OAKLAND, Calif. – Raul Sinense moved to the U.S. in 1996 to seek a better life. The 46-year old was granted a working visa after a company sponsored him. But after a few years, he was made a part-time employee and his visa was no longer renewed.
He became one of more than 12 million immigrants in America who became undocumented.
"I remember trying to keep my mind together. What we did was start talking to family, friends, people who know and support us. They started telling us — go fight! Go fight for your rights," Sinense said.
Sinense had an ally in his fight for legal status here in America. He and partner Peter Gee married in 2008 before the ban on gay marriage became law in California. They are among the 18,000 same-sex couples whose marriage is considered valid.
But U.S. laws do not afford the same immigration rights to same-sex couples. Gee, a U.S. citizen, could not file a petition for Sinense to legally stay in the country.
"It was a process of exploring our options and interviewing lawyers, watching the political and social climate in the U.S. — then our options became clear," Gee said.
The solution came when President Barack Obama announced a new policy that allows immigration authorities discretion to suspend the deportations of undocumented immigrants who have no criminal records and who do not pose a threat to society.
An immigration judge closed the deportation case against Sinense last August 16. "I called everyone who was there for us. It was a really happy moment," he said.
Sinense's immigration lawyer Camiel Becker said his client and partner are just one of three same-sex couples in the U.S. that benefited from Obama's new policy.
Becker said they argued in court that Sinense has been in the US for 15 years, mostly with lawful status, with ties to the community and with a valid marriage to a US citizen.
Oakland Mayor Jean Quan wrote a letter to immigration officials, calling Sinense an asset to the community.
While Sinense’s case has been closed, the Homeland Security and Justice Departments are still reviewing about 300,000 deportation cases, following Obama’s policy.
But Becker said not everyone could be spared from deportation. "This is not across the board. This is just a memo that gives immigration attorneys discretion not to prosecute the law against people like Raul if they so choose," he said.
Sinense does not have a status at this point. But he's hoping that the comprehensive immigration reform passes in Congress so he can stay in the country for good.