MAURICIO FERNANDEZ AND Ray Valentine were married on September 26, 2013 on the beach in Provincetown, Massachusetts. In addition to celebrating their love for one another, their legally-recognized marriage allowed them to achieve something that heterosexual international unions have always enjoyed: a green card. Mauricio, a native of Mendoza, Argentina, had lived in the U.S. illegally for 13 years. His time as an illegal alien was finally over.
Mauricio came to the U.S. in October 2001 while Argentina was on the visa waiver program, allowing citizens from stable governments to travel for up to 90 days without prior permission. The $400 a month he made working at an Argentinian bank left him wanting, and he decided to come to the U.S. to seek a better life.
Mauricio had some advantages not every immigrant enjoys. He arrived in California with some cash in hand and already speaking English. His father had sent him to private schools in Argentina and had encouraged of him to learn English. After a short time in the country, he moved to Indianapolis because a friend from Argentina lived there. He stayed there for only a few weeks before heading to Miami. Mauricio was there when his visa expired, but he made the decision to stay in the U.S. He found a job that paid him under the table and worked there for five months.
While in Mishawaka, Mauricio started a romance with a man from Columbus named Ed. Their relationship inspired Ed to make the five hour drive to visit many times before Mauricio made the move to Columbus in 2006. Mauricio had saved enough money in a bank account opened with only a tax ID number. Such accounts are not difficult to set up for those living in U.S. illegally. The system allows illegal immigrants to file taxes; Mauricio began filing taxes shortly after he arrived in the U.S.
Once in Columbus, Mauricio discovered a natural talent for photography, so he bought better camera equipment and eventually made it a side job. Over time, friendship replaced romance between Mauricio and Ed. Mauricio found a job at a local eatery which gave him an invaluable opportunity to live and thrive in Columbus’ LGBTQA community. His roots in Columbus grew deeper, and he joined the Columbus Gay Men’s Chorus. He built many friendships and worked very hard. In April 2010, Mauricio’s connections grew stronger when he met Ray. It did not take long for them to fall deeply in love and eventually move in together.
Time passed for the couple, and the news regarding the Supreme Court hearing a case involving the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act came to their attention. As SCOTUS struck down DOMA on June 26, 2013, an unforeseen opportunity for Mauricio and Ray became closer to reality. The next day, the federal interpretation of the decision determined that same-sex marriages not only needed to be recognized, but they also necessitated equal treatment with regard to immigration. The love that Ray and Mauricio shared could now allow Mauricio to come out of hiding about his citizenship status.
Mauricio remained a bit skeptical until a chance encounter with Brian DeFranco at the Latin Festival. Having recognized him from a previous visit, Brian approached Mauricio and introduced him to the idea that the DOMA ruling applied to his situation and would allow him to gain a green card. Once legally married, the couple paid the legal fees necessary to pursue the green card in early December. After a relatively speedy process, as immigration decisions go, Mauricio received his green card on February 19 this year.
Having lived in hiding for so long, Mauricio felt the idea that he would no longer need to hide almost seemed too good to be true. Even though their love and marriage are genuine, their lawyer advised them to memorize pages of information regarding each other’s families and family history in case the application was contested. In the end, this proved to be unnecessary. It all came down to a clerk at the counter of the immigration office. With her simple words, “I approve you” and some paperwork, Mauricio and Ray became the first couple in Columbus and the second couple in Ohio to be granted a green card through their marriage as a same sex couple.
After receiving his green card, a friend approached Mauricio about a potential job opening. Interested in the position, Mauricio started working on his resume. “I got to create a resume for the very first time!,” he said. Mauricio applied for the job and landed an interview with Norse Dairy Systems. The interviewer was very impressed with his resume and offered him a job. He started the new job in early September. This past Labor Day was the first paid day off Mauricio had ever had in his life.
The journey to become a legal resident has been a difficult one for Mauricio, but through the steadfast love and support from Ray and their unwavering commitment to each other, they can finally share their story openly.