Gaining the Right to Love Beyond Borders

This book is a very personal look at how two of the major American issues of our day – immigration and LGBT rights – came together in real people’s lives and loves, how the Defense of Marriage Act denied same-sex couples one of the most basic rights granted straight couples, the right to be together, and how the Supreme Court decision overturning that law changed their lives.

The following passage comes from Chapter 6, which describes how the different couples made their relationship work despite the obstacles they faced due to immigration and the Defense of Marriage Act. By this part of the book, the main characters have already been introduced and there has been a quick overview of the history of LGBTQ immigration in the United States, the LGBTQ communities in the countries each character is from, and immigration to the United States as a whole.

Eduardo Navarro, 54, and Jenky Santiuste, 45, met in a gay club in Panama. By this chapter, Jenky has moved to the United States after his mother sponsored him in 1997. He left Eduardo behind in Panama, but, after a few months, Eduardo joined him in the United States. This is where this chapter begins.

Judy Rickard, 71, and Karin Bogliolo, 78, met through a dating site while Karin was in Oregon visiting a friend in 2005. They met in person a couple of weeks later. In the end of Chapter 5, they went to Hawaii in December 2009 and committed themselves to each other while on board a boat overlooking a volcano. After throwing a pair of plastic rings overboard as a symbol of their relationship, they decided to make it work even though Karin could not move from Great Britain to the United States. Their story in this chapter begin a year later.

In the book, the chapte will include the story of a third couple as well.

Chapter 6: Finding a Way to Make It Work

On Sept. 3, 1997, Eduardo stood outside the airport near Washington D.C. waiting for Jenky to pick him up. He had left his entire life in Panama and didn’t know if he would ever go back. Eduardo had entered the United States legally with a tourist visa, but instead of going back after six months as he was supposed to, he planned to stay without a legal immigration status.1

Jenky drove up in his stepfather’s truck. A mattress was tied to the top of the vehicle and inside were a dresser and a television. The two men embraced each other, finally back together.

Eduardo didn’t know where Jenky was taking him. When they pulled into a tall building, he thought that Jenky was taking him to a hotel. Their first apartment in the United States was located in that building. Eduardo admitted it was weird to adjust to living in a small apartment with Jenky again. Beyond that, they were in a strange country, neither knew English, and they had to deal with a new set of obstacles that came with Eduardo’s undocumented status.

“Living with someone who doesn’t have legal status is like constantly having to carry a heavy backpack,” Jenky would recount years later. “Undocumented status is a heavy load. Not only for the person without the legal status, but also for the person living with them.”2

Being Undocumented in the U.S.

About 1.2 million immigrants came to the United States in 1997, the year Eduardo arrived.3 This estimate includes both legal and undocumented immigrants. Hispanics made up about 50 percent of the immigrants that came to the United States between 1992 and 2004.

It is estimated that there were around 10.7 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States in 2016.4 Nearly two-thirds of undocumented immigrants that arrived that year overstayed a visa like Eduardo.5 The rest risked their lives crossing the southern border. This journey often requires them to walk for about five days through the desert with limited food and water and exposes them to being taken advantage of by drug cartels and other criminal organizations.6 These numbers are just estimates. Unauthorized immigration to the United States is hard to quantify since these immigrants often don’t register anywhere and try to live as under the radar as much as they can.

No matter their reason for coming, undocumented immigrants live in the shadows once they arrive. Often, they will take jobs in the cleaning, food service, industrial and agriculture sectors that pay very little and require long hours.7

Undocumented immigrants face a lot of uncertainty and fear.8 They are often unable to get a driver’s license, even in areas that require a car to get around, so many drive without a license. They are also not allowed to get Medicaid (even if their income qualifies them for it) or receive tax credits to make health insurance more affordable.9 Undocumented immigrants can apply for private insurance or get insurance through their employer, but many earn too little to pay for private insurance and work in jobs without benefits.10 They also cannot apply for loans.

Some places are more friendly to undocumented immigrants than others. Washington D.C., for example, has recently started to allow undocumented immigrants to access a special type of health care. The D.C. Health Alliance provides health care to low-income families that are not able to get Medicaid, often because of their immigration status.11 Many states and cities don’t provide these services to undocumented immigrants.

