DOMAs Ongoing Damage to Bi-National Families
Committing your life to another human being marks the beginning of a flourishing new existence. Whether it is legally-binding matrimony or a domestic partnership, commitment is intended to strengthen a relationship.
But could you promise your devotion to another person, knowing your choice could seriously suffocate your lifestyle, rendering your partner unable to earn an income, have health insurance, or even be able to drive a car? Could you make that decision, knowing this choice could possibly carry on for the rest of your lives, with no way out?
For Daniel Zavala and Yohandel Ruiz, their union thrust them into a standstill. The two are trapped in legal purgatory, an arduous battle between immigration laws and the Defense of Marriage Act.
Zavala, 28, is a Mexican citizen. Ruiz, 38, is a Cuban-born American citizen. Zavala’s 90-day tourist visa expired last year, shortly after his nuptials to Ruiz in May 2012, and he’s been living in Coral Gables illegally. If Zavala ever leaves the United States before obtaining legal status, he’ll be banned from returning ever again.
"We got married because we wanted to stay together. I knew my visa would expire and I would be left without a status," Zavala explains with his thick Mexican accent. "But then our lawyer said ’well, getting married, there’s no legal procedure right now for a marriage like yours.’" Deportation is a possibility, but unlikely. Their future hinges on DOMA being overturned in the near future.
It’s a game of Russian Roulette.
Despite having a college education, the bubbly 28-year-old is unable to find a job that will pay the hefty fees to sponsor his visa and the pair depends on Ruiz’s single income working in cruise ship architecture. Zavala spends his days riding his bicycle around their quaint neighborhood, since he can’t obtain a drivers license. He takes care of their feisty yorkie, Parker. He tries his hardest to convince Ruiz to learn to love salad. But mostly, he hopes and prays the Supreme Court will overturn DOMA.
For Ruiz, their struggle against DOMA is a punishing reality contrary to the life of freedom he came to America in search of. When he was six-years-old, his family immigrated to Miami from Cuba, seeking refuge from the dilapidated country.
"My dad said to me, ’We’re going to this place where you can have everything you ever wanted, and be happy, and have toys, and go to school be a professional,’" Ruiz says.
But now, Ruiz is realizing he can’t have everything he’s ever wanted. Because from the moment they met, Zavala is all he ever wanted.
Looking for A Happily Ever After
It was August 16, 2011. On a random Tuesday, a friend dragged Zavala, who was on vacation from Monterrey, Mexico, to Score nightclub on South Beach.
On the heels of New York legalizing gay marriage just weeks earlier, Zavala was wearing a tee shirt emblazoned with "I Love New York" in rainbow lettering.
That bright, bold shirt caught Ruiz’s eye. "It was like wow, what a beautiful person," he remembers of Zavala. "From the minute I met him I knew, he was such a special person and there was this connection on every level. It was [love] at first sight."
They struck up a conversation, and Ruiz invited Zavala to dinner the next day, Wednesday. Zavala reminded him he had to leave on Thursday, but Ruiz didn’t care. He needed more.
The next day, the innocent dinner turned into 5 a.m. They fell asleep talking, and Zavala woke up late for his flight home to Mexico. From the start, it seemed as if fate never wanted him to leave in the first place.
When Zavala was back in Monterrey, he and Ruiz began regularly video chatting. They met each other’s parents over FaceTime. They had dinner together: Zavala with his family, Ruiz at home in Coral Gables.
"Thank you, Steve Jobs," Zavala laughs.