Binational couples raise family across borders

December 19, 2011 § Leave a comment

By Marianna Nash

Inger Knudson and Philippa Judd knew their lives would change when they said their vows on Colorado’s Lookout Mountain a little over two years ago. The two women are raising – and until recently, were homeschooling – a daughter together, despite the fact that they have been separated by nearly 5,000 miles since Judd’s visa expired and she moved back to England.

Because gay marriages and partnerships are not recognized under federal law due to the Defense of Marriage Act, a 1996 law defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman, Americans cannot sponsor their same-sex partners for citizenship. The Knudson-Judd family doesn’t know when they will be reunited. Knudson says the separation has taken an emotional toll on the entire family, including her daughter.

“We were out shopping and she said, y’know, I miss her,” said Knudson. “The scary part is that she’s getting used to it. She’s getting used to the upheaval, the back and forth. I guess it’s just a coping mechanism.”

A recent Williams Institute study found that there are an estimated 28,500 binational same-sex couples living in the United States. Thirty-five percent of male binational couples and 39 percent of female binational couples are raising more than 17,000 children in the United States, according to the study.

Among the legislation that might help families like the Knudson-Judds is the Respect for Marriage Act, which would repeal DOMA, allowing same-sex couples the same marriage rights as anyone else. The Uniting American Families Act would provide protections for permanent partners, regardless of their marital status.

Knudson and Judd met in 2008 through InkNation, a tattoo art website. They quickly formed a friendship – and when Judd’s mother died, Knudson was there to support her. It was Knudson’s own mother who encouraged Judd to visit the United States and stay with them. Shortly thereafter, the friendship developed into something more. It was on the anniversary of her mother’s passing that the couple held their Handfasting, a type of commitment ceremony, on Lookout Mountain.

Since then, the family has spent a total of eight months together — over a span of three and a half years. Judd’s longest stay in the United States lasted only 89 consecutive days.

But there is reason for families like theirs to be optimistic. Monica Alcota’s deportation proceedings were halted based partly on her marriage to American citizen Cristina Ojeda. The same sex couple is the first known to benefit from a new immigration policy of the Obama Administration to review pending deportation cases.

Not all couples have been so lucky. Brian Andersen, of Philadelphia, tried to sponsor his legal husband Anton Tanumihardja for a green card to no avail. Tanumihardja faces deportation to Indonesia, unless ICE or another agency intervenes.

If this seems to run contrary to the prosecutorial discretion guidelines that were issued over the summer, it’s only because those guidelines haven’t been applied yet, according to Mary Kenney, senior staff attorney at the American Immigration Council.

“This policy has not been fully implemented in the field in terms of training local immigration officers,” Kenney said. “That all still needs to happen, and until it does, there may still be some cases that you would expect to have been approved that will be denied.”

Attorney Lavi Soloway, who handled Alcota’s case, says the prosecutorial discretion guidelines are a stopgap. The legislature is too conservative, and the issue too polarizing, for a repeal to come soon — that’s why the guidelines are necessary.

“It’s a reaction to the paralysis in Congress for over a decade,” said Soloway. “No Republican is working with Democrats on this issue anymore.”

Knudson, who says she once called the White House every day for four months, says the best thing families in her situation can do is make noise – and network with each other via Facebook, as she did. It was after meeting other binational couples through the website that she began to feel emboldened. She also contacted politicians, activist organizations, lawyers and celebrities.

“I don’t want great big fanfare,” she said. “I just want a quiet little life with my girls around me.”

The family tries to talk most days, and have even had 10-hour conversations over Skype at times. They send texts throughout the day. Judd, who lives in England, talks to her daughter in Denver once a week. Usually those conversations may last anywhere from one to four hours at a time.

“Christmas will be spent via telephone and webcam, providing the technology works,” Judd said recently. “We send gifts and try and make the holiday as normal as we can for our little girl.”


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