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Dept. of Homeland Security announces change that may impact separation of same-sex couples

DOMA trials

By Adam Bink

Some positive news today from the Obama Administration:

The Obama administration unveiled on Thursday new immigration policy that could enable many undocumented immigrants facing deportation to stay within the United States — a move that could enable bi-national same-sex couples at the risk of separation to stay together within the country.

Under the new guidance, immigration authorities within the Obama administration will conduct a case-by-case review of the approximately 300,000 undocumented immigrants facing possible deportation to determine which cases are high priority and low priority. Those who have been convicted of crimes or pose a security risk will be a higher priority for deportation, while those who are deemed lower priority will be taken out of the pipeline.

Administration officials will weigh a person’s ties and contributions to the community and family relationships. During an on background conference call with media outlets on Thursday, a senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said these criteria are inclusive of LGBT families and same-sex couples.

“The prosecutorial discretion memo provides for the use of discretion for people with strong community ties, with community contributions and with family relationships,” the official said. “We consider LGBT families to be families in this context.”

Under current immigration code, straight Americans can sponsor their spouses for residency in the United States through the green card application process if their spouses are foreign nationals. The same rights aren’t available to gay Americans 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 — which could mean separation from their partner — if these foreign nationals are discovered to be undocumented or upon expiration of their temporary visas. The new policy guidance offers another opportunity for the Obama administration to cancel the deportation of these foreign nationals, enabling them to remain in the country with their partners.

Steve Ralls, a spokesperson for Immigration Equality, said the new change seems like “good news” for bi-national same-sex couples who are facing imminent separation via a deportation or removal order.

[…]

But Ralls said further action is needed because the new guidance doesn’t affect bi-national couples who need relief, but haven’t received a deportation order or removal notice. LGBT immigration organizations have been calling on the Obama administration is issue a blanket moratorium on DOMA-related deportations to ensure that married bi-national couples can stay together in the United States.

“Those couples are still waiting for an answer as to how the administration will ensure they remain in the country and are given the same treatment and solutions, under the law, available to straight couples, too,” Ralls said.

The new policy is in response to a letter that Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) as part of a group of 20 Democratic senators wrote in April asking President Obama to set up a process to stop the deportation of people who would qualify for citizenship under the DREAM Act. The DREAM Act, or Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, would allow young, undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship if they pursue a college education or military service.

Additionally, the new change builds off an existing June 17 memo enabling immigration officials to exercise discretion in deportation cases that aren’t deemed high priority. Groups had been seeking to expand the memo to include explicit mention of bi-national same-sex couples.

Lavi Soloway, founder of Stop the Deportations, said the policy unveiled on Thursday takes this previous guidance further and moves the administration “one step closer” to enacting a uniform policy to end deportations of gay foreign nationals living in the United States.

“It puts the full power of the administration behind the enforcement of prosecutorial discretion rather than simply allowing each ICE attorney or deportation officer to decide whether and how that discretion should be exercised,” Soloway said. “By undertaking a review of all pending deportation cases at the highest level and clarifying that existing prosecutorial discretion guidelines include LGBT families, Secretary [of Homeland Security Janet] Napolitano will now have the opportunity to stop every deportation involving a lesbian or gay binational couple.”

As noted in the piece, this doesn’t impact those who have not yet received a deportation order, but it might if/when they do. As I understand it, this transitions the system from one where an ICE official has discretion to one where DHS and Napolitano are reviewing cases and determining what is high priority and what is not.

I don’t know if this will save couples like John Makk and Bradford Wells, but it might.

25 Comments

  • 1. Gregory in SLC  |  August 18, 2011 at 2:05 pm

    Every step is welcome! thx for announcement Adam!

    Lavi Soloway, founder of Stop the Deportations, said the policy unveiled on Thursday takes this previous guidance further and moves the administration “one step closer” to enacting a uniform policy to end deportations of gay foreign nationals living in the United States.

  • 2. Ann S.  |  August 18, 2011 at 2:05 pm

    §

  • 3. Sagesse  |  August 18, 2011 at 2:10 pm

    It's a piecemeal solution that addresses the most urgent cases, and as such stops wasting time on people who are not a risk. It does not address the person who is in the country legally now, when their visa expires…. are they supposed to stay illegally in hopes of falling with the discretionary exemption? And it does nothing at all for persons who have not been able to gain entry to the country in the first place. Still, a welcome step forward.

  • 4. Gregory in SLC  |  August 18, 2011 at 2:12 pm

    AGREED!

    @ But Ralls said further action is needed because the new guidance doesn’t affect bi-national couples who need relief, but haven’t received a deportation order or removal notice. LGBT immigration organizations have been calling on the Obama administration is issue a blanket moratorium on DOMA-related deportations to ensure that married bi-national couples can stay together in the United States.

