Friday, February 01, 2013

Judy and Karin: Volunteering for Our Cause Leads to a Handshake and a Few Words with President Obama

Guest post by Judy Rickard, author of Torn Apart: United by Love, Divided by Law

I wanted to share the experience my wife Karin and I had attending President Obama's speech on Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) in Las Vegas this week.

I think it's important to remember that we are all volunteers in the struggle to get green cards and permanency for our spouses and families. None of us are paid to do this work. Some of us have special talents we share. Others help by doing as asked, or getting other volunteers or whatever. Some may just make or collect donations. That's great too. That's what makes Out4Immigration a community - shared grassroots organizing and volunteering and success. Sometimes something too good to pass up happens, too. This was one of those times. But first, a bit of history...

Karin and I found out about O4I several years ago when I went to a town hall meeting on immigration in San Jose. Rep. Mike Honda and Rep. Luis Gutierrez headed it up. It was at a Catholic Church. I had recently shared my story with Mike, my Congressional Representative, and he had learned more about the issue facing same-sex binational couples. I was prepared to say something at the town hall, based on what we thought would happen that night. When we got to the church hall, two things happened that made me work harder to solve my problem. First, we were told that nothing about gays and lesbians could be shared at the hall that night. Ouch! And second, two guys came in wearing t-shirts that I thought were the coolest things I had ever seen. Turned out to be Amos and Mickey Lim, two of the founders of O4I. I asked them where I could get a shirt and I met O4I that night.

Get your t-shirt here!

Fast forward to 2013 and four more years of working to get a green card for my wife and get this issue solved for all of us. Where am I? In a high school gymnasium in Las Vegas, Nevada. Why? I've been invited by the White House to be at the President's speech on CIR. Invited by the White House! At first, I told them we could not afford to come. But then we were urged to go by friends in the cause, Love Exiles Foundation, and then Karin got really excited and took money out of savings. In less than 24 hours of hearing about it, we were on the plane. Wow!

Over the years, I have shared on my blog how it feels to document your life while you live it. For any same-sex binational couple trying to get a green card, you know there are days when you are tired of everyone knowing your business, federal officials dictating your life choices, stress others don't have, and just sheer exhaustion from the process. 
Two very powerful moments happened...
We know all that. But somehow this event seemed to make that all go away for a bit. We felt empowered and hopeful. We clapped and cheered. But we also felt bad when the words we wanted to hear did not come from the President's mouth as he stood on the podium. All was not lost or sad, though. Two very powerful moments happened and I can tell you with certainty because they happened to me and us.

Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano was to be seated behind us. As she walked in, I talked to her about our issue and shook her hand and thanked her for her efforts thus far. She said "It's in the President's proposal," meaning inclusion of same-sex binational families in comprehensive immigration reform.
...we shook President Obama's hand and reminded him we need his help. What did he say? "We won't forget you! You're in there!"
As the President concluded his speech, he did the rope line - shaking hands along the edge of the seating area. Since we had been given front row seats, Karin and I were at the rope line! In spite of the crush of people who surged behind us and pushed us into the barrier, we shook President Obama's hand and reminded him we need his help. What did he say? "We won't forget you! You're in there!" Wow! We were both shaking his hands at the time. It was surreal - really surreal.

So we felt terrific about those two moments, along with all the day's other wonderful bits, as Karin would say. Who came in and sat next to us? Jose Antonio Vargas, that's who! He and I screamed and hugged like middle school girls - we love each other so and respect each other's work so. I got my photo taken with Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis before we entered the gym. That was terrific! We met a staffer from the White House Office of Engagement, Julie, who will be getting a signed copy of my book in the mail soon. I met several elected officials and immigration organization executives who were interested in our slice of the immigration reform pie and they will be getting signed books, too. 

Speaker John Perez from the California State Assembly was there and we got duck pins from him after Karin asked if he had any ducks with him. We learned of his hobby in Sacramento in 2011 when we were there as I got an award for my LGBT activism from the State Assembly.

Our young friend Omar Torres from San Jose came to the event - we got him a ticket after he contacted me. I love to see younger folks doing the work and learning the ropes so we know immigration and civil rights work will continue. Guess I feel like a mother hen, but that's ok!

Of course being in Las Vegas, we had to have a little tourist time. We made a few bucks on a nickel machine to help pay the plane and food bills. We walked around a bit and saw interesting things. 

But I blogged and talked to reporters too. It wasn't all just play, that's for sure. I encourage you to read the blog I wrote about the speech event before it happened. Go to: 

For the blog I wrote after the speech is at this link. Go to

The complete immigration reform proposal from President Obama, which includes same-sex binational couples/families is in this blog, Go to:

We were thrilled to get this picture from our family in the UK who saw us this close to the President on their TV!

If you want to follow my adventures trying to get the U.S. government to recognize my marriage, go to:

You can see the Torn Apart: United by Love, Divided by Law Facebook page at

You can see the Torn Apart: United by Love, Divided by Law Portrait Project Facebook page at

You can also follow me on twitter @tornapartbook

My favorite photo of our trip to Vegas? My wife Karin and a couple of showgirls!

Judy Rickard is the author of Torn Apart: United by Love, Divided by Law, a book which documents the lives of more than 20 same-sex binational couples affected by exclusion of equal immigration rights for gay and lesbian Americans in realtionships with foreign nationals. Judy generously donates royalties from the book's sales to three groups working with same-sex binationals - Out4Immigration, Love Exiles and Immigration Equality. The phrase "United by Love, Divided by Law" was coined by Out4Immigration. Judy uses the phrase as a subtitle to her book with our permission. If you have a project you would like to launch using the phrase, or to volunteer with Out4Immigration, contact us at

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