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Gender-bending couple claiming bias by INS

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Susan Falvella-Garraty

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A couple have accused the Immigration and Naturalization Service of bias against them because of their atypical gender histories. The she used to be a he, and the husband used to be a woman.

Katherine Spray was born in Ireland and lived as a male named Damien Niland until 1991. Her now husband, Pat Spray, originally named Patricia, was born female in Texas. The then Patricia Spray was married twice and gave birth to a daughter in 1980 but said in a newspaper interview that she never felt right about her gender and divorced over those feelings.

Neither have had surgery to change gender. Katherine, who wears her hair long and has genetic and physical attributes that also support the female gender, first came to the United States in 1995 from Ireland. She and Pat met over the internet, toured the U.S., married in North Carolina, and applied for a marriage-based visa.

Problems arose when the former Patricia Spray was found not to have secured a divorce from her former husband after their split in 1978. The two filed for a divorce last month in the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington.

"They are hunting us, and the only reason we can think of is that we are transgendered," Katherine Spray told The Washington Post.

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The Immigration and Naturalization service has said it has challenged her visa because of Pat Spray’s previously unsecured divorce. Katherine Spray lost her internet-based job because the INS informed her employer she did not have legal status to work in the U.S.

"They are staying temporarily in the Washington, D.C., area," said their attorney, Rex Wingerter. "Their schedules are very unusual," he added in response to an interview request.

That’s not the only thing unusual. The Sprays told the Post they have been accused by the INS of having a sham marriage. They also allege that Katherine has been threatened with imprisonment unless her application is withdrawn. The INS has confirmed that it has forwarded the case for criminal prosecution, a move immigration experts deem to be highly unusual.

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