  • 5. Alan_Eckert  |  August 18, 2011 at 2:13 pm

    But it adds a lot more red tape that the government has to go through, hopefully slowing down the process long enough for DOMA to be finally gone.

  • 6. Ronnie  |  August 18, 2011 at 3:11 pm

    A good step…. more would be better….. keep up the pressure……subscribing & sharing…….

    America’s Next Top Model Transgender Video http://www.advocate.com/News/Daily_News/2011/08/1

    In cycle 11 of America's Next Top Model, Isis King was the first Transgender woman to compete on Top Model placing in 10th for that cycle. Now she's back for cycle 17, aka the All-star cycle, looking fierce & ready to work that Top Model runway again…… get em girl, get em…. <3…Ronnie

  • 7. JacobRD  |  August 18, 2011 at 3:20 pm

    A circuit court judge ruled Aug. 18 against four Catholic charities in a lawsuit against the state over the right to continue with foster care services.
    http://www.windycitymediagroup.com/gay/lesbian/ne

  • 8. Donald  |  August 18, 2011 at 3:46 pm

    What lesson can we learn from the Administration's case-by–case review? Last summer, Sen. Durbin from Illinois along with 20 others sent Pres. Obama a letter asking him to delay the deportation of DREAM students. They got no response. Two days ago, the Latinos reported in numerous forums that they just might sit out the 2012 election unless something was done about the DREAM act. Guess what? In 2 days, we got a response — not a total victory, but at least a step in the right direction.

    So, gays, what are we going to do about DOMA which the President does not have to enforce (an opinion agreed to by Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Scalia, Justice O'Connor, Justice Souter, and over 7 court cases, just to name a few). Yet Pres. Obama insists he has to enforce DOMA.

    What are we going to do?

  • 9. JonT  |  August 18, 2011 at 5:18 pm

    'What are we going to do? '

    I say we vote for whatever knuckle-dragger wins the republican nomination. That'll show 'em!

    /sarcasm

  • 10. Anna Bryan  |  August 18, 2011 at 5:11 pm

    This is great news, however it just affects deportation. DOMA will still prevent these couples from obtaining the green card that they are entitled to. This lack of green card prevents the foreign-born national from getting employment within the United States. How many couples and families can afford to live on one person's salary? DOMA is still doing terrible harm to these couples, and it's never mentioned in this discussion.

  • 11. AnonyGrl  |  August 18, 2011 at 6:09 pm

    Off Topic… but once again, when NOM has nothing else to fall back on, the go to "homosexuality = pedophilia".
    http://www.nomblog.com/12678/#comments

    Sorry… DON'T go read this if you have a low tolerance for bullshit… it is more of Brian's desperate "give us money, or we won't be able to continue lining our own pockets" crap. It is just getting more desperate as they go on. In this one, among other things, they pat themselves on the back for making Rick Santorum a viable candidate. They claim his coming in fourth in the Iowa Straw poll proves something more than he was only the fourth least loony choice there. Unsurprisingly, they fail to mention that their other "star" on their bus tour, Tim Pawlenty, dropped OUT of the race after coming in THIRD in the same poll. Nor do they mention Ron Paul, who came in second (and hasn't signed their silly little pledge) at all.

    FYI, I am sure you all know by this time Dan Savage's definition of santorum. In this week's column, and with apologies to others named Rick… he decided to support a reader's new definition of "rick", which was "to extract santorum orally." Absolutely disgusting, and absolutely classic!

    Brian also refers to a "report by family scholars", twice he calls it exactly that, a "report by family scholars". Not once does he say what the report actually is, nor that it comes from the Institute for American Values, which, you may recall, is David Blankenhorn's organization… David being the guy who told Judge Walker that his expert studies of marriage were neither expert, nor did they ever even touch on same sex marriage, and that “same-sex marriage would be likely to improve the well-being of gay and lesbian households and their children.” which didn't really do that much to help bolster the case of the lawyers who were paying him NOT to say things like that.

    Brian also, for no apparent reason, and with no explanation of what on earth it has to do with NOM's stated positions on marriage links to a brochure on a symposium entitled "Pedophilia: Minor-Attracted Persons and the DSM: Issues and Controversies." Neither the brochure nor the symposium seems to relate to marriage of any sort in any way at all. Your tactics are wearing VERY thin, Brian.

  • 12. AnonyGrl  |  August 19, 2011 at 7:30 am

    I just went back and checked some of the comments on this thread in NOM. It is heartening to see people calmly and rationally explaining what is wrong with what NOM says. It is also interesting to see that the over the top comments, the unpleasant ones, the rude ones, all come from NOM supporters.

