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Judy Rickard On "Torn Apart, United by Love, Divided by Law!"

by MK Scott .
Monday Jun 27, 2011

With all the talk about gay Marriage and Immigration I was thrilled to meet and chat with Judy Rickard the 60 yr who has experienced decreased time with her partner, Karin , who is a citizen of the UK. With her VISA ending soon their time together is getting far less sporadic. Rickard has wrote a book, 'Torn Apart, United by Love' chronicling her story but also 15 other couples going through same battle. We spoke by phone.

MK: I'm here talking with Judy Rickard, the author of Torn Apart, United by Love, Divided by Law. You have this new book out. And could you please tell us a little bit more about it?

Judy: Sure. Well, the book is a combination love story, memoir and political action guide. It's also a collection of stories of couples that are in the same situation as my wife and I. We are a couple, either two men, or two women, with or without children, were one is an American citizen and the other is not. And that is our particular issue, struggle, with immigration. Because current American law does not allow men or women to sponsor their same gender partners for immigration.

MK: Okay. And just recently the ... you were looking for the Uniting American Families Act. but unfortunately did not get enough votes in December.

Judy: Right. There's actually two pieces of legislation that are in Congress now. And one is the Uniting American Families Act, which has been going since - it was previous named the Permanent Partners Immigration Act. And it's been going along for more than a decade now. And then the newer law, by Congressman Michael Honda embeds the Uniting American Families Act into his bill, which is called the Reuniting Families Act. And it's an effort on his part for a true comprehensive immigration reform, which also includes gay and lesbian, or LGBT families.

MK: Okay. Well, first of all, let me tell - I want to find out a little bit more about you and Karen. About how you guys met and what was the process?

Judy: Okay. Well, Karen was here visiting. She has at what they call a B1B2 Visa which allows a person to come into the United States for up to six months. And depending on the reason for the visit, it's either a personal visit, or a business visit. And so she was visiting friends in Oregon. And one night she said she started pointing around a lesbian dating site, because she had never seen those, or looked at those. And she saw a listing that I had on there, and she was interested in it, but she didn't realize that if she clicked on it, that it would notify me that somebody had seen my listing. And I forget what the thing on that site was, I don't know which one it was, if it was wink, or click, or smile, or whatever, anyway, they have those little things (emoticons). And so I got a little notification that somebody with her code name and clicked on it. So I didn't hear anything else and so after a day or two I just sent a response and I said, you know, why did you click on me? Or what did you find interesting or whatever? So then she was really nervous because she realized that, you know, something had happened. And so at first she said the thought she would just ignore it. But then she felt guilty and so she answered me. And we started emailing. And then we started talking on the phone. And then she invited me up to Oregon to a Pflag dance. And I told her that I didn't dance. And she said, well, she didn't either, but she thought it would be a fun thing to do. So I flew up to Oregon, and I met her, and we went to the dance, and we spent a three day weekend, a holiday weekend. And we decided that we liked each other and that we would like to see how things would progress. And so that was the beginning of this whole unfolding of this problem for us. And neither one of us really understood at the time how it was all going to, you know, develop, or turn out. But she did know that, you know, there were visa implications for her. And I didn't really understand the whole ramification of, you know, what that was going to be. As we moved along to a committed relationship, then a domestic partnership and then marriage, we well know what
the issues are.

MK: Okay. And so ... I also had read that is she, the problem is the fact that she has this six month visa. And so she now, whenever she comes, she can't come to the U.S. that often because she comes by too quickly, then they put a red flag on her, right?

Judy: Yes. They have told her, in 2008, when she came in San Francisco Airport and I was there to meet her, she was coming too often. And they didn't give her six months. They gave her four months and they told her to get her affairs in order and to leave the country for a long time.

They didn't specify what a long time was. But she stayed out for nine months. And at that time I was still working. And it was that particular incident that made me realize that I was going to have to take an early retirement so that we can stay together. And so when she finished that nine months, she flew to Canada, and I took early retirement from my job. I was 61 at the time. I would have worked for several more years. But I took an early retirement. My last workday was April 30th of 2009. And I drove to Canada and met Karen. And then we spent some time in Canada and then came back into the United States and they let her in.

