September 17, 2010 at 11:47 am EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Gay cancer patient struggles to bring partner to U.S.

Roi Whaley, right, and Aurelio Tolentino are seeking a special waiver from the U.S. government so the bi-national couple can be together. Whaley suffers from terminal cancer. (Photo courtesy of Immigration Equality)

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.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

  • Good luck guys. You are facing a difficult battle.

  • I’m a US citizen and have been living in Canada for 2 years with my partner as I am not allowed to bring my partner of 5 years back to my own home country. I grew up in the USA on the notion that I was living in ‘the land of the free’ which has become a devastatingly untrue reality. The story above, and the estimated 36,000 additional binational LGBT couples facing this same predicament have been displaced from their families and friends as our own USA will not recognize full equality. Please call your local politicians to urge them to stand in full support for passage of the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA) as a stand alone measure or part of comprehensive Immigration Reform. Obama, you are letting us down time after time. Stand up and keep the promises you made for our equality… it is becoming an insult to our community.

  • Its a sad state of affairs to see this kind of dragging of feet within the US congress and the Obama administration….So busy trying to keep people out of this country, and not realizing the damage being done to our own economy etc…You would think in 2010 that anyone with their partner whether in good or bad health should be allowed to bring his or herself to this country. To start the US was adamantly wrong for sending the guy back to the Phillipines….so much unecessary red tape and wasted time. The laws that need to be changed are swept under the rug while people suffer, this needs to stop. We all need to protest in the face of congress and the administration until a change comes about. Good luck to you guys….

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