In letter to Obama Administration, House Democrats seek protections for bi-national same-sex couples
September 27, 2011
By Adam Bink
U.S. House Democrats are calling on the Obama administration for more explicit assurances that new immigration policy will enable foreign nationals to stay in the United States if they’re in same-sex relationships with American citizens.
In two separate letters dated Sept. 27, 69 lawmakers seek additional clarification from the Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department that bi-national same-sex couples will be included in policy that aims to take low priority cases out of the deportation pipeline.
“The recognition of LGBT family ties as a positive factor is a critical step forward in identifying key family and community ties to implement common-sense immigration enforcement,” the letter states. “We ask that you ensure that this recognition is reflected in the work of DHS and DOJ employees and the newly-established working group in implementing your priorities for immigration enforcement.”
The letter is signed by Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), sponsor of the legislation known as the Uniting American Families, which would allow gay Americans to sponsor their foreign partners for residency in the United States. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and 68 other Democrats — including gay Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and David Cicilline (D-R.I.) — make up the additional signatories of the letter.
Under current immigration code, gay Americans can’t sponsor the foreign partners for residency in the United States because same-sex marriage isn’t legal in many places in the country and because the Defense of Marriage Act prohibits federal recognition of these unions. Consequently, foreign nationals who are in committed relationships with gay Americans may have to leave the United States or face deportation.
In a June 17 memo, U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement allows immigration officials to exercise prosecutorial discretion in cases they deem low priority for deportation, although this memo offers no explicit guidance on foreign nationals in same-sex relationships.
On Aug. 18, the Obama administration unveiled new policy based on this memo saying it would examine foreign nationals facing deportation on a case-by-case basis and take those who are low priority out of the pipeline.
Officials are set to weigh a person’s ties and contributions to the community and family relationships as reasons to take potential deportee out of consideration. Administration officials have stated that being in a same-sex relationship will be considered in the context of community contributions and family relationships.
However, lawmakers in the letter seek additional assurances that bi-national same-sex couples won’t be left out as part of this consideration.
House Democrats ask that LGBT family ties be made an explicit component of the guidance for the working group examining deportation cases to ensure field staff are aware of the policy.
“Without specific guidance, it is unlikely that agency officers, agents, and attorneys making decisions about individual cases will be aware that LGBT family ties are a factor for consideration for exercising discretion in closing or not initiating removal proceedings,” the letter states.
Additionally, lawmakers ask that the working group include a member experienced in working with gay immigrants and their families to ensure that these factors are recognized in the working group’s case-by-case review of deportation cases.
“The vulnerability of LGBT immigrants — the historical stigmatization of whom both within and outside the U.S. is well-documented — makes knowledgeable review a necessity,” the letter states.