And lo! the fullness of the time has come, And over all the exile’s western home, From sea to sea the flowers of freedom bloom!

John Greenleaf Whittier

The “Reunite this Family” term was coined by the Boston Globe in an editorial in support of Tim Coco and Genesio “Junior” Oliveira.

“Great strides toward equality for gays have been made in this country, but the woeful fate of Tim Coco and Genesio Oliveira shows that thousands of same-sex couples, even in Massachusetts, still aren't really full citizens.”

“Reunite this Family,”
Boston Globe, Aug. 27, 2007

Media inquiries should be directed to Erin Hoefler, 978-374-1900, Ext. 11

Couple forcibly separated by illegal judge call on Obama not to tap Sen. Gregg; Renews call for ethics investigation

January 30, 2009

President Obama

Gregg with his choice for president, Mitt Romney

Tim Coco, who was forcibly separated from his legally wedded spouse in 2007 by an illegally appointed immigration judge, is calling on President Barack Obama to remove Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) from consideration as Commerce secretary.

Gregg has been identified by the U.S. Department of Justice as “pushing” for the illegal appointment of his campaign treasurer, Francis L. Cramer, as an immigration judge. The July 28, 2008 U.S. Department of Justice report, “An Investigation of Allegations of Politicized Hiring by Monica Goodling and Other Staff in the Office of the Attorney General,” found that Gregg conspired with DOJ staff to illegally use “political or ideological affiliations in the hiring process for career Department employees.”

“This would be the second time in two weeks that the president has placed an anti-gay bigot on a prized pedestal. Gregg would share the stage with evangelical minister Rick Warren, a virulent right wing ideologue who delivered Obama’s inaugural invocation,” Coco said in a newsletter distributed today. “Cramer, who also worked in Gregg’s law office, doesn’t think rape constitutes physical harm. At least that was his ruling in my spouse’s asylum petition.”

As noted in the DOJ investigation, Senator Gregg’s role was more than a merely offering a recommendation, but rather the senator had been actively “pushing” Cramer’s appointment with full knowledge that the use of political considerations are illegal when employed in the naming of candidates to career positions.

In an internal Department e-mail dated March 18, 2004 to the Justice Management Division, Department White House Liaison Susan Richmond noted that the candidate would soon be appointed and commented: “could you . . . advise [the] Sen. . . . of this? This is the issue he’d been pushing with us.”

“In deciding the asylum case of my legally wedded spouse, Genesio J. Oliveira Jr., Cramer was not only ignorant of immigration precedents, laws and procedures, he relied on commentary outside of the evidentiary record, in violation of the Immigration and Nationality Act and the Due Process Clause of the United States Constitution. Despite finding Oliveira’s testimony ‘credible’ and his fear of Brazil ‘genuine,’ Cramer apparently exercised his anti-gay credentials in denying the asylum petition. As we now know, DOJ job candidates were subject to an anti gay litmus test,” Coco said. According to the DOJ investigation:

We also found that many of Goodling’s and Williamson’s interview notes reflected that the topics of abortion and gay marriage were discussed during interviews. It appeared that these topics were discussed as a result of the question seeking information about how the applicant would characterize the type of conservative they were.

Senator Gregg successfully sought to have Cramer, his campaign treasurer, named as an immigration judge.

Gregg’s anti-civil rights voting record has earned him low scores from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and NAACP. Gregg, as examples, voted “yes” on prohibiting same-sex marriage and “no” on prohibiting job discrimination by sexual orientation.

Some speculate that naming Gregg to the Commerce post could help the Democrats reach their 60-vote, filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. However, Coco said, a Democratic appointment by New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch is not a sure bet. Lynch attended events for Republican John McCain. He also named GOP star Kelly Ayotte as his attorney general. Further, folks counted in the majority such as Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) cannot be relied upon to stand with the Democrats, Coco said.

“The best way to remove Gregg from the Senate is to have the Senate Select Committee on Ethics investigate his role in the illegal appointment of his campaign treasurer Cramer as an immigration judge. We urge President Obama not to reward Gregg’s past illegal activity with a cabinet post,” Coco said.

Sources & Quick Links

An Investigation of Allegations of Politicized Hiring by Monica Goodling and Other Staff in the Office of the Attorney General

Washington Post: Immigration Judges Often Picked Based On GOP Ties

Legal Times: DOJ Made Immigration Judgeships Political


Coco calls on N.H. Senator Judd Gregg to resign

Says recent DOJ investigation implicates Gregg in conspiracy to violate U.S. law; Coco also asks for investigation by Senate Select Committee on Ethics

N.H. Senator Judd Gregg improperly used his position to have his former campaign treasurer named a Boston immigration judge, says Tim Coco, whose spouse was ordered to leave the country by the judge. The July 28, 2008 U.S. Department of Justice report, “An Investigation of Allegations of Politicized Hiring by Monica Goodling and Other Staff in the Office of the Attorney General,” implicates Senator Gregg in unethical and illegal dealings.

