On 23 March 2009, Lin and Martha McDevitt-Pugh of the Love Exiles Foundation had the opportunity to meet the Mercado-Tan family: two moms and their twin sons who live in Pacifica, California. Mother Shirley Tan is an asylum seeker and was scheduled to be deported to a country she hasn't visited in more than 20 years and where she nearly lost her life at age 14 when a cousin killed her mother and sister over an inheritance.
This morning, April 23 2009, Melanie Nathan of Private Courts, who has worked tirelessly on behalf of the Tan-Mercado family, announced on her blog that Senator Dianne Feinstein has introduced a special legislative remedy in congress that will keep Shirley in the country through December 2010. She was facing leaving her home and family on 10 May 2009.
Never doubt that one person can make a difference.
When we met Jay and Shirley, they were angry over the mishandling of Shirley's case by her previous lawyer. Shirley was wearing an ankle bracelet like a criminal and reporting 3 times a week to ICE. An aunt had spoken on their behalf with our good friend Molly McKay of Marriage Equality USA. Without options for legal immigration, a federal benefit that is only available to heterosexual married couples, families like Jay and Shirley's have little recourse to the law. Molly told us later, "I hear about cases like this every day. I couldn't do anything to save this family. I realized I was cynical and resigned about any immediate solution. So I did one thing: I asked Melanie Nathan, who had just contacted me with the wonderful news that her partner got her green card to stay in the USA, if she could help Shirley and Jay." Not long afterwards Melanie introduced Shirley and Jay to Love Exiles and asked us to contact Senator Feinstein's office on their behalf. A phone call and an email. It didn't look promising. Immigration Equality got involved and supported Shirley's case from Washington.
The San Jose Mercury had been working on a story about love exiles and the McDevitt family. Reporter Mike Swift interviewed Jay and Shirley and included their heartbreaking story in the article, with photos by Maria Avila. The story came out in the Sunday edition on 29 March as we were leaving to return to the Netherlands.
After Molly and Melanie got the ball rolling, numerous organizations stepped in to make a difference for Jay and Shirley's family. Immigration Equality's Legal Director Victoria Neilson and Lobbyist Julie Kruse were key and it could not have been done without them. Also involved were Out4Immigration, Marriage Equality USA, and GLAAD. Having a senator put forward a bill could never happen without these organizations taking a stand and persistently advocating for equality.
But organizations cannot win us our rights on their own. It takes individuals willing to take a first step, which may be outside your comfort zone, and without any idea of what difference it will make. Molly took one step to contact Melanie. Melanie took on this case and fought like a pitbull. Jay and Shirley put their family into the public spotlight, which they did not want to do but which was the only way they stood a chance.
Each of us did one or two things that we could do. And for that moment, we gave up feeling powerlessness, stopped being resigned and cynical. We know we will wake up again tomorrow as second class citiznens in the eyes of US federal law. And all we can do is take one more step. It is the only way we will win. It's up to us.
- Martha McDevitt-Pugh, Love Exiles Foundation, 23 April 2009
More on the amazing Tan-Mercado family below.
IMMIGRATION RIGHTS IN THE USA - Why should our Children Suffer? by Melanie Nathan
In Shirley’s words:
I had been with my beloved partner for 23 years, and we have two beautiful twin boys, 12 years of age. In 2002 my lawyer told us my papers were in order; and we carried on a very normal life, with me dedicating all my time to taking care of my partners aging mother, the children and the house. I was a regular housewife and had never broken the law.
Then they came to my door looking for someone who had used our address. Here is the letter I wrote to my Senators:-
“Around 6:30am, we heard the doorbell ringing. My partner opened the door and saw two officers. The officers were looking for a Mexican girl and they said that the girl has been missing and is using our address. My partner said that we don’t know anything about that girl. The officers said that in order for them to close their case is for us to let them in the house and search if the girl is not hiding anywhere in our house. My partner asked for the two officers’ identification card and their badge before she let them in. They asked the names of the people who live in our house and ask that we show all of the adults ID cards. They got my ID and made a phone call and after that the officer said I have some trouble with the immigration. I am not aware of any trouble that I could have done. They said that I had an order for deportation going back March of 2002. I told them I have no knowledge of such. I told them that I have a lawyer that is handling my case and I have never been informed of such.
They insisted that I go with them to Sansome Street at the immigration office. My partner told them that we have to contact my lawyer first and we need to have the lawyer with us to go to the immigration office. They said that it was not necessary and that I have to go with them, just me only.
My agonizing, humiliating and tragic experience started when I got in their SUV. My partner ran to the car and saw me being handcuffed and she broke down to tears. They handcuffed me. I was taken like a criminal. I thought it was the lowest point of my life, but when they transferred me to a van and I saw two men in it and had bars in between us, it was something I cannot imagine that will happen to my life. I was taken like a criminal. I was praying so hard for me to wake up, but it was not a dream. I was actually there. My heart was beating so hard, my whole body was shaking and I felt so nauseated with what was happening to me.
When we arrived at the Sansome building, the vehicle parked at the side of the building and I got off with my jacket concealing my handcuff in shame, because it is a public place and there were passersby in a heavy traffic street in downtown San Francisco. When we arrived inside the building, it took awhile before they took off my handcuff, then I was asked to put my palms on the wall, feet apart and searched me like a criminal, like I see only in movies, and given a mug shot and was taken in a jail like cell together with women with different types of criminal offenses. We have to share one toilet bowl located in the side of the cell.
