In response to a letter from 84 members of Congress, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced today that it will be releasing written guidance to extend discretionary relief to LGBT immigrants with U.S. citizen spouses and partners. This guidance will explicitly 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.
Until now, LGBT families and same-sex couples were treated differently from other families for deportation. In June of 2011, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano issued a memorandum instructing officers to use discretion when deciding which deportation cases to pursue; the memo told officers to take family ties into consideration by classifying those individuals with strong ties as “low priority.” There was no explicit mention of LGBT families and same-sex couples, however, leaving the 36,000 bi-national same-sex couples without relief since the Defense of Marriage Act prevents US citizens from sponsoring their partners for residence or citizenship in the US. DHS stated verbally in August of last year that it intended for the “family” guidelines to be LGBT-inclusive, but never made that statement in writing.
“These LGBT families are critical parts of their communities, neighborhoods, and workforces,” Congressman Nadler (NY) wrote in the August letter. “To keep them intact, it is critical that the Administration put in writing its policy of providing prosecutorial discretion with deference to family ties among LGBT persons.”
Our Jennifer Chrisler agrees. “This is incredible news for the 36,000 bi-national same-sex couples in the U.S. – nearly half of whom are raising children. Too often, our nation, founded by immigrants, treats non-citizen same-sex spouses and their partners as legal strangers to one another. No parent in our country should be forced to make the heart-wrenching choice of whether to leave their spouse and children behind or to whether to uproot their children from their schools, friends, community and extended families to settle in another country with more welcoming immigration laws. These new written guidelines will bring these families one step closer to being treated with the respect that all American families deserve. We thank President Obama’s administration and offer congratulations to our friends at Immigration Equality for spearheading the community effort to get this done.”
Family Equality Council Praises Obama Administration And Congratulates Immigration Equality For Helping To Protect Bi-National Families