According to the Justice Department investigation, Senator Gregg had been actively “pushing” the appointment of Francis L. Cramer’s even though political considerations are illegal when considering candidates for career positions.

“This is an outrage! Senator Gregg has disgraced himself, the voters of New Hampshire and the nation for his illegal and unprincipled dealings. He should resign immediately or face penalties,” says Coco. “For years I worked honestly and above board to have my spouse (Genesio J. Oliveira Jr.) allowed to reside legally in the United States. Little did I know how high the cards were stacked against us.”

According to the Justice Department investigation, “In an internal Department e-mail dated March 18, 2004 to the Justice Management Division, Department White House Liaison Susan Richmond noted that the candidate would soon be appointed and commented: ‘could you . . . advise [the] Sen. . . . of this? This is the issue he’d been pushing with us.’”

The appointment of Cramer was also criticized in a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report. “Converting a Schedule C [political] appointee with less than 6 months of immigration law experience to an immigration judge position raises questions about the fairness of the conversion.” Further, the GAO reported, Cramer had no immigration experience even though the job requires “a thorough knowledge of immigration and nationality laws, both past and present, and the regulations and rules of the Immigration and Naturalization Service.”

In 2001, a plot to appoint Cramer as a tax court judge failed when the American Bar Association told the Senate Finance Committee, “We are unable to conclude that he is qualified to serve.”

According to May 28, 2007 article in the Legal Times, Cramer worked with Gregg at the New Hampshire law firm of Sullivan & Gregg. “While there, Cramer became something of a fixture in the state’s Republican politics and a close ally of the younger Gregg. In 1992, he served as Gregg’s campaign treasurer in his successful run for the Senate, and he later helped the senator beat back a probe of his campaign finances by the Federal Election Commission. When Gregg became embroiled in an embarrassing legal dispute with a cancer-stricken woman who was seeking the return of a $92,000 deposit she had made to purchase Gregg’s house in southern New Hampshire, Cramer served as his lawyer and helped settle the case for an undisclosed sum in 1993.

Coco is also asking the Senate Select Committee on Ethics to investigate and take action against Gregg.

Coco and Oliveira have created a Web site to tell their story. It is www.reunitethisfamily.com.


US Shows Its Hand in First-Ever DOMA Challenge

On eve of federal court action, Coco calls federal posturing ‘shameful, inhumane and mean-spirited’

WASHINGTON (July 28, 2008) – The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has given its first indication as to how it will defend itself when the first qualified challenge to the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) reaches federal court.

Timothy J. “Tim” Coco, a U.S. citizen, and Genesio J. Oliveira Jr., a Brazilian, have petitioned DHS to grant the legally married Massachusetts couple the same immigration benefits afforded to heterosexual couples. The couple, together since 2002 and married since 2005, was forcibly separated last Aug. 12 when the U.S. ordered Oliveira to leave the country after a five-year battle to obtain asylum.

“Same-sex marriages do not provide a basis for obtaining immigration benefits,” DHS’ U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services wrote in a letter to Senator John F. Kerry (D-Mass.). The letter, received this week, was in connection with Coco’s filing of an “I-130 Petition for Alien Relative.” “The decision of a State to grant legal recognition to same-sex marriages, therefore, would have no effect on the administration of immigration laws, unless Congress were, by legislation, to adopt a similar policy,” wrote Sarah Taylor, chief, Office of Congressional Relations at UCIS. Taylor also cited a 1982 court case where the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals denied immigration benefits to the same-sex spouse of a Colorado man. At the time of the decision, same-sex marriage was not legal in any state. The decision was also handed down before the Supreme Court struck down all laws against private consensual gay relationships in 2003. In any event, the Ninth Circuit decision is not binding on other circuit courts, Coco said.

“The battle is now imminent. The government’s position was not unexpected, but the letter reveals the weak foundation on which the U.S. will build its case,” Coco said. The couple will wait for formal denial before bringing the case before the First Circuit Court of Appeals and, perhaps ultimately, Supreme Court.

There have been some unsuccessful DOMA challenges in recent years, but the issues raised are not relevant to Coco’s and Oliveira’s case, Coco said. In the 2006 case of Smelt vs. County of Orange, for example, the couple involved neither had “standing” because they were not yet married in a state where same-sex marriage is legal nor were they deprived of a “federal benefit,” Coco explained.

“The government could still work with us to identify a compassionate compromise. Instead, it maintains its shameful, inhumane and mean-spirited posture,” Coco said. “It is patently unfair that my family has been separated almost one year because of simple prejudice and irrational discrimination.”