Normally, someone in a stable relationship with an American resident, like Eduardo, would not be in this situation. All he or she would need to do is make the relationship official with a ring and a ceremony to adjust their legal status. Permanent residents, like Jenky, are allowed to sponsor spouses or fiancés that live in another country.12

But this was not an option for Eduardo and Jenky. Not just because in 1997 they were not legally allowed to get married in Panama or in any state in the United States,13 or because same-sex marriage was not legalized in Washington D.C. until 2010.14 The reason Jenky and Eduardo were in this situation was because the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996. It said that for the purposes of the federal government, marriage was defined as being between a man and a woman.15 Same-sex couples who married in states that began allowing same-sex marriage would not be able to use this marriage for any federal benefits or processes like adjusting immigration status.

Had Eduardo and Jenky been a heterosexual couple, their future would soon have been set, but their gender doomed Eduardo to live as an undocumented immigrant.

A Heavy Load

One mattress, a dresser, a TV and an apartment. That is all that Eduardo and Jenky had when they began their life together in the United States.

In the two decades they have been here, Jenky has worked as a painter and cleaning houses. He also supervised a team that cleans office buildings. Similarly, Eduardo worked cleaning houses and sewing clothes. These jobs allowed him to work independently since, as an undocumented immigrant, it was hard for him to get a job unless he used fake documents. Something he eventually did so out of necessity, even though Jenky preferred him not to.

A year after arriving in the United States, the couple bought a new car and, after two years, a townhouse in D.C.

Despite all this, Eduardo’s immigration status was a heavy cloud constantly over their heads. Eduardo used to have nightmares in which the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement would find and deport him and he would be separated from Jenky.

“There were a lot of things that I wanted to do, but could not do because of my immigration status,” Eduardo recalled years later. “Things like having my own credit. Having an ID so if the police stopped me, I would not be scared and could just pull out the card and show it to them.”16

When he was driving, he would constantly be worried about being stopped by the police and being asked to show the license he didn’t have. A Social Security card and proof of legal status was needed to get a license in D.C. back then.

This changed in 2014 when D.C. began to allow those that did not have a Social Security card to get a “limited purpose” license.17

Before this, many undocumented immigrants in D.C., like Eduardo, were driving without identification or with a fake license. Usually, someone that is found driving without a license will face a fine and a relatively small period of time in jail. For an undocumented immigrant, it could mean deportation. These immigrants could get detained or be called to court after being stopped by the police without a license. Local police officers could then notify ICE of the undocumented individual and ICE would come for them.

As part of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, a revision titled 287(g) was added to the existing Immigration and Nationality Act that allowed ICE to train local police officers to enforce immigration law.18

D.C. did not collaborate with ICE under 287(g), but this did not mean that Eduardo was protected. It wasn’t until 2011 that D.C. became a “sanctuary city,” cities where local police decline requests by ICE to hold undocumented inmates in jail for an additional 48 hours so ICE can get a warrant for deportation or don’t allow ICE to take undocumented people that are detained in their jails.19 That year, Mayor Vincent Gray signed an executive order prohibiting ICE from taking individuals detained in D.C. if they did not have a “criminal nexus.”20

This means that ICE is not able to come to D.C. jails and detain an undocumented person that is being held there like they do in other places. The 2011 executive order does not specify exactly what correlates as a “criminal nexus” – such as a criminal history, or being friends or family of someone charged with committing a crime.

For more than a decade Eduardo drove in D.C. in constant risk. Even after D.C. became a sanctuary city, Maryland and Virginia were not, so if he was stopped there, he could face deportation.

Eduardo couldn’t open his own bank account, so Jenky controlled their joint bank account and informed Eduardo of what they earned, owed and spent. Eduardo described him as the “motor of everything [they] built.”21 Their cars, house and apartments were all bought or rented under Jenky’s name.  

The dynamic seemed to work. Friends would ask Eduardo how he could allow Jenky to have so much control. He would say he trusted Jenky and knew that his partner would never take advantage of him or do him wrong.