And so she's been going, you know, on that same six month cycle for the last two years. And we're at the point now where we're really concerned that they might not let her back in. And, we know that we're, you know, we're public. We're not hiding. And we know that writing a book, you know, might make it impossible for us to be here. We may even have to leave America. We just don't know exactly what's going to happen.

MK: So when you been in Canada, has the reaction been much better compared to what you've gotten from the U.S.?

Judy: Well, I'll tell you, I drove my car, so we had a California license plate on the car, and as we went east across Canada people would remark that it was a California license. And we would tell them why we were there. And they were shocked, you know, they couldn't understand that people in British Columbia, and Saskatchewan, and Alberta and I don't know, what the next one? Ontario? I think? Manitoba, whatever they are, you know, they were shocked. They couldn't believe it. And I know that there are a lot of bi-national couples that have moved to Canada. There's a particularly large community in Vancouver, BC. And it's the same as when we we're in Europe. When we're being royal ex-pats in Europe for six months. People just can't understand that the United States seems so backward.

MK: That's true. Back to the book here. You said that you had spoken to 15 other couples.

Judy: Yeah. I think that's the number. What I tried to do is find examples of each way that the situation, you know, plays out. And I think I covered all the bases. You know people can stay together here and either one of them is out of status, or undocumented, and then they face, you know, being found and the non citizen being deported. Or they could leave the country together. Or they can do what we're doing, which I call Yo-Yo People, you know, back and forth, back and forth. They can break up or they can never really get their relationship off the ground. So, you know, it's very sad, no matter how it plays out it's very sad because it's a very human, you know, situation to want to be with someone you love and something other than your own actions are involved in the process. And you're literally torn apart by American law.

MK: Now is there anybody, out of the other couples that are in the book, was there any particular couple that really stood out for you?

Judy: Well, there's two couples. Well, actually there's three couples that I think have the worst scenarios. One is a family with two teen aged sons, twin sons, that live in the San Francisco Bay area. And the one mother was actually shot and survived, but her mother and sister were killed, and a cousin in the Philippines. And so she applied for asylum here. She came to America on a trip with her father, and she met and fell in love with her wife. They've been here, they married, they had children. And her asylum case didn't happen. But the lawyer that she had apparently didn't tell her. And so one day, you know, ICE people came to the house and dragged her away in handcuffs. They were going to deport here. And so Assemblywoman Jackie Spear, and California Senator, Diane Feinstein created special legislation to keep her here. But that's only good for the two year term of Congress. She's just had a second law passed to keep her here. But she's not safe. You know, it's not permanent.

MK: Well, I think I turned right to that page. Is that Shirley and Jay?

Judy: Shirley and Jay. And the twins. Another couple left the country years ago and they are permanently living as contemporary nomads. And that's Tony and Thomas.

MK: Absolutely. That's the next Chapter, which is chapter 16.

Judy: Yeah. And you know, they tried to move here. They stayed here as long as they could. Then they went to Germany where Thomas is originally from, and it just didn't work for them. And Thomas, who is native German, faced terrible employment discrimination there. So they decided to pack up and just be nomads until they decide, you know, what they're going to do. But I've heard recently that they're so hurt by the United States that they may not return, even though that's what they, you know, said they wanted to do. And I don't blame them. I mean, look at what they've gone through. Then the other couple, Emilio and Tim, well, his name is Roy, but he goes by Tim. They both have HIV.

And Tim on top of that now has lung cancer. And they can't be together, Emilio can't help Tim, his husband, because he's a nurse, and he could help him with his health problems, But they're separated because Emilio's in Canada, and he's trying become a Canadian National. And Tim, you know, we don't know how much longer he's going to be around, because he's got two bad health problems. He's in Mississippi. And so it's a very sad situation.

