A family in Northern California is set to be torn apart, as Shirley Tan faces being forcibly deported back to the Philippines, leaving behind her life partner of 23 years and two sons.

Tan, 43, was handcuffed and arrested by immigration agents at her home at the end of January.

Despite Tan and Jaylynn Mercado, an American citizen, having married in San Francisco in 2004, US federal law does not recognise their marriage and does not allow same-sex partners to sponsor their foreign partners to gain legal permanent residency.

“The thing is,” Tan told the Mercury News, “it’s not only me who they are punishing. It is mainly my kids, because they are innocent. They are the ones suffering.”

Although new legislation was recently introduced in Congress to allow Americans in a same-sex relationship to sponsor their “permanent partners” for legal residency, it is unlikely to become law before Tan is deported on Friday.

“Shirley Tan’s unacceptable situation is just one example of why Congress must pass immigration equality legislation. The Uniting American Families Act, which I co-sponsored, will allow lesbian and gay Americans to sponsor their permanent partners for residency in the United States,” said Jackie Speier, one of 110 cosponsors of the bill to recognise same-sex bi-national families in the US.

It is reported that around 37,000 couples in the US face similar circumstances to Shirley Tan’s case.

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