House Democrats have called on the Obama administration to issue more explicit guidelines stating that foreign-born same-sex partners of American citizens can remain in the country.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and a total of 69 Democrats have written to the Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department asking them to clarify that the administration’s recent shift in immigration policy to tackling high priority cases will mean that immigration proceedings involving bi-national same-sex couples will no longer be pursued by the administration.
“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.”
“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.
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 up due to no fault of their own.
The Obama administration announced back in August that it would be implementing a new case-by-case review process 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 gay bi-national couples from being separated.
This action served to build on a June 17 memo from the administration 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 later statement affirming LGBT inclusion is of considerable importance.
However, LGBT immigration groups have warned that without explicit guidance saying officials should not pursue foreign born partners in same-sex relationships who fulfill all other legal requirements for citizenship, it is likely that deportation cases will still occur and that even if they are abandoned further down the line they will still be costly and hurtful to those involved.
You can read the full letters over on the next page.
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