MK: Okay. so those are the three that really stood out for you?

Judy: Well, I think those are the most horrible examples of what happens to couples trying to be together, yeah.

MK: That's true. Okay.

Judy: You know, Karen and I consider our situation a major inconvenience. But it's nothing like the cases of those three, or others that I'm hearing about. People are writing to me on my blog, and they're sharing stories of other people. And I just read one today of a married couple, ten years, three children, and the British partner faces deportation. And that's insane.

MK: And then I noticed that the forward was written by Elizabeth Gilbert.(Eat, Pray, Love) And she says that you literally one upped her in regards to her situation compared to your situation.

Judy: Well, you know, it's funny because when I found out that she was an ally, I talked with Immigration Equality about getting her to, you know, work for us. And they contacted her, and she was glad to lobby in Washington, D.C. She spoke at their annual awards event in 2010. Karen and I went to New York City to meet her. And I had told my friend at Immigration Equality that, you know, we should have a book, you should write a book about this, you know, 'cause people would buy it. You know, with her name. And so she, he put, he sent my messages to her. And she said that she thought it was a great idea, but that she had just taken on a fiction project and she wouldn't have time to do it. So when I met her in New York, I said, oh, I'm sorry she wouldn't be able to write the book because I knew she could help us. And she said, well, Judy, if you get a book deal, I'll write the forward. And at that point, in June of 2010, I didn't think, I didn't see myself writing a book. I didn't think I would write a book.

MK: That's fabulous. That's quite an endorsement there. You know?

Judy: You know, I really feel like the hand of spirit has been moving this project, because things just come to me. And, you know, if I sat down and said, gosh, I want to meet Elizabeth Gilbert, and I think she should write these books, it never would have happened. You know, but stuff has come to me through other people, through Facebook posts, through phone calls, and I'm just following the trail, and it's wonderful.

MK: And also in regards to the future, how do you see the future coming in regards to this?

Judy: Well ... on August 16th. And that's when Karen's visa runs out. And we have hired Grady Soloway, the lawyer who works on these cases, and we're going to be talking with him about what our options are. And at best we'll be able to figure out something to stay together here. And at worse we'll either Yo-Yo or we'll both leave. And right now we don't really know the answer to that and that's what? So we've got about not quite two months. Nobody should have to live this. Nobody should have to live with such uncertainty.

MK: Well, that's true, and we hope for a very quick resolution on this.

Judy:Yeah, and you know, one of the other things that's been so to me, and it's just happened in the last couple of months, and it's, I never, ever thought people would go after DOMA, the Defense Of Marriage Act. And now we've got people in Congress trying to overturn DOMA with the Respect For Marriage Act law. We've got DOMA in the court, and we've got the President and the Attorney General saying it's unconstitutional. So, you know, if we are able to get rid of DOMA, then that takes care of the problem. And the immigration bill, you know, the Uniting American Families Act, is unnecessary. So who would have guessed a year ago that maybe we'd be looking at the end of DOMA and at couples with families like mine would get the release they need through them. You know, strange things happen, but I really think that we're getting traction. We're getting more awareness of our issue, and I'm really glad for that, 'cause so many people need help. I get Facebook comments and emails and responses on my blog more regularly now. And it's gratifying to me, if I can be helping people, to feel like they're not alone.

MK: So are you planning on going on a Book tour?

Judy: Well, I would love to. I'm hoping people invite me. I'm going to be at the American Library Association Conference in New Orleans on the 25th of this month. And Centurion Press, the publisher, has donated 100 books for me to sign and give away to librarians. And then I'm trying, I'm working with my publishers to get bookstore tours. I have proposed a workshop for Butch Royce's conference in August.

MK: We would welcome you to Seattle with open arms!

Judy: I'd love it! One thing I'll tell you too that you may not know is that my book just won the Gay Book Category in the 2011 San Francisco Book Festival.

MK: Okay. Well, thank you so much, Judy. I appreciate.

Judy: Thank you!

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