During the hours I spent in the detention cell I felt so afraid for my life. I did not know the people with me and they were telling me different sorts of scary things. One woman was telling me she hurt herself by hitting her head with a weapon, another one told me she has a drug offense, another one was checking me out, as if she is the leader of the gang. And another one told me that I was going with them to a county jail. They also asked me if I have been in jail before and when I said no, they said “Poor thing you’re so sweet and nice.” The fear in my whole body escalated. I never imagine having this kind of experience in my life time. This was the longest day of my life not knowing what will happen next.
After I was released late afternoon around 5:30, I was brought to ISAP. There they put a monitoring device in my right lower leg. How low and worthless had my life become. I went home that night. I did not eat nor speak to any one in my family. My kids were asking questions where I had been and I could only say that I had several appointments the whole day.
I could not sleep that night. Every time I close my eyes the things that happened to me during that day flashed back. I just had my eyes open the whole night. My body shook uncontrollably. I cried the whole night. I could not believe I underwent that horrible day. The whole experience with the tragic death of my mother and my sister, and what I have gone through with our tragic ordeal in the Philippines came back to me. Now I’m more afraid than ever.
How many times can a person be persecuted in a life time? I cannot go back again feeling scared and afraid for my life. I am just beginning to feel safe again from the time of my tragic ordeal from the Philippines and now this shocking and unforeseen event happened. I am now paralyzed, I cannot function normally. I’m always scared. I’m always shaking and I’m always in tears. I do not want my children to see me like this but I cannot help myself. The kids are thinking that I’m hiding something from them. I know they think that I have a medical condition that I am not telling them. They are only 12 years old (I have twin boys) but they are smart kids. Sooner or later, my partner and I have to tell them what went wrong. My whole being is shattered and I cannot do anything about it. I now sleep with a monitoring device on me and I have to keep on hiding this from my children which I don’t know until when I can hide it from them. The picture of my mother dead beside me drowning in her own blood, one eye ball on the floor and my sister shot in the head, her brain splattered in our bed and my own blood gushing in my face has been flashing in my mind no matter what I’m doing lately. I pray to God for this to go away, but my recent experience has brought back the past.”
A letter from a child to the Senators:-
My mother, Shirley Tan, has experienced some bad experiences in her life. She was almost killed and she lost her mom and sister at a very young age. Now our my mom might have to leave our family on April 3. I don’t want her to leave us. She doesn’t deserve to lose us and we don’t deserve to sole her. My other mom (Jay Mercado) is working very hard so my mom doesn’t need to go back to the Philippines.
We are all she has and I don’t want her to lose that too. We will tremendously miss her if she leaves. We need to stay together as a family. We need her here not far away from us. She does everything for us. Our home will not be complete without her. I want my mom here beside us. We have never been apart from her since birth except the time my dad brought us to the Philippines when we were 18 moths old when our grandmother suffered a stroke. We were apart for 10 days and that was it. And she didn’t come with us because she doesn’t have a green card yet. And ever since that one time, we have never been apart from our mom.
Please help us senator not to lose our mother. We want her here with us. And my mom and dad are telling us that we will move to the Philippines and will there for a long long time and that will be hard for us because the killer who murdered our grandmother and aunt is out there. We’re very afraid. Please don’t let this happen. Help our mom. I hope you understand how much we need her here.” JM
A letter from Shirley’s mother-in-law; mother of Jay
“To whom it may concern:
I am Renee B. , widow, a 76 year old Filipino immigrant of almost 8 years in this blessed sanctuary of disadvantaged people of all countries in the world. Your encompassing love for people is much felt and manifested in the care of you give immigrants.
Here is my poor little voice appealing and duplicating your kind understanding on the plight of my daughter-in-law, Shirley C. Tan who is set for deportation to the Philippines. My heart bleeds at this very crucial moment and act knowing that this might be a great injustice for her and for us if this happens. Imagine, she came here to seek refuge from a very horrible experience. Her mother and only sister were brutally murdered and Shirley was horrendously hospitalized because of severe wounds inflicted on her.
I am poor, old, sick and disabled and she’s the one in charge of taking good care of me. I will surely die if she’s not with me anymore. In additional to this, she has twin sons, my only grandchildren, who receive special and wondrous care of a mother like Shirley who will surely miss their beloved mother who closely attend to their welfare, the truth the two boys, JG and JM excel in their school and I’m sure their education will be greatly affected.
Shirley is a loving friend to everyone. To the American families she befriend in her stay here, she’s an asset to everyone, the school where the children study, the parents she makes friends with, the church where she attends religiously as a member of the choir and a Eucharistic ministry, and my doctors’ staff where she takes me for treatment and consultation. Oh, what a wonderful lady she is! And my big problem is my child, Jay, who will surely suffer tremendously of separation. I’m truly proud and thankful that God’s loving grace exists in our family. Please don’t deprive us of this kind of love.
On behalf of my daughter, Shirley, I greatly hope and keep praying and knocking at the door of your compassionate heart to spare my beloved Shirley.
In God’s name, I fervently wait for your assistance to this matter.
Very gratefully yours, Renee B. “
My name is JG and I really need a big favor from you. My mom might be leaving the U.S. I don’t want her to leave because I love her so much and I need her here. She helps the whole family especially my grandma who is turning 75 and she isn’t strong. If she leaves, I wouldn’t be able to live because I’ve never been separated from her except one time when I was still very very young. I just love her so much.
If you were in my shoes wouldn’t you feel sad if one of your parents left? So please senator help us, we really need mom to stay here in the U.S. I hope and pray that you can help us. Thank you. From, J G.”
With special thanks to the organizations in the LGBT community that have gone all out to help this family, including:-
Melanie Nathan, CEO Private Courts, Inc. (www.privatecourts.com)
Photo by Garret Weishaar