BY STEVE ROTHAUS, srothaus@MiamiHerald.com
The U.S. government has awarded permanent residency to the gay Mexican husband of a Coral Gables man, nearly two years after they wed in Washington, D.C, and seven months after the U.S. Supreme Court abolished a portion of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.
“I’m very excited and very relieved,” said Daniel Zavala, 28, who applied for a green card shortly after he and Yohandel Ruiz, a Cuban-born American citizen, married May 1, 2012. “We feel like we finished the process and got what we’re looking for. We’re going on with our lives as a regular couple.”
The couple had met in South Beach while Zavala visited on a tourist visa. Seven months after their marriage, Ruiz received a letter from the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services denying Zavala a green card. Immigration wrote that it could not recognize the marriage because of DOMA.
Zavala and Ruiz appealed the decision in January 2013, according to immigration attorney Lavi Soloway, who with law partner Noemi Masliah heads The DOMA Project: Binational Couples Winning Equality.
On June 26, the Supreme Court tossed the portion of DOMA that prohibited the federal government from recognizing legally married same-sex couples.
“After the Supreme Court ruled on DOMA, the government went through all the cases that were denied because of DOMA and put them back in the cue for scheduling and processing,” Soloway said Thursday.
Immigration reopened Zavala’s case on July 30 and he had his residency interview in December. Last week, Zavala received his green card effective on Jan. 3.
“He’s a permanent resident of the United States,” said Soloway, whose New York/Los Angeles law firm represents dozens of same-sex bi-national couples in Florida.
Miami’s immigration office has been backlogged recently and many South Florida couples are still waiting residency interviews, Soloway said.
Zavala, who has a degree in international relations from a Mexican university and now works for Miami Dade College’s Art and Culture department, plans to establish citizenship.
“This community has had a happy ending in this matter,” he said.