Saturday, September 29, 2012

DHS Puts Deportation Relief Policy For Same-Sex Couples In Writing

Finally! After more than a year of requests from various stakeholders, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has issued written guidelines making it clear that same-sex families are to be afforded protections from deportation (or "removal") proceedings when a foreign-born member of a binational couple is out of legal immigration status. The decision was made by Janet Napolitano, as the head of DHS, which is the Cabinet Department which includes the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency. Same-sex couples were believed to be included under the Obama Administration's announced policy of using prosecutorial discretion to only go through with removal proceeding for only certain classes undocumented immigrants (likes ones who had criminal records or no cognizable ties to United States citizens or legal permanent residents), but this latest action clarified that same-sex couples are explicitly to be granted recognition on the basis of the relationship between the foreign national and the American.

Immigration Equality sent out a press release celebrating the good news:
For Immediate Release
September 28, 2012

Contact:  Steve Ralls
(202) 347-7007 /
Immigration Equality Praises Obama Administration for New, Written Guidance Providing Discretionary Relief to Lesbian & Gay Immigrant Families
Extension of Prosecutorial Discretion Follows Calls for Relief from Congressional Leaders
Washington, DC –Immigration Equality today praised the Obama Administration, and specifically the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), for new, written guidance that will extend discretionary relief to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) immigrants with U.S. citizen spouses and partners. The new written directive, which was announced in response to a Congressional letter spearheaded by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), marks one of the very first times LGBT families have been recognized within federal immigration policies. The guidelines, which are expected to be distributed soon to field offices across the country, will instruct officers and field agents to recognize LGBT families for purposes of relief as defined by a June 2011 memo from Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton.
“This is a huge step forward,” said Rachel B. Tiven, executive director of Immigration Equality. “Until now, LGBT families and their lawyers had nothing to rely on but an oral promise that prosecutorial discretion would include all families. Today, DHS has responded to Congress and made that promise real. The Administration’s written guidance will help families facing separation and the field officers who are reviewing their cases.”
In the June 2011 memo from Director Morton, the Department of Homeland Security spelled out factors ICE officers should consider when deciding which immigration cases are classified as “low priority” for removal. Those guidelines included family ties to a U.S. citizen. DHS stated verbally in August of last year that it intended for the “family” guidelines to be LGBT-inclusive, but it had not previously distributed written guidance codifying that intent to field offices.  In a letter yesterday to the 84 Members of Congress who demanded written guidelines, the Administration said it intends to do so.
“In an effort to make clear the definition of the phrase ‘family relationships,’ I have directed ICE to disseminate written guidance to the field that the interpretation of the phrase ‘family relationships’ includes long-term, same-sex partners,” Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano wrote.
“The new guidelines will put in writing a commitment the 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.”
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Immigration Equality is a national organization fighting for equality under U.S. immigration law for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and HIV-positive individuals.
As I've mentioned before on stories involving LGBT immigration rights, I have been on the board of directors of Immigration Equality since 2008. Regardless, this is a big story and a huge win for people in binational same-sex relationships who do not have to live in fear of being separated from their loved ones by the actions of the United States government, as long as the policy is in place.

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