BOSTON, MA (Observer Update) - Tim Coco and Junior Oliveira should not have had to wait this long to start their married life together.
But because the wheels of justice often move too slowly, I have asked the Obama Administration to help me reunite the couple as soon as possible. I have asked the administration to come down on the side of fairness, justice and compassion and allow Junior to return home to Massachusetts to his husband.
Tim and Junior met in 2002, and they were legally married under Massachusetts law in 2005. But they have been separated since 2007, when Junior’s request for asylum was denied by a federal immigration judge and appeals board and he was forced to return to his native Brazil.
Junior asked for asylum because he had suffered a brutal attack and rape at the hands of government officials in Brazil. The judge who presided over the asylum request found that Junior’s testimony was "credible" and his fear of Brazil "genuine." Indeed, there is ample evidence that homosexuals in Brazil are subjected to intimidation and violence. The ministry of health there reported 180 killings of homosexuals in 2004.
Incredibly, though, the judge ruled that Junior "was never physically harmed" by the rape and, consequently, denied his asylum request. An immigration appeals board upheld the ruling and shortly thereafter Junior returned to Brazil, where he has remained for nearly two years, away from his husband.
Tim and Junior are legally married in Massachusetts, but federal law does not recognize their marriage, one of the reasons why, when Junior’s asylum request was unjustly denied, he was forced to leave his husband.
I understand the critics who believe that the asylum request is a shortcut for reuniting Tim and Junior, and who would prefer that the battle be fought over the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Make no mistake: I support legislation to amend our immigration laws so that this kind of injustice does not occur again, and I vehemently opposed the wrongheaded 1996 so-called "Defense of Marriage Act" that helped put loving couples like Tim and Junior in this position in the first place.
But Tim and Junior have been waiting for years for a fair shake under the law. Congress is unlikely to act quickly enough for Tim and Junior. That’s why I have asked Attorney General Eric Holder to review Junior’s case to determine whether the denial of his asylum request was an error. Such a determination would allow Junior to return home to Tim.
We are where we are - and we can’t afford to ignore the legitimacy of Junior’s asylum claim.
Massachusetts has been at the forefront of ensuring that all citizens, regardless of their sexual orientation, be assured equal protection under the law. I am proud to be a part of those efforts. I worked with Governor Deval Patrick and progressive legislators to help defeat a discriminatory constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage in Massachusetts. And at the federal level, I have supported legislation to provide domestic partners of federal employees the benefits available to spouses of federal workers. I have voted against DOMA - only one of 14 senators to do so.
Yes, I will continue to work toward the day that DOMA and other such misguided laws and policies are overturned. But I’m not willing to force Tim and Junior to wait for that day. No couple should, and no senator should take off the table the immediate step that can be taken to reunite a loving couple - today.
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