Last month the Obama administration announced that they will look to halt deportations of longtime residents with clean police records who came to the United States illegally when they were children, or are close family of military service members, or are parents or spouses of American citizens. And in what some say is “a really big step in that the government is showing compassion to gay and lesbian families” the policy will treat binational same-sex couples as families — despite the Defense of Marriage Act.
Over the years thousands of same-sex couples have faced the dilemma of having their relationship torn apart, or having to exile to another country where they may or may not be able to live legally together, or worse. A few of these couples — like Bradford Wells and Anthony Makk — have recently begun to receive media attention and public support. Yet there are countless others like them who have stories of hardship and heartbreak because of unjust policies that force them to separate from the ones they love.
What is it like to live in constant fear of immigration officials tearing your relationship apart? To face roadblock after roadblock as you try to obtain visas, maintain your legal status, or apply for a green card? What are airports like when you carry the fear of being detained or the heartache of having just left your partner, yet again?
I recently discovered a moving documentary film, Entry Denied, that captures these stories. The film follows the lives of three same-sex couples over the span of nine years as they struggle with these dilemmas and more.
I was so struck by the trailer that I contacted Machu Latorre, the film’s director, to ask her a few questions:
What do you hope the impact of Entry Denied will be?
When I tell people that I am making a documentary about the negative effects of US immigration on gays and lesbians, I have to explain the whole issue because most people are unaware of it. Among the people affected, it is often referred to as the “Immigration Closet.” Most couples who are in this situation have had to deal with expired visas, illegal status, etc. It’s not something they want to share in a casual conversation at a cocktail party. So the purpose of Entry Denied is to raise awareness about the struggles that gay and lesbian Americans in binational relationships face every day.
You mentioned on your Kickstarter page that “This documentary is not about gay marriage but rather about the basic fundamental right that everyone deserves to be with the person you love.” Is there a specific reason that you did not want it to be seen as a film about gay marriage?
What I mean by that is that this documentary doesn’t focus on same-sex marriage, but specifically on ONE of the 1000+ federal rights that are not offered because DOMA defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman.
This is a film about the love and commitment of couples who, despite the fact that they can’t get married, want to have the right to be with each other. There are about 19 industrialized countries around the world that, even though they don’t recognize same-sex marriage, have adopted laws to allow citizens to sponsor their partner for immigration. The US immigration law is very specific about qualifying family relations (child, parent, brother/sister, and spouse). Because of DOMA gay and lesbians don’t qualify as “spouse.” One way to get around this until we have full federal recognition of marriage is to add another “category” for family qualification, such as “Permanent Partner.”
I am convinced that gay marriage will become legal in the US at some point in my lifetime. There is a lot of movement around DOMA, there is a lawsuit from Prop 8 that could end up in the Supreme Court, etc… But the hope is that the passage of UAFA (Uniting American Families Act) could happen faster.
From what I understand, you began making this film 9 years ago. Have your hopes and expectations for the film changed over the years?
Unfortunately the expectations for the film haven’t changed. Let me explain why I say “unfortunately.”
I started making this documentary years ago after the Uniting American Families Act had been introduced by Rep. Jerrold Nadler. I thought it would help raise awareness on the topic, maybe collect more supporters for the bill and help get it passed. Back then I thought that if I didn’t finish the documentary soon it wouldn’t be relevant anymore. Unfortunately ten years later this is still an issue that is not very well known. The UAFA still hasn’t become a law and the couples are still suffering. So the expectations of what it could do haven’t changed but my hope for what it can do have. Ten years ago, we would have played it in a few film festivals, and maybe it would have had a short run on TV, etc. Today, thanks to social media networks like Facebook, Twitter, and blogs like this we can reach thousands more people. This is a really good thing and I hope we can make more of an impact.
Who do you dream would see the film? Why them?
Everyone… you asked me to dream.
I think that everyone should be aware of the effect of the laws on loving and committed couples. When you put a face in front of a political issue it helps humanize it.
Is there anything else you would like to be sure people know about the film?
I have been working on this film for a decade. I have met so many people through the years who have seen their partners deported and their relationships torn apart. I think it’s time that people understand the magnitude of this issue. People deserve the right to be with the person they love. Like one of the couples say in the documentary “I am faced with a terrible choice: To choose the love of my life or the country that I am a proud citizen of. I don’t understand why a country that is based on life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness will present its law obeying citizens which such a dilemma.”
Machu and the team working on Entry Denied are in the midst of wrapping up post-production for the film now. They desperately need to raise the funds to make the movie optimal for screening. They have a Kickstarter page — and only have 19 more days to raise $9,000. Will you help them and help speak out against the injustices that continue to separate people from the ones they love?