As couples in the area rush to buy last-minute gifts for their sweethearts, two local men are feverishly working to ensure they can even spend Valentine’s Day in the same country.
Anton Tanumihardja, a native of Indonesia, is facing a deportation deadline of Feb. 14, a move that would tear him away — possibly permanently — from partner Brian Andersen, a Philadelphia resident.
Tanumihardja has filed numerous applications for political asylum — based on the fact that he is gay, ethnic Chinese and Catholic, all identities that could lead to persecution in his home country — but the Board of Immigration Appeals has denied such requests.
Tanumihardja filed an emergency motion to delay deportation in July and a request for the BIA to reopen his asylum case in September. He was granted several 90-day deportation extensions since last year but was notified his deportation would be final Feb. 14.
The BIA has not yet ruled on reopening the case, however.
The couple, residents of South Philadelphia, enlisted the help of Lavi Soloway, founder of Immigration Equality and blog StopTheDeportations, which works on behalf of binational gay and lesbian couples.
Current immigration law precludes gay and lesbian Americans from sponsoring a foreign-born partner for citizenship, a privilege reserved only for heterosexual married couples. Even in states where same-sex marriage is legal, however, the federal Defense of Marriage Act prevents couples from being recognized as equal to heterosexual married couples under federal law.
Soloway is spearheading a campaign on his site to urge supporters to contact Sen. Bob Casey, Congressman Bob Brady and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to urge the policymakers to intervene on Tanumihardja’s behalf.
“The Department of Homeland Security has the discretion to determine how it wants to pursue the deportation of any individual, meaning how high of a priority it is for them. This case should not be a high priority,” he said. “This individual has not committed any crimes and has a pending motion before the Board of Immigration Appeals to reopen his asylum case. So we’ve been really working hard to urge Congressman Brady and Sen. Casey to contact Napolitano to ask for her review of this matter and to intervene to keep him from being deported, but that hasn’t happened yet.”
Soloway, who said he has not heard back from the Department of Homeland Security, explained that Napolitano’s department has previously moved to lessen the priority of deportation of widows of American citizens and youth who may qualify for the DREAM Act if it were to pass, but has yet to do so for gays and lesbians.
Tanumihardja, 45, first came to the country in 2002 on a tourist visa, settling in Philadelphia. He learned English, pays his taxes and currently works as a bookkeeper at a local deli. Although he and Andersen have only been together since last summer, he said he knows his future is here in Philadelphia with him.
“All I can think is how much he loves me and how much I love him, and I made the decision to fight this case because I want to stay here for this,” he said.
The couple began talking online last year and met in person in the summer at Sky Café, an Indonesian restaurant in South Philadelphia. The pair said they hit it off immediately and began dating shortly afterward.
Tanumihardja said the relationship he and Andersen share would not be possible in his home country.
“A gay person living in Indonesia is not safe at all,” he said. “The country is about 90-percent Muslim, and they’re Muslims who are very antigay. So if you are gay, you have to be very careful to not be out with someone or to show anything because you’re not safe.”
Andersen, 28, said the urgent need for changes in American immigration law didn’t really hit home until he began his relationship with Tanumihardja.
“We started talking about this issue, and I saw that this is not an obstacle that people should have to face,” he said. “You don’t really realize the discriminatory nature of the immigration laws until you’re faced with it in your own life.”
Andersen, a business-development manager at a car dealership, said the couple has heard back from staff of Casey and Brady, who expressed sympathy but were unsure how they could help. Andersen urged community members, however, to keep contacting the elected officials and urging them to put pressure on Napolitano to order a stay in the case until the BIA can make a decision.
“The government does have the power to stop this based on the fact that he does have a pending motion that has not been adjudicated with the Board of Immigration Appeals,” Andersen said. “It’s almost like the two organizations [Homeland Security and BIA] don’t talk to each other. He has a pending motion that hasn’t been adjudicated and he could be deported prior to that happening, with no chance for the case ever to be followed through on.”
Tanumihardja said he and Andersen have been taking the fight one day at a time, and that he’s not sure yet what he’s going to do come Valentine’s Day.
Andersen commented that if the deportation goes through, however, it’d be “the biggest anti-Valentine’s Day of all time.”
“Instead of being able to spend time with the person you love, you’re being ripped apart by your government,” he said. “The U.S. government is destroying our relationship. They’re making it not possible for us to have a relationship here, and we can’t live as an out gay couple in Indonesia: It’d be suicide. But we feel like it doesn’t need to get that far. The government has the ability to rectify this situation and give this case a chance to be followed through with. All we need is more time.”
The couple is urging community members to contact Casey at 202-224-6324, Brady at 202-225-4731 and Napolitano at 202-282-8000.
For more information on the case, visit www.StopTheDeportations.blogspot.com.