Back in July, the White House announced that it was reviewing deportation policy. The stated aim was to concentrate on criminals and to stop removing those with no convictions, domestic violence victims, young students, military service members, close family of American citizens and the elderly.
A review of all 300,000 new cases in immigration courts to sort out low priority cases from the big backlog has now started. From December, trials will start in Baltimore and Denver reviewing current cases and deciding who should stay or go.
This plan supposedly includes lesbians and gays who are married or in a civil partnership.
But the guidance released last week [PDF] for the policy revision omits bi-national same-sex couples.
The New York Times points this out as well that:
The policy is unclear and potentially unfair in ways that are typical of the immigration system. The process of enforcement lacks transparency. The concrete factors for identifying potential beneficiaries have not been spelled out. Even the beneficiaries will remain in legal limbo, with their cases closed but not dismissed.
There seems to be no appeals process for people who believe they should be allowed to stay if they are picked to be deported. Even for convicted criminals, the standards are opaque. Someone with a minor conviction presenting no risk seems subject to deportation — sometimes even a person against whom charges were dropped.
A November 12 investigation by The Times found that the new policy was being applied very unevenly across the country and has led to vast confusion both in immigrant communities and among agents charged with carrying it out.
Immigration activist Matthew Kolken was particularly cynical about the new policy guidance:
“[It's] nothing more than a public relations move and is being done to placate immigration reform activists that are threatening to stay home next November,” he said.
Steve Ralls, spokesperson for Immigration Equality, told the Washington Blade that the lack of explicit mention of bi-national same-sex couples “isn’t just deeply disappointing; it is also detrimental to LGBT immigrants and their American spouses and partners.”
“By declining to address, in writing, the unique circumstances surrounding those couples, DHS has left too much room for interpretation and left too many couples vulnerable to separation,” Ralls said.
“There is no justifiable reason for exclusionary guidelines, and every reason to be explicit in clarifying that the administration believes LGBT Americans should not be forced apart from their husbands and wives.”
Ralls cited as an example of a problem with vague guidance a Boston-area bi-national couple who were told by an immigration official they couldn’t qualify for relief under the new policy — even though they’re legally married.
An anonymous DHS official told the Blade that same-sex couples aren’t explicitly mentioned in the guidance because the Obama administration wants to cover both married and unmarried LGBT couples.
While I appreciate prior commitments by DHS that LGBT family ties will be taken into account in immigration enforcement decisions – and that this will be explained to ICE agents – without such a directive in writing, there is a serious risk that such families could be wrongfully divided. With the administration taking an otherwise positive step to make immigration enforcement fairer, it is extremely frustrating that families of LGBT binational couples remain at risk. I will be working to ensure that those families are also protected.
Picture by xtopher1974