DOMA was not specifically written with immigration in mind, but federal agencies use the language to interpret Congress’ intent. However, Coco believes the couple’s appeal will be successful since federal justices have previously warned the power of Congress to set immigration policy may not be based on “invidious” or “irrational” discrimination. In deciding Fiallo vs. Bell in 1977, the Supreme Court warned “there may be actions of the Congress with respect to aliens that are so essentially political in character as to be nonjusticiable.” In the 1954 Galvan vs. Press decision, the Supreme Court warned that legislative action “so baseless as to be violative of due process” is “beyond the power of Congress.” The recent California same-sex marriage decision was the first to raise sexual orientation to a “suspect classification,” requiring a “strict scrutiny” interpretation of equal protection clauses. Justices decided “sexual orientation, a characteristic that we conclude represents — like gender, race, and religion — a constitutionally suspect basis upon which to impose differential treatment.”

“For federal courts to deny that sexual orientation is a suspect class is to ignore the elephant in the room,” Coco said.

Coco said the DOMA challenge is “a last resort” and hopes other remedies will bring faster relief. “After a year of separation already, we would rather not undertake a lengthy court battle. Congress has the authority now to grant relief by repealing the federal portion of DOMA or passing the Uniting American Families Act. Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey is also empowered under federal law to ‘modify or overrule’ previous actions of the Board of Immigration Appeals.”


First Massachusetts, then California; now United Nations

Forcibly separated same-sex Mass. couple accuse U.S. of treaty violation at United Nations

HAVERHILL, MASS. – If the experience of Tim Coco and Genesio J. Oliveira Jr. is any example, future same-sex married couples in California face an uphill battle in securing minimal Federal rights. Coco and Oliveira, married three years ago in Massachusetts, hope their twin cases, including a complaint filed this week with the United Nations, will help.

Coco and Oliveira accuse the United States of violating the “Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment” by failing to grant asylum to Oliveira despite “substantial grounds” to do so and failing to appoint “competent” arbiter to hear the asylum case – both are required under the convention, ratified by the US in 1994. In the 65-page complaint filed this week with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights at United Nations office at Geneva, Switzerland, the couple argues their case is admissible because the US further “recognized the competence of the committee established under the relevant treaty to consider complaints from individuals.”

“We have been forced to take this rather provocative step because Washington refuses to address this wrenching pain and inhumanity,” said Coco, who just returned from Capitol Hill. “The executive branch has the authority to grant Junior a visa now, and Congress has the power to grant relief by any number of means.” Coco has also threatened a federal court challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act, the 1996 law that prevents federal recognition of same-sex unions. The couple this spring filed an “I-130 Petition for Alien Relative” – the same mechanism married heterosexual couples use to gain recognition for immigrant spouses.

Coco and Oliveira were forcibly separated last August when the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) ordered Oliveira to leave the country after a five-year battle to obtain asylum. The couple met six years ago when Oliveira, a medical student and Brazilian national, was on vacation in the United States

In March 2006, Immigration Judge Francis L. Cramer denied Oliveira’s applications for asylum, withholding of removal, and withholding of removal under the Torture Convention. Judge Cramer found Mr. Oliveira’s testimony to be “credible” and his fear of Brazil “genuine.” “These two findings alone should have justified the granting of asylum,” the UN complaint reads. Judge Cramer also inexplicably found Mr. Oliveira was “never physically harmed,” overlooking contrary evidence Cramer himself found to be “credible.”

A year later, Coco said, it was reported that Judge Cramer’s chief qualification was his friendship with Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.). The Government Accountability Office (GAO) said Cramer had less than six months of immigration law experience. “It raises questions about the fairness of the conversion,” the GAO reported.

The UN complaint procedure, while apparently never used in connection with the United States, has brought justice in other parts of the world, Coco said. In 1994, the UN’s Human Rights Committee found that Australia had violated the rights of Nicholas Toonen, an activist for gay law reform in Tasmania.

According to the Coco’s and Oliveira’s complaint:

“…serious questions have been raised regarding Judge Cramer’s competence and fitness to serve, as implicitly required by Article 3, Paragraph 2, of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Mr. Oliveira’s request for asylum and withholding of removal was denied despite compelling reasons and ‘substantial grounds,’ outlined in the treaty, to do so.”

“The State Party’s attempt to disqualify the asylum petition on a feigned ignorance of the ‘particular social group’ precedents, failure to acknowledge the victim’s (physical harm), failure to address the poor qualifications of Judge Cramer, misconduct by its prosecuting attorney, violations of its own Constitution and laws and failure to properly inform Mr. Oliveira of appeal options (now expired) paint a clear picture of the government’s true motives and intent to violate the treaty.”

