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Helaman Iquique at his home in Milwaukee.

Deported | U.S. Immigration separates partners

On the morning of Jan. 22, 2009, Helaman Iquique left his home in West Milwaukee, headed for his job at a plumbing supply company. He said goodbye to his partner of 10 years and their dogs, Bibi and Boogie.

It was a routine beginning to an ordinary snow-covered Milwaukee winter day. But it was to have an extraordinary ending: Iquique never returned home. Neither his partner nor his large extended family in the Milwaukee area has seen him since.

Without any warning and despite the fact that he had an appeal pending before an immigration court in Miami, Iquique, 40, was detained by Immigration and Naturalization Service officials and forcibly sent to Guatemala, where he hasn’t lived since childhood. He was put on a plane just an hour before a judge ordered a stay in his deportation.

That action drastically changed Iquique’s legal prospects. As a deportee, he cannot even apply for a visa to visit the United States for 10 years, much less continue to pursue his case.

Iquique’s partner Wade Twamley says if the two could get married – or if federal immigration law at least recognized their relationship – they would be together now planting their garden. Instead, Twamley, a Vietnam veteran, has drained his retirement account to pay for lawyers to help him navigate what he considers a labyrinth of randomly applied immigration laws.

No results

Iquique’s mother brought him to the United States in the 1980s to escape a genocidal campaign against Guatemala’s Mayan population. It took Gumercinda Iquique Fajardo three and half years to bring all 10 of her children and five other relatives here to safety.

But while most of his siblings were granted legal status under amnesty law, Iquique and his mother were not, for reasons they never understood. Still, his mother lived here for the rest of her life, and Iquique went to school here. He was given a Social Security number and granted work permits for 22 years.

Then, two years ago, his Social Security number and work visa were suddenly revoked. “That’s when I got involved and hired an attorney, because I assumed something was going to happen,” Twamley says.

Over the course of his legal battle with INS. Twamley has retained six attorneys, one of whom fully refunded his money after admitting to doing nothing. “I’m so tired of lawyers, taking and taking and taking and never promising results,” he says.

Despite what he acknowledges is the growing futility of his situation, Twamley vows he’ll never give up until he and Iquique are reunited.

“He’s my soul mate,” he says. “I originally met him at a barbecue, and we just sat and talked for a long time. I said, ‘Would you like to go out to dinner?’ We dated for a year. Then, almost exactly to the date, I said, ‘We seem to have a lot in common and we enjoy each other’s company. So let’s either take this to the next level, or it’s going nowhere.’”

Iquique moved in a week later.

Twamley questions why the government would deport Iquique, who worked hard, paid his taxes and bills on time, and never got into any trouble with the law. “In all the years I’ve known him, he’s had one speeding ticket,” Twamley says. “He’s the sweetest guy in the world.”

Besides breaking up his primary relationship, Iquique’s deportation separated him from his close-knit family.

“He was always the support in our family,” says Iquique’s niece Dulce Fajardo. “He was always the one helping everyone out. There’s no reason for him to be shipped off like that.”

“We’re devastated,” says his niece Ingrid Fajardo. “We miss him so much. It just isn’t fair.”

On the run

Twamley and Iquique’s family are worried about his safety in Guatemala. After arriving in Guatemala City, he moved in with a brother. In April, a local gang extorted money from him, threatening to kill one of his brother’s children if he didn’t pay them more than $3,000.

“Because he’s from the U.S., they think he has money,” Twamley says.

The threat was taken very seriously. In Guatemala, kidnappings and random killings are common. “They killed the lady two houses down, and they killed two of the brother-in-law’s kids,” Twamley says. “One of the kids was killed for a pair of Nike shoes.”

Iquique and his brother’s family fled to a suburb. Now Iquique commutes two hours to the city, where he works for Telus, a company that services cell phones in Canada.

His nieces worry that Iquique will become a target in Guatemala because he’s “obviously gay.”

“He’s not ashamed of himself,” says Dulce Fajardo. “Here people have rights, but it’s a different, dangerous environment for him there. He was always full of life – so happy and outgoing. He can’t be himself there, and it’s completely unfair.”

His partner and his family stay in touch with Iquique by phone as much as possible. Although he’s struggling to adjust to his life in Guatemala, he longs for his partner, his family, his home and his dogs.

“He’s lived here his whole life,” Dulce Fajardo says. “To him, he’s American. His lifestyle is totally different from what it is there, and he’s suffering horribly now. He says this is a nightmare I would have in my dreams. We hear his pain and we feel it.”

‘No protection’

Twamley’s situation is not unique. “Unfortunately there are a lot of lesbian and gay couples who are separated because of the inability under current law for the American partner to sponsor the immigrant partner for residency,” says Steve Ralls, spokesperson for Immigration Equality, a nonprofit legal aid and advocacy organization in Washington, D.C., that works on behalf of LGBT immigrants and their families.

According to an analysis of the 2000 census, about 36,000 bi-national lesbian and gay couples are living in the U.S. “Many are either facing separation or living in exile or have already been separated because of the discriminatory nature of U.S. immigration policy,” Ralls says. “Nearly half of them are also raising minor children who have only known the U.S. as their home, and they’re faced with the possibility of having to leave the country in order to keep their families intact.”

Twamley and Iquique’s case has drawn the support of high-profile political leaders. U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Milwaukee, lobbied the INS on their behalf and U.S. Sens. Russ Feingold and Herb Kohl both sent letters of support urging officials to reconsider the case.

Feingold is a co-sponsor of the Uniting American Families Act, which seeks to allow American citizens and legal permanent residents to sponsor their same-sex partners for legal residency in the United States.

“Right now, our family immigration rules force many committed long-term couples to make a terrible choice between living in different countries and leaving this country they love to stay together,” Feingold said in a statement delivered on the Senate floor. “Worse still, these couples have no protection against deportation proceedings, no matter how long they have been together and whether or not they have obtained a valid marriage license or other legal recognition in a jurisdiction that recognizes same-sex marriage or civil unions.”

Lingering hope

For a while, Twamley clung to the hope that he and Iquique could move together to Canada as a last resort. But he recently learned that he’s not eligible to obtain residency status in Canada, in part because he’s spent all of his savings on lawyers.

Twamley says staying close to Iquique’s family has helped him get through the past year and a half.

“I am part of his family, so his brothers and these guys come and visit me and keep me entertained,” Twamley says. “Otherwise I’m just fighting with attorneys. I’m getting an education.”

Refusing to give up the hope that Iquique will someday return home, Twamley continues to pay his partner’s bills to keep his credit clean. He plans to go to Guatemala to visit Iquique as soon as he can.

He’s also raising money to help pay for his continuing legal battle. A May 9 fundraiser at Hot Water Wherehouse brought together 62 supporters, who contributed just over $1,000. Iquique’s family made food for the occasion, and Twamley auctioned off items from his household, including two of Iquique’s favorite plants – a mother in law’s tongue and a seven-foot cane plant.

The item Twamley expected to raise the most cash was an American flag that was flown over the U.S. Capitol on the first anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001.

It didn’t draw a single bid.

Donations for Helaman Iquique’s immigration battle can be sent to Wade Twamley, 1602 S. 55th St., West Milwaukee, WI 53214. For information, call 414-329-0753.

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