An immigration advocacy group is appealing to the White House and U.S. immigration officials on behalf of a gay man in Gulfport, Miss., who is desperately trying to bring his Philippine partner into the U.S. to care for him as he struggles with terminal cancer.
Gulfport resident Roi Whaley, 46, and Aurelio Tolentino, 39, have been a couple since 2004, when the two met while Tolentino, a nurse, worked in the U.S. on a special work visa. Although in good health, Tolentino was forced by U.S. authorities to leave the country in 2007 when they discovered he was HIV positive.
Congress and the Obama administration have since lifted the longstanding U.S. ban on HIV positive immigrants and visitors, which led to Tolentino’s forced departure from the country. But due to other immigration restrictions, Tolentino, who moved to Canada, remains barred from returning to the U.S.
“Were Roi and Aurelio a married heterosexual couple, Roi would be eligible to apply to sponsor Aurelio for residency in the United States,” said Steve Ralls, a spokesperson for Immigration Equality, an LGBT advocacy group. “Because they are a gay couple, however, that option is not available to them.”
Immigration Equality is helping Tolentino apply for a special waiver known as a “humanitarian parole” that could allow him to return to the U.S. to assist Whaley for up to one year.
Ralls said his group is preparing the detailed paperwork needed for Tolentino’s humanitarian parole application, which must be submitted to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. He said Immigration Equality has also contacted the White House about the case.
Ralls and representatives of other LGBT advocacy groups view Whaley and Tolentino’s plight as yet another compelling example of why Congress should pass a pending bill that would give foreign partners of U.S. citizens the same immigration rights that heterosexual married couples enjoy. Under current law, a foreign national who marries an opposite sex U.S. citizen is automatically eligible for U.S. residency.
The Uniting American Families Act, which has been stalled in Congress for more than 10 years, enjoys the support of President Obama. But similar to nearly all other LGBT-related bills, congressional leaders have yet to schedule a vote on the measure, and most political observers say a vote on the gay immigration measure is unlikely to take place this year.
Meanwhile, Canadian authorities recently denied Tolentino’s application for residency in that country, putting him in jeopardy of being deported to the Philippines in the near future. Whaley talked to the Blade this week by phone from Tolentino’s home, saying he was fearful that this could be his last visit with his partner of five years unless U.S. immigration authorities grant Tolentino the humanitarian parole.
A White House spokesperson said it was referring all inquires about the matter to the Department of Homeland Security, which processes humanitarian parole applications. DHS spokesperson Matt Chandler said federal privacy law prohibits him from commenting on pending cases. But he said the DHS actively considers all applications for humanitarian paroles on a “case-by-case basis.”
Whaley said he feels “let down” by the Obama administration, saying the White House has not responded to several letters he has sent seeking assistance.
According to Whaley, his admiration for Obama was so strong that he persuaded an emergency medical crew to hold off taking him to the hospital on Inauguration Day in January 2009, when he collapsed from a “headache” that was later diagnosed as a brain tumor. He also suffers from lung and pancreatic cancer.
“I was on an ambulance gurney on a 911 call and I wouldn’t let them take me out of the house until I saw that man raise his hand and say ‘so help me God.’ That’s how much hope I had in him. And I’m feeling really let down, kind of betrayed by my own country,” Whaley said.