Despite working to make a stable future in the United States, the couple knew that as long as Eduardo was undocumented their future was never secure. At any moment, he could be deported back to the country they had left years ago. After securing a car and a house here, they decided to buy an apartment in Panama, just in case they ever had to go back or if they were never able to fix Eduardo’s status.

Jenky supervised the remodeling of the apartment they bought. Not because Eduardo didn’t want to do it. In Panama, he had worked decorating for parties and events, so remodeling the apartment was right up his alley and something he longed to do. But Eduardo, like other undocumented immigrants, could not come back to the United States if he left, at least not on an airport where travelers must show their documents to immigration officers.

Immigrants that overstay their visa are often punished for doing so. Usually, they are barred from getting another visa to the United States for a certain number of years.22 Some come back once they are deported, but they do it by crossing the southern border.23 It was a journey that Eduardo did not want to make.

All of this also meant that Eduardo was not able to go to Panama and visit his family. This is a sacrifice that those that come to the United States undocumented make, and, for some, it is the biggest one. Many won’t see their loved ones again.24

In that sense, Eduardo was lucky. After Jenky became a U.S. citizen, he helped Eduardo’s mother get a visa. American citizens can help people they know come by sending them a letter inviting them to visit.25 Those back home can show that letter when applying for a visa. It doesn’t guarantee that they will get it, but it helps.

Eduardo’s mom would frequently visit her son and stay with the couple for about six months. At least Eduardo was able to see the woman to whom he would lovingly refer to as “la Doña”- the female form of “boss” in Spanish.

La Doña had a great relationship with Jenky. She would talk to him more than Eduardo and advocate for him when the couple argued. “Behave,” she would tell her son. Jenky and Eduardo would even take la Doña to gay clubs where she would dance with both of them.

Eduardo’s mom would tell him to come visit her in Panama, so she could take care of him like she did when he was little. But Eduardo couldn’t do that until he had legal status and only God knew when that would happen. La Doña was the only family member that Eduardo saw frequently.

Eduardo’s inability to leave the country also meant that for more than a decade, the couple couldn’t take a vacation outside of the United States. This would not be a problem for two people who didn’t like to travel, but Eduardo and Jenky were not these people. They longed to see the world, step out of the United States and take a break from everything.

The couple did take vacations together inside the United States. They went to Las Vegas three times, as well as Orlando and Miami. Friends would ask them why they didn’t just go to Puerto Rico since it was part of the United States. But Eduardo said no. What if they asked to see his passport?

“People would say, ‘You have legal status and he doesn’t, why don’t you just take a vacation abroad on your own?,’” Jenky said. “But I would feel too guilty being on vacation abroad while my partner stayed behind.”26

Jenky would only leave the country to go to Panama for the remodeling of the apartment and to see his family in Cuba.

Undocumented status is such a heavy load that many couples in their situation decided against it, even if it meant being separated from one another. There were about 36,000 binational same-sex couples in the United States in 2000.27 Some decided to move to another country to be together, be it the home country of the foreign-born member of the couple or another country that allowed same-sex couples to live together.

Others did not settle in one particular country, either because they were unable to find a country that would legally sponsor them or because they didn’t want to. Instead, these couples would constantly travel around the world to be together, juggling the complicated immigration laws found in the countries they visited.28 Karin and Judy were one of these couples.

Always on the Move

In September 2007, about a year after they committed to one another in that boat off the coast of Hawaii, Judy and Karin held an unofficial wedding. They invited 200 friends and family from California and Britain for afternoon tea in a local LGBTQ Center’s ballroom in San Jose.

Guests were given individualized goodie bags that contained two tea cups that read “the Perfect Blend” with Karin and Judy’s names and the date. The bags also contained a special tea made for the event. There was even a four-tier cake. In a book Judy wrote in 2011 detailing their experience as a binational couple that could not legally live together in the United States, Torn Apart: United by Love, Divided by Law, Judy admitted she usually didn’t go overboard for parties, but this was a celebration of their love.29

Karin and Judy made sure that everyone knew this was not a wedding. They needed to do so because, as Judy explained in her book:

“In a very sad twist of fate, marriage was our worst enemy at the time. If Karin and I married in the United States, it would cause Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to see Karin as a risk to overstay her visa.”30

If ICE thought there was a risk that Karin would overstay her visa, then Karin would likely not be allowed to enter the country again.

