Press Release

Schumer, Gillibrand, Bishop Intervene to Help Binational LGBT Couple Cut Through Immigration Red Tape to Stay Together in the United States

Feb 10, 2012

New York – A same-sex couple, an ailing New Yorker and his partner from South Africa, who faced the threat of being torn apart, since federal immigration benefits do not extend to same-sex couples, have won a reprieve due to the intervention of three local federal lawmakers. For years, binational couple Edwin Blesch from Orient, NY, who has HIV, and his husband and primary caretaker from South Africa, Tim Smulian, fought to have him stay with him in New York. U.S. Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand and Congressman Tim Bishop announced today that after their push urging the federal agency to allow Smulian to remain in New York to care for his seriously ill spouse, immigration officials have granted him a one-year reprieve.  

“We are enormously relieved that the threat of separation which has been hanging over our heads for so long is gone for now,” the couple Tim Smulian and Edwin Blesch said.  “We know how fortunate we are to have passionate advocates like Senators Schumer, and Gillibrand and Congressman Bishop working on our behalf. We know, too, however, that countless other couples remain vulnerable as long as our laws continue to discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender families.  We will continue to speak out, alongside our elected officials, Immigration Equality and others, until every couple is treated equally and can remain together in the country they call home.” 

“Allowing Tim to remain here was the right and humane thing to do,” said Senator Schumer. “I am pleased that immigration officials had the common sense and compassion to recognize that.” 

“I am relieved to hear that Tim and Edwin are no longer living in fear of separation at a time when they need each other the most,” said Senator Gillibrand. “Loving, committed couples deserve access to all the same immigration rights and protections as straight couples. I will continue to fight for LGBT immigrant families and push for reform that reunites families rather than tears them apart.” 

“It’s an important victory for fairness in immigration policy that Tim—who has scrupulously followed the letter of our nation’s immigration laws—will be allowed to stay in the US and remain the primary caregiver for his ailing spouse, Edwin,” said Congressman Tim Bishop. “However, it is only a temporary solution for this particular family, and I will continue to work with my colleagues on reforming federal immigration policy so binational same-sex unions receive the respect under the law that they deserve.” 

“Tearing families apart for no purpose is un-American and a waste of taxpayer resources. We are thrilled that, thanks to the help of Senators Schumer and Gillibrand and Congressman Bishop, Tim and Edwin are secure for now,” said Rachel B. Tiven, executive director of Immigration Equality.  “As the Administration begins to offer relief for some families, however, it must work with Congress to make this progress permanent and available to all. We look forward to working with our Congressional leaders and President Obama to pass the Uniting American Families Act and the Respect for Marriage Act. In the meantime, Immigration Equality will continue to advocate for full and equal rights for all LGBT immigrant families.” 

With Blesch’s health taking a turn for the worse and with no family in New York, Blesch needs his husband and partner of 12 years to remain in the United States to help take care of him.  Blesch, a U.S. citizen, has been living with HIV for nearly 27 years. Blesch suffers from degenerative cervical spine disease, kidney malfunction, among many other ailments. He also suffered from a mini stroke last month and underwent heart surgery. During many moments of crisis, Smulian has rushed Blesch to hospital visits and has remained his primary caretaker for basic, everyday needs.  

In 2009, the couple, who married in South Africa in 1999, filed for an immigrant petition and faced roadblocks since immigration laws and benefits do not apply to same-sex couples. In  2011, the couple met with Senators Schumer and Gillibrand and Congressman Bishop and working with the legal non-profit group Immigration Equality, they filed a green card and urged U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to consider their case, given President Obama’s policy that gives immigration authorities discretion to place higher priority on criminal immigration cases and a lower priority on non-criminal cases. With Smulian’s visa set to expire at the end of 2011, the couple faced a looming deadline. After lawmakers pushed USCIS to extend Smulian’s visa, the federal agency granted “deferred action” status, which allows Smulian to stay lawfully in New York for one year.