The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced in June 2011 that immigration cases that are classified as “low priority” for removal include those with family ties to a U.S. citizen. “In an effort to make clear the definition of the phrase ‘family relationships,’ I have directed [U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE)] to disseminate written guidance to the field that the interpretation of the phrase ‘family relationships’ includes long-term, same-sex partners,” Homeland Secretary Janet Napolitano wrote in a memo issued at the end of September.
“This is a huge step forward,” said Rachel Tiven, director of legal advocacy group Immigration Equality. She estimates that there are approximately 36,000 bi-national same-sex couples affected by immigration discrimination in the U.S. “This is the first time the government has recognized in writing that the relationship between a gay American and a gay immigrant is a real and positive factor in an immigration case,” added Tiven.
DHS officials have long stated that same-sex partners will be considered family members under the prosecutorial discretion policy. Despite these promises, the policy was ambiguous and LGBT activists urged for a written statement. More than 80 Democrats wrote a letter to Secretary Napolitano on July 31st stating, “It would be beyond senseless to see LGBT persons with family ties here in the United States deported” because there was no written policy to guide immigration officers on the policy of same-sex relationships.
The New York Times reports that thousands of deportation cases have been closed under prosecutorial discretion. Though this allows immigrants to remain in the U.S., this does not allow them to gain any legal status.
Due to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), same-sex immigrant spouses cannot apply for green cards, permanent resident visas, and they can face deportation. DOMA prohibits U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) from legally recognizing same-sex marriages, even for couples married in states that have legalized same-sex marriage, reports the Huffington Post.
Reason TV recently told the story of U.S. Navy veteran Hope Hall and her partner Nathalie Gaulthier. Gaulthier, an immigrant from Canada, has lived and worked in the U.S. for 17 years, currently running an internationally renowned circus arts school in Los Angeles. Though she runs a successful business, pays taxes to the U.S. government, and has been in a committed relationship for six years, Gaulthier has consistently been denied a green card. She is currently awaiting renewal of her O-1 visa.
“I could just lie to the government and marry a man,” said Gaulthier. “But I don’t want to lie. I want to be honest.”
“The new guidelines will put in writing a commitment the [Obama] Administration has expressed over the past year,” said Tiven. “Now, the courts and Congress should act to make relief permanent, and provide access to green cards for all LGBT families.” Immigration Equality is now preparing to challenge DOMA in front of the Supreme Court, reports the Huffington Post.
Take Action: It is imperative that we have policies that protect all families. Please click here to contact your elected officials and tell them why you support immigration reform that protects same-sex couples.
To watch Reason TV’s video about Hall and Gaulthier, please click the play button on the video below.