  • 13. Sagesse  |  August 18, 2011 at 6:16 pm

    NOM spent $709,000 in Minnesota on 2010 marriage ads
    http://minnesotaindependent.com/86410/nom-spent-7

    and

    Gay marriage debate: Brace for a 15-month brawl
    http://www.startribune.com/politics/statelocal/12

  • 14. Sagesse  |  August 18, 2011 at 6:25 pm

    The arc of the moral universe, bending toward justice….

    Kin of NY lawmakers have same-sex weddings
    http://online.wsj.com/article/AP7daac5fd96204d3d9

  • 15. Carol  |  August 18, 2011 at 6:28 pm

    This is why it's important to re-elect Obama. Even though it's half a loaf, it's more than we would get with any of the Republicans.

  • 16. PBJ  |  August 18, 2011 at 8:58 pm

    True. The choice is basically half a loaf with him (and probably a fair bit more once he's in his second term) or a mugging from the Republicans.

  • 17. _BK_  |  August 19, 2011 at 12:12 am

    I wonder what the course of action for LGBT activists would be if a Republican won the White House. It's not a happy thought, but legislation like RMA would have no possibility of being signed into law. Our only option would be the courts and public referendums (courts would seem like the best option).

  • 18. Fluffyskunk  |  August 19, 2011 at 10:35 am

    No, this is why it's important to make him the first sitting US President to be defeated in the primaries. Replace him with a candidate (*coughKucinichcough*) who will actually do something once in office. Show him he can't hold us all hostage for a second term. I know it's a pipe dream, but that's what he deserves.

  • 19. AnonyGrl  |  August 19, 2011 at 10:47 am

    Kind of silly to replace him with someone who, sadly, can't win.

  • 20. Fluffyskunk  |  August 19, 2011 at 11:00 am

    Like I said, I know it's a pipe dream 🙂 But if it did come true, I wouldn't care if it was Kucinich or Clinton or the restless spirit of JFK, as long as it's not Obama. 😛

  • 21. Sagesse  |  August 18, 2011 at 6:43 pm

    Weprin Faces Backlash in Orthodox Community

    "The first New York politician imperiled by voting for same-sex marriage isn’t an upstate Republican senator – it’s a Democratic Assemblyman from New York City scrambling to hold his support in a special election. "
    http://www.cityhallnews.com/2011/08/weprin-faces-

  • 22. Sagesse  |  August 19, 2011 at 5:53 am

    The solution for some bi-national couples is strategically buried in a broader initiative to get some control over immigration enforcement. A clumsy step toward immigration reform, but still as step.

    Jan Brewer: Obama plan is 'backdoor amnesty'
    http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0811/61691.h

  • 23. Ronnie  |  August 19, 2011 at 8:33 am

    Robert Segwanyi Spared Deadly Deportation to Uganda for Now http://news.change.org/stories/robert-segwanyi-sp

    Robert Segwanyi was scheduled for deportation on August 18, from the United Kingdom's Heathrow airport. The UK was sending Robert back to Uganda, where he was tortured with molten plastic and imprisoned for being gay.

    Robert was spared from deportation at the very last minute according to his friend and fellow gay Urandan refugee John Bosco, "[Robert] is back in the detention centre waiting to hear what's next. He had 5 escorts up to the plane, and as he was about to board the plane the Home Office stopped his deportation. He is very tired and stressed since he has not been sleeping well. He is in pain."

    John Bosco told me on the phone that Robert has not been eating well and that he was considering suicide, "Since last Friday, when he was given the deportation notice he stopped eating. He threatened to kill himself, because he has had enough,” said Bosco.

    (me) Lets hope that the deportation gets cancelled permanently……..Like one of my friends said on Facebook……. "Christine O'Donnell and plenty of other Republican conservative "Christians" from America are encouraging this violent behavior in Uganda"…… I would add that NOM et al are encouraging it IN America as well with their Naziesque Presidential Gestapo…..I mean "Commission"…oh & the FACT that they are affiliated with mass murder advocates & Santorum who publicly stated that the pursuit of happiness & all of the constitution doesn't apply to LGBT tax paying Americans.

    Well I got a suggestion for the Religious Reich…. If the constitution & the pursuit of happiness doesn't apply to LGBT tax paying American citizens then…….

    DON'T [email protected]#KING TAX US!!!!!!!!!…… period ………….. > I …Ronnie

  • 24. DaveP  |  August 19, 2011 at 10:57 am

    " Robert was spared from deportation at the very last minute according to his friend and fellow gay Urandan refugee John Bosco, "[Robert] is back in the detention centre waiting to hear what's next. He had 5 escorts up to the plane, and as he was about to board the plane the Home Office stopped his deportation. "

    Jesus. What a nightmare.

    GET THESE STORIES INTO THE MAINSTREAM PRESS.

  • 25. Sagesse  |  August 19, 2011 at 9:41 am

    A perspective from the field.

    Return of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"?
    http://battleland.blogs.time.com/2011/08/19/55291

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