The Obama administration announced this past week that it will be implementing a new policy when it comes to prioritizing immigration cases that has the potential to benefit married binational same-sex couples that currently face being separated.
The 1996 Defense of Marriage Act bars the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages which for the purposes of immigration means that an American-born citizen in a same-sex marriage cannot sponsor their foreign-born partner for citizenship. This has led to numerous cases where same-sex couples have been split apart due to no fault of their own.
However, the administration announced this week that it would be implementing a new case-by-case review process of 300,000 undocumented immigrants facing possible deportation so that the administration can determine which cases are high priority and which are low priority and pursue them accordingly. Obviously, for same-sex couples who have followed immigration rules closely and would otherwise qualify for spousal sponsorship, this could save them from being separated.
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.”
Steve Ralls of Immigration Equality is quoted by Metro Weekly as saying that this is “great news” for binational same-sex couples already facing deportation, but clarified this change will offer relief to those couples who have reached a stage of imminent removal. He added that Immigration Equality is “still waiting on the administration to provide some relief for all couples even before they are out of status and before they are already facing the prospect of imminent removal.”
The administration’s new announcement does however build on a June 17 memo that spelled out immigration officials have discretionary powers to assess which cases they feel to be a priority — this order was not explicitly LGBT inclusive, so the administration’s latest statement affirming LGBT inclusion is of considerable importance.
A case most recently in the news was that of U.S. born Bradford Wells and his partner Australian born Anthony John Makk who despite a 19-year relationship, seven of those married, saw Makk’s application for permanent residency as a spouse of an American citizen denied because of the federal Defense of Marriage Act even though Makk meets all other requirements for residency. Read more about the couple’s story here.