Eat, Pray, Love, who writes of her own experiences as a binational couple arriving in the U.S.
Gilbert's partner was detained for six hours before being told he would be admitted this time, but not in the future.
Later Gilbert was told if she took the simple step of marrying her partner, he could then apply for permanent citizenship.
They married and now live in New Jersey, but Gilbert writes she felt it was "unconscionable" that she could do this "when LGBT families who have been together 30 years are unable to."
Gilbert, who now works toward immigration reform for lesbian and gay binational couples, ends her preface: "Until there's fairness on this for everybody, there is fairness for no one."
Rickard met Gilbert through Immigration Equality, one of the three groups that Rickard is donating a part of her royalties to. The other two are Love Exiles and Out4Immigration.
Forced separations and the anxiety of dealing with immigration officials whenever she enters the U.S. have had a negative affect on Bogliolo's health.
"Three years ago, after having had many years of coming into the U.S., I came into San Francisco and I was put into a cell and interrogated for hours," she recalls.
"I was told I had no rights; I couldn't make a phone call; I couldn't even have a glass of water."
Bogliolo was eventually admitted, but she started having panic attacks and has been on medication since.
Coming into the U.S. in February, she again experienced a prolonged interrogation before being allowed to rejoin Rickard.
"It's a toxic situation and I'm in it," Bogliolo says.
"I'm a 70-year-old little old lady doing everything by the book. I have children in England and Scotland. In Europe we're quite advanced and have same-sex marriage in most countries.
"I'd like [immigration reform] to happen before I'm dead, if it doesn't kill me first.
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