Karin was able to come to the United States with a B1/B2 visa, also known as a visitor visa. This visa allows foreigners to temporarily visit the United States for business (B1) or tourism (B2).31 While they are here, they are not allowed to get a job, go to school or apply for permanent residency in the United States. This was the visa that Eduardo had when he entered the United States in 1997.

With this visa, Karin was allowed to stay in the United States for a maximum of six months every time she came to visit Judy, though she often came for shorter times. Just in 2006, she entered the country about three times.32 She would stay for a couple of weeks or months then go back to Britain or travel somewhere else. Two weeks after their afternoon tea in 2007, Karin went to Canada with Judy and Karin’s son Michael.

Following this trip, Karin was allowed back into the United States. The immigration officers actually questioned Michael more than her. She applied to extend her visa, something that is allowed as long as the visa has not yet expired, but her request was denied and she was forced to go back to Britain.33

The couple saw each other again in early 2008, but this time in Mexico with friends. A few years before, Judy had won a raffle for a week stay at an oceanside condo in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico and hadn’t had anyone to go with until now. On their way there, they met some men that told them it was Bear Week in Puerto Vallarta. Bear Week it turned out was a week where gay men known as Bears would travel to Puerto Vallarta from all over the world.

Judy, Karin and their friends did not partake in many Bear Week activities. Instead they spend their time in local markets, eating crepes and going to botanical gardens. Judy and Karin did go on a one-day LGBTQ cruise where they ended up being the “only lesbians among a gang of Bears.”34 After this trip, Karin was allowed back into the United States and then went back to England.

When they were not together, the couple would live their individual lives and plan their next get-together. Judy worked in marketing at San Jose State University, where she had gotten both her undergraduate and graduate degree decades before.35 She had two cats named Bud and Bud Light because of their similar coats and Bud being much older than Bud Light.36 Her sister, Joan, and brother-in-law, John, lived nearby, as did her niece Karen.

Karin lived in London and co-managed a small publishing company that she owned with her ex-husband called Findhorn Press. She was an only child and had two children from previous marriages. Her son, Michael, lived in Scotland, while her daughter, Tamsin, lived in England. She had seven grandchildren.

There were two reasons why Judy and Karin didn’t live together in London, where they were allowed to without any immigration issues. Judy, nearing her 60s, had always lived in California and was prone to colds, earaches, sinus infections and other health issues when she visited the United Kingdom. In her book, Judy said that Karin’s doctor in Britain said this was “not uncommon among expatriate Americans who are dealing with such a different climate.”37 Judy was also unable to picture leaving her family, something Karin was more willing to do.

So they would continue to live like this, traveling back and forth to be together until a solution presented itself in form of legislation or reform. For the first three years or so, things went smoothly and they were able to be together every month or two. It took a big toll on their wallets and saving accounts, but it was what they had to do.38

This all changed in April 21, 2008, a date Judy described in her book as “impossible to forget.”39 That day would result in them being separated for almost a year and life changes that would transform Judy’s career and inspire her to write a book – בhanges that neither saw coming.

The rest of Chapter 6 is a narrative of April 21, 2008, the day that Karin was questioned by ICE for three hours at LAX after the couple arrived from England. That day, Karin would be given four months to organize everything before leaving the United States for an indefinite period of time. This narrative will be detailed, highlighting the fear each felt and what it meant for their future. The chapter will end with Judy and Karin saying bye to each other.

