“Immigration Closet” discusses being a gay, undocumented immigrant

Maria Ly
Staff Writer

Eddie Fernandez was 14 years old when he flew into the United States, handed the immigration customs officer a folder, and got the black kiss of death 15 years later due to an immigration law he didn’t know could affect his life in America. 

Tyler Thom, husband of Fernandez, joined the LGBT Center at Minnesota State University, Mankato to share their stories as a married couple and the struggles they faced with Fernandez’s undocumented immigrant status. 

Eddie kept his secret of being an undocumented immigrant from almost everyone he knew, including Thom. 

Thom said, “For him to tell me, he was undocumented, after knowing me for only three months, and when I asked him, how many of your friends know, he said most of my friends don’t know.”

Thom after discovering this secret found it hard and feared telling anybody and started to understand how Fernandez felt, how it felt to be in the immigration closet, and how it felt to live in “the shadows”. 

Thom said, “Coming out is a very scary thing in the gay world, but in this sense, if you tell the wrong person there’s literally legal consequences such as losing a job, and literally losing everything you have including all your support system.”

They told some of their friends and family, and received immense support and love – something they weren’t sure they’d get. 

Fernandez, who was on a skype call during the event, said, “It wasn’t easy. But it felt awesome to feel that my friends were there for us. We had a lot of friends who tried to help us like with lawyers, it was awesome to receive the support we did from friends and families.”

Despite having a four-year marriage proposal policy, Thom proposed to Fernandez nine months after they started dating and the two got married in 2015. After attempting to apply for residency after their marriage, they discovered a law that made it impossible for Fernandez to obtain permanent residency. 

On April 1, 1997, the Bill Clinton Administration passed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act and under this law, if one falsely claimed to be a U.S. citizen, you were barred from ever lawfully becoming a permanent resident in the country. 

Thom said, “Regardless who you’re married to, or how much money you have. There’s absolutely nothing you can do, nothing. That’s why they refer it to the black kiss of death.”

Even though Fernandez had a work permit with DACA and was married to a U.S. citizen, he couldn’t stay in the U.S. legally and the couple had to rethink the rest of their lives as they prepared to apply for residency in Canada. 

They had to give up almost everything, as Fernandez had to sell his white Mercedes-Benz that he worked hard for when working in hospitality, even opening his own company franchise. 

They spent thousands of dollars as they needed to hire lawyers, pay the fees, etc. Canada has “express entry to immigration”, and although it was challenging, difficult, costly and time-consuming it was substantially easier than America’s process. 

Thom has diabetes, and the two were scared that would bar them from becoming citizens in Canada. Nonetheless, they made it. 

The two had a going away party, as shown in their feature in the Netflix docu-series “Living Undocumented”. The two tearfully had to say goodbye to their best friends and family.

Thom said, “Once Eddie crossed the border, there was no coming back.” 

In Toronto, the two have felt welcomed as ever, even from strangers who were nice enough to help them in the streets when they looked lost and recommended them restaurants.

Fernandez said, “We’ve been here for a year in Toronto, they’ve done a fantastic job making us feel welcomed.”

The two have also made several friends in a gay dodgeball league, and through Bumble where they met a couple who are now their best friends, who faced a similar situation as theirs. 

One thing Tyler misses however, is the Mexican food. 

Carter Wilhelmson, a student who attended the event, also lives near Milwaukee, Wisconsin where the couple was from. 

Milwaukee is one of the most racially segregated cities in the United States. Carter, who witnessed racism a lot in their hometown, said, “I think the resilience behind it really inspired me. It takes a lot of bravery to go out in public and share your story, especially if it’s your daily occurrence because a lot of people don’t realize what you’re going through and you kind of have to live in the shadows.”

Carter shares many similarities with the couple, as they are also in a gay relationship with their partner who was not born in America.

They continue, “I felt my heart go out, it’s so close to our home. We’ve been to those places, we’ve lived in those places too, it makes my heart go out to anyone who is struggling with unfair immigration policies.”

Header photo: Guests Tyler Thom and Eddie Fernandez are interviewed during the “Being Gay & Undocumented in America” event held in the Ostrander Auditorium Monday, Nov. 4, 2019 in Mankato, Minn. (Jack Linell/MSU Reporter)

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