The couple’s petition seeks emergency relief, as authorized under the convention. “Consistent with Rule 108(1) of the Committee’s rules of procedure, Mr. Oliveira seeks interim measures by the Committee against Torture to prevent irreparable harm while this communication is being considered…He spends most of his time in hiding and remains in imminent danger.”


National Ad Campaign Aims to Draw Political Attention to Same-Sex Couple’s Plight

Click here to download PDF
of the Washington Post ad

HAVERHILL, MASS. – Since being forcibly separated from his spouse nine months ago, Tim Coco has been trying to draw Washington’s attention to his family’s plight. Now, he is doing what he knows best – launching an advertising campaign.

Coco, 46, founder of a 17-year-old advertising agency, COCO+CO., is rolling out the campaign today (April 30) in the Washington Post’s Express. An estimated 280,000 adults will see the ad, headlined “Make this right!,” on the inside back page of the newspaper. Coco, however, is actually targeting only President Bush and 535 senators and representatives. A Web site, www.reunitethisfamily.com, was also launched.

“I don’t think we have captured their attention. After all, I can’t imagine the ‘compassionate conservatives’ would be so mean-spirited and anti-family as to ignore a couple who have endured so much grief and spent all of their savings trying to reunite their family,” Coco said.

The problem is Coco and Genesio J. “Junior” Oliveira Jr. are a same-sex couple. They legally married three years ago in Massachusetts, but were separated last August when the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) ordered Oliveira to leave the country after a five-year battle to obtain legal status. The couple met six years ago when Oliveira, a medical student and Brazilian national, was on vacation in the United States.

Coco said he is not actually naive enough to think Washington has not heard of his family’s plight. He is backing up the ad campaign with a threatened federal court challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act, the 1996 law that prevents federal recognition of same-sex unions. The couple has filed an “I-130 Petition for Alien Relative” – the same mechanism married heterosexual couples use to gain recognition for immigrant spouses. “If our leaders in Washington fail to grant relief and DHS denies the petition as expected, the legal war will be fought with the presidential election as a backdrop,” Coco said. “The Democrats better find some friends on the other side of the aisle. They have the most to lose.”

Coco believes, however, there is an immediate and simple solution to the couple’s separation. “The executive branch has the authority to grant Junior a visa now, and Congress has the power to grant relief by any number of means,” the ad reads.

Oliveira voluntarily entered the lengthy immigration process in the fall of 2002. As the law allows, he received his Social Security number and work authorization while his case made its way through the system. Oliveira also attended a local community college and became proficient in the English language – a prerequisite for resuming his medical studies.

Immigration Judge Francis L. Cramer denied Oliveira’s asylum petition in 2006 even though he found Oliveira’s testimony “credible.” A year later, it was reported that Judge Cramer’s chief qualification was his friendship with Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.). The Government Accountability Office (GAO) said Cramer had less than six months of immigration law experience. “It raises questions about the fairness of the conversion,” the GAO reported.

“Washington is the junk yard of failed promises,” Coco said, explaining “injustice is simply piled upon injustice.”

 


Bi-National Couple Urges Brazilian Government to Raise Immigration Issue During Secretary Rice’s Visit to Brazil

HAVERHILL , MASS. (March 7, 2008) – A same-sex couple, legally married in Massachusetts three years ago, is urging Brazilian President Luis Inácio Lula da Silva and Foreign Minister Celso Luiz Nunes Amorim to raise the issue of the couple’s forced separation during a meeting next week with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Timothy J. Coco and Genesio J. Oliveira Jr. were forcibly separated last August when the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) ordered Oliveira to leave the country after a five-year battle to obtain legal status.  The couple this week filed an “I-130 Petition for Alien Relative” – the same mechanism married heterosexual couples use to gain recognition for immigrant spouses.  DHS is expected to deny the petition on Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) grounds.  DOMA is a 1996 law that prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriage.

 “I am asking my government – which apparently recognizes my relationship since it permits my spouse to emigrate to Brazil – to support one of its citizens and take the U.S. to task for its inhumanity and mean-spiritedness in this matter.  My spouse is unable to move to Brazil since he is the primary caregiver for his 82-year-old mother who suffers from a number of health and vision ailments,” wrote Oliveira in letters being distributed to Silva, Amorim, Rice, President George W. Bush, Brazilian Ambassador to the U.S. Antonio Patriota and U.S. Ambassador to Brazil Clifford Sobel.

Rice is traveling to Brazil and Chile from March 13 to 15.  She is scheduled to meet with Silva and Amorim in the Brazilian capital of Brasilia .

 “I am cognizant of the many issues that need to be addressed with the United States of America during the secretary’s brief visit, but I pray you will raise my issue and urge the U.S. to grant me a visa to join my spouse and help with the care of my mother-in-law.,” concluded Oliveira.