Chapter 6 Notes

  1. All information in the piece regarding Eduardo Henry Navarro and Jenky Santiuste was based on an interview with them in their home on February 17, 2019.
  2. This quote from Jenky Santiuste comes from the interview I had with him and Eduardo Henry Navarro in their home on February 17, 2019.
  3. Passel, J. S., & Suro, R. (2005, September 27). Rise, Peak, and Decline: Trends in U.S. Immigration 1992-2004 (Rep.). Retrieved – all information regarding immigration (both legal and illegal) in 1997 came from this report, including the statement that 50% of all immigrants were Hispanic.
  4. Krogstad, J. M., Passel, J. S., & Cohn, D. (2018, November 28). 5 facts about illegal immigration in the U.S.(Rep.). From Pew Research Center website:
  5. Warren, R. (2019, January 16). US Undocumented Population Continued to Fall from 2016 to 2017, and Visa Overstays Significantly Exceeded Illegal Crossings for the Seventh Consecutive Year (Rep.). Retrieved – all information regarding undocumented immigrations arriving in 2016 came from this report by Robert Warren for the Center of Migration Studies. This includes the statement regarding 38% crossing the border.
  6. All information regarding the duration and circumstances of the trip undocumented immigrants take while crossing the border were based on interviews with several undocumented immigrants. Most of these interviews were conducted under the agreement that their names would not be used.
  7. Zeigler, K., Richwine, J., & Camarota, S. A. (2018, August 26). There Are No Jobs Americans Won’t Do A detailed look at immigrants (legal and illegal) and natives across occupations (Rep.). Retrieved
  8. Information regarding the fears and uncertainties felt by undocumented immigrants were based on interviews with several undocumented immigrants. Most of these interviews were conducted under the agreement that their names would not be used.
  9. Information regarding what undocumented immigrants qualify and don’t qualify for in terms of health insurance was found in these two websites; The U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. (n.d.). Health coverage for immigrants. Retrieved from ; Kaiser Family Foundation. (2019, February 15). Health Coverage of Immigrants (Rep.). Retrieved
  10. More information regarding undocumented immigrants’ access to health insurance came from a couple articles.- Chavez, L. R., Flores, E. T., & Lopez-Garza, M. (1992). Undocumented Latin American Immigrants and U. S. Health Services: An Approach to a Political Economy of Utilization. Medical Anthropology Quarterly,6(1), 6-26. ; Goldman, D. P., Smith, J. P., & Sood, N. (2005). Legal Status And Health Insurance Among Immigrants(Rep.). Project HOPE—The People-to-People Health Foundation. Retrieved from ; Kullgren, J. T. (2003). Restrictions on Undocumented Immigrants’ Access to Health Services: The Public Health Implications of Welfare Reform. American Journal of Public Health,93(10), 1630-1633. Retrieved from
  11. Department of Health Care Finance. (n.d.). Health Care Alliance. Retrieved from  
  12. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. (2018, June 20). Green Card Eligibility Categories. Retrieved from
  13. TVN Noticias. (2018, January 16). Panamá avanzará en derechos de homosexuales tras opinión de Corte Interamericana. TVN Noticias. Retrieved from – information regarding same-sex marriage in Panama was gotten from many newspaper articles. On January 8, 2018, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights announced that all countries that adopted the American Convention of Human Rights, including Panama, have to legalize same-sex marriage. This article says the government said they would uphold decision but didn’t said when. As of May 2, 2019, I was unable to find any update regarding this.
  14. CNN. (2019, April 01). Same-Sex Marriage Fast Facts. CNN. Retrieved from – information regarding the timeline of same-sex marriage in the U.S. came from this CNN article. This shows that in the 1990s no state allowed same-sex couples to get married. Massachusetts was the first to do so after a court decision in 2003.
  15. All information regarding the Defense of Marriage Act and what it said came from the digital transcription of the law that was available in the website.
  16. This quote from Eduardo Henry Navarro comes from the interview I had with him and Jenky Santiuste on February 17, 2019.
  17. All information about the D.C. “limited purpose” licenses gotten from two articles. –  Austermuhle, M. (2014, May 1). D.C. Starts Issuing Driver’s Licenses To Undocumented Immigrants. WAMU. Retrieved from and DC Department of Motor Vehicles. (n.d.). Limited Purpose Credential FAQs. Retrieved from
  18. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. (2018, August 10). Delegation of Immigration Authority Section 287(g) Immigration and Nationality Act. Retrieved from
