In another positive signal for married bi-national same-sex couples, immigration authorities have chosen to drop a case against a Venezuelan man in a same-sex marriage with his American-born partner who faced deportation for no other reason than the government does not recognize the couple’s marriage.
The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) decision means that Alex Benshimol and Douglas Gentry will not be split up. Benshimol was born in Venezuela and has been in a relationship with Gentry for six years. The couple married in July of 2010 but, because of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which bars the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriage, Benshimol cannot be granted a marriage-based green card.
In July of this year we reported that San Francisco Immigration Judge Marilyn Teeter had halted proceedings against Benshimol, citing the questionable constitutionality of Section 3 of DOMA,whereby she laid out two specific courses of action. Teeter firstly gave immigration officials 60 days to drop proceedings against Benshimol. If the authorities chose not to do so, Teeter said she would return to the case in September 2013, thereby enjoining that Benshimol would be protected from deportation until that time.
However, in a move the ICE calls “consistent with the agency’s focus on deporting foreigners convicted of crimes,” the ICE has responded with a motion to close the deportation proceedings. This follows the ICE in early July dropping a deportation case against another Venezuelan man who faced being parted from his same-sex spouse.
Immigration groups have praised the administration for this action, but point out that more needs to be done to lift DOMA’s burden on married same-sex binational couples.
“It’s great news that the administration is proactively dropping deportation proceedings,” says Steve Ralls, spokeman for Immigration Equality. But Ralls believes that the government still has a long way to go in bringing legal protection to LGBT married couples.
He explains that the feds have a pattern of waiting until the last minute before providing relief. “Essentially, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is saying that you must be faced with the worst case scenario to qualify for relief,” says Ralls. “The administration should be working to help families not face that scenario in the first place. We wish it didn’t have to come to removal.”
In another important case, a Colorado immigration judge on Thursday of last week rescheduled deportation proceedings against a Mexican national who is legally married to her American-born same-sex partner but is ineligible for a marriage-based green card solely because of the Defense of Marriage Act.
This follows the Obama administration’s announcement that the government will be changing immigration policies so as to pursue only high priority deportation cases which, when teamed with ongoing court cases that cast doubt on the constitutionality of DOMA, mean there is a greater scope for offering relief to married bi-national same-sex couples. Read more on that here.