Friday, April 24, 2009

Lesbian mum given reprieve

SAN FRANCISCO - A PHILIPPINES-born lesbian mother ordered to leave the country next month for overstaying her visa will likely be allowed to stay through next year thanks to intervention from US Senator Dianne Feinstein.

Ms Feinstein on Wednesday introduced an emergency immigration bill in Congress that would give Shirley Tan two years to apply for a new visa or for permanent US residency. Ms Feinstein spokeswoman Clare Bowyer said Ms Tan cannot be deported unless the legislation is voted down by Congress or expires without being reintroduced.

Ms Tan, who lives in Pacifica with her 12-year-old twin sons and a partner of 23 years, was originally scheduled to be deported three weeks ago but won a temporary stay with help from US Rep Jackie Speier. Federal immigration officials then gave her until May 10 to leave the country voluntarily.

Ms Tan, 43, has been in California since arriving on a visitor's visa in 1989. She applied for asylum in 1995 because she was afraid of a cousin in the Philippines who had killed her mother and sister and critically wounded her when she was a teenager. She was unaware the petition had been denied until federal agents took Ms Tan away in handcuffs at the end of January, said her 48-year-old partner, Jay Mercado.

She said on Thursday that before the Democratic senator interceded, Mercado had halfheartedly considered undergoing a sex-change operation or moving the family to the Philippines or to a country where gay marriage is legal.

In introducing the bill, Ms Feinstein said that without it 'this family will be separated, or they will be relocated to a third country where Ms. Tan's safety and her children's well-being may be at risk.'

Melanie Nathan, a family law attorney who has been helping the couple, said Ms Mercado and Ms Tan could find themselves in the same situation again if the bill is allowed to expire at the end of the congressional session in January 2011.

She said gay rights activists were using the couple's case to push for passage of a long-stalled immigration reform bill, known as the Uniting American Families Act, that would give gay Americans the right to sponsor foreign-born partners for residency.

'The long-term health of their family completely depends on the passage of UAFA,' Ms Nathan said. -- AP

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