  19. Information regarding what a sanctuary city is came from various articles including: Cameron, D. (2017, January 18). How sanctuary cities work, and how Trump’s blocked executive order could have affected them. The Washington Post. Retrieved from and Lind, D. (2018, March 8). Sanctuary cities, explained. Vox. Retrieved from
  20. All information regarding former D.C. mayor Vincent Gray’s executive order to turn D.C. into a real sanctuary city comes from a copy of the executive order found on the D.C. government website.
  21. This quote from Eduardo Henry Navarro comes from the interview I had with him and Jenky Santiuste on February 17, 2019.
  22. Bray, I. (2015, March 06). Consequences of Overstaying on a Temporary U.S. Visa. Retrieved from
  23. Martin, M. (2018, March 29). ‘Nothing for us here’: Deported Guatemalans plan to return to U.S. NBC News Digital. Retrieved from ; Jones, L. (2017, December 05). What happens after a person is deported? Many people try again. KUOW. Retrieved from
  24. All information regarding undocumented immigrants’ lives in the United States and what they left behind came from interviews with several undocumented immigrants. Most of these interviews were conducted under the agreement that their names would not be used.
  25. Nolo. (2015, March 05). How & When To Write a Visa Letter of Invitation. Retrieved from  
  26. This quote from Jenky Santiuste comes from the interview I had with him and Eduardo Navarro on February 17, 2019.
  27. Gates, G. J. (2005). Bi-National Same-Sex Unmarried Partners in Census 2000: A demographic portrait(Rep.). The Williams Project on Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy UCLA School of Law. Retrieved from
  28. Information regarding binational same-sex couples and their stories come from a book written by Judy Rickard in 2011, articles published by various news outlets, interviews and stories shared by different advocacy organizations like Out4Immigration.
  29. All information regarding Judy Rickard and Karin Bogiliolo and their story comes from a book written by Judy Rickard about their experience as a binational same-sex couple in 2011.- Rickard, J. (2011). Torn apart: United by love, divided by law. Forres, Scotland: Findhorn Press. Further information also comes from articles Judy has written in the Huffpost, her blog named Torn Apart and other news sites.  
  30. This excerpt is from page 46 of Judy Rickard’s book Torn Apart: United by Love, Divided by Law.- Rickard, J. (2011). Torn apart: United by love, divided by law. Forres, Scotland: Findhorn Press.
  31. U.S. Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs. (n.d.). Visitor Visa. Retrieved from
  32. Rickard, J. (2013, April 29). Passport Pages Tell Our Tale: The Personal Story of a Binational Same-Sex Couple’s Struggle to be Together Under Current Immigration Laws. The Immigration Policy Center. Retrieved from
  33. Rickard, J. (2013, April 29). Passport Pages Tell Our Tale: The Personal Story of a Binational Same-Sex Couple’s Struggle to be Together Under Current Immigration Laws. The Immigration Policy Center. Retrieved from – Further information regarding how an individual might apply for an extension to their visa can be found at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. (2009, September 02). Extend Your Stay. Retrieved from
  34. Quote came from page 47 of Judy Rickard’s book Torn Apart: United by Love, Divided by Law.- Rickard, J. (2011). Torn apart: United by love, divided by law. Forres, Scotland: Findhorn Press.
  35. Gottschalk, M. (2011, April 7). Book tells of San Jose binational couple and other couples torn apart by immigration law. The Mercury News. Retrieved from
  36. Specific information regarding Judy’s cats and their story comes from Judy Rickard’s blog that has the same title as the book. Rickard, J. (n.d.). Bud Light (and Bud, RIP). Torn Apart. Retrieved from  
  37. This quote can be found on page 30 of Judy Rickard’s book Torn Apart: United by Love, Divided by Law.- Rickard, J. (2011). Torn apart: United by love, divided by law. Forres, Scotland: Findhorn Press.
  38. Information regarding the financial burden the situation caused Judy Rickard and Karin Bogiliolo can be found on page 50 of Judy Rickard’s book Torn Apart: United by Love, Divided by Law. Examples of this financial burden is the constant traveling draining their savings account, Karin dealing with all the expenses of her travels while Judy pays for everything once they are together and two garage sales they held in 2009 and 2010. The former allowed them to make a total of $3,000. – Rickard, J. (2011). Torn apart: United by love, divided by law. Forres, Scotland: Findhorn Press.
  39. This quote comes from page 53 of Judy Rickard’s book Torn Apart: United by Love, Divided by Law.– Rickard, J. (2011). Torn apart: United by love, divided by law. Forres, Scotland: Findhorn Press.

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