In a move to gain clarification regarding the Obama Administration’s new immigration policy that was announced earlier last summer, a group of sixty nine US House Democrats have sent a letter dated September 27th, 2011, calling on the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security to provide assurance that the new policy will include protection against deportations of foreign born partners of American citizens in same sex relationships by placing the cases under a low priority status.
When the initial announcement from the Obama Administration was released back on June 17th 2011, the new immigration policy was to have the authorities focus on high profile cases, such as immigrants with a criminal record or gang membership history. There was no mention regarding the administration’s position on influx of deportation cases that dealt specifically with same sex binational couples. In a motion to support the urgency of the new policy and to ensure its enforcement, the Department of Homeland Security released a memorandum on August 18th 2011, which explained that one’s “person’s ties and contribution to the community, including family relationships” is a major factor on determining the status of a cases priority. When officials were questioned about whether or not this included LGBTQ families, two sources stated it did though there has been no official documentation of their inclusion.
In the recent September 27th letter, the House Democrats wrote,
“The August 18 announcement made clear that the identification of high-priority deportation cases would be based on the June 17th, 2011 prosecutorial discretion memorandum released by the Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, John Morton, and explained that a DHS and Department of Justice (DOJ) interagency working group would be created to review removal cases and prepare guidance for the field. Director Morton’s memorandum identifies “Factors to Consider When Exercising Prosecutorial Discretion.” These factors include “the person’s ties and contributions to the community, including family relationships” and “whether the person has a U.S citizen or permanent resident spouse, child, or parent.” The memorandum does not, however, explicitly say that LGBT family ties, including those of spouses and partners of U.S citizens and permanent residents, are to be included among the family relationships that weigh in favor of an exercise of discretion.”
The House Democrat’s ask in the letter that the Administration take into consideration two main request while establishing the further implementation of the new policy.
The first request as written in the letter includes,
“We ask that consideration of LGBT family ties be communicated in the guidance being prepared by the new DHS/DOJ working group. All field staff implementing the new policies in all relevant DHS and DOJ agencies must be made aware of this new consideration as they exercise discretion in deciding which new cases to place in removal proceedings and which current cases to close. Without specific guidance, it is unlikely the 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 second request as written in the letter includes,
“Additionally, we ask that the working group include a member experienced in working with LGBT immigrants and their families to ensure that these factors are recognized and understood in the working group’s case-by-case review of all individuals currently in removal proceedings as well as its review of the new cases placed in removal proceedings. The vulnerability of LGBT immigrants – historical stigmatization of whom both within and outside the U.S is well-documented –makes knowledgeable review a necessity.”
Immigration in its current form has an engrossed inequality when it comes to the rights available for heterosexual Americans versus LGBT Americans. American citizens who are in a same sex binational relationship with a foreign born national do not have the opportunity to sponsor their partner though this opportunity is afforded to an American citizen who is in a heterosexual relationship with a foreign born national. Same sex binational couples, estimated in the tens of thousands living in America, have been fighting for the right to sponsor their foreign born partner for many years but the battle continues. Grassroots organizations like Out4Immigration have worked diligently for the inclusion of LGBT Americans in immigration reform and to gain Congressional support for the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA), legislature which is currently in both Houses of Congress which would grant an American citizen in a same sex binational relationship the right to sponsor their foreign born partner or spouse. Even as more and more states adopt marriage equality laws, due to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), married same sex binational couples are not protected at the Federal level when it comes to many issues, including immigration sponsorship.
Those who have been organizing and fighting for LGBT equality when it comes to immigration wait in anticipation on the Administrations official response to the September 27th letter.