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At 7am one January morning last year, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents knocked on Shirley Tan's front door. The agents had come to deport her back to Philippines because her application for asylum, filed years earlier, had been denied.

In front of her twin boys, ICE handcuffed her and threw her into a waiting van. Turns out Tan had no idea her application had been denied.

Tan’s partner, Jay Mercado, an American citizen, could not sponsor Shirley for residency. Both are women-- who have been together for more than two decades. Same-sex partners can’t do what straight Americans with spouses can do and sponsor their foreign-born partner.

More than 36,000 same-sex couples face being ripped apart. They have to separate or move abroad to be together. And forty-six percent of these couples are raising children, meaning the kids, too, are ripped out of school and out of their communities. As a mother of twin boys, I can’t imagine having to uproot my kids and leave this great country in order to be with my spouse.

In theory, U.S. immigration policy is about family unification. If one member of a family is an American citizen, our laws say, even encourage, that the rest of that person’s family—including spouses, children, and parents-- can come live with them in the U.S. But this applies only to straight families. This is not quite the freedom to love whomever you want or live wherever you want this country is usually all about.

Current immigration law not only threatens the economic stability of the families like Shirley’s and Jay’s. It leads to American citizens taking their money and talent to one of the 19 countries that offer immigration benefits for same-sex partners.

How do we fix this glaring inequality that cruelly punishes gay relationships and families? Congress should pass legislation that allows lesbian and gay Americans to sponsor their permanent partners for immigration. This would prevent these American citizens from having to choose between their families and their country. Family Equality is working diligently in Washington to see this bill gets passed.

And it would send the message that all families, straight and gay, matter; no one family is better than any other.

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