Today’s breaking story in Newsweek that two USCIS districts—Washington, DC and Baltimore—have informed attorneys from the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) that cases in their districts involving the green card applications of married gay and lesbian couples would be put on hold is the second major step this year toward green cards for same-sex binationals. (The first step was the February 23 decision by the Obama Administration that Section 3 of DOMA was unconstitutional.) Prior to the DOMA decision, these applications were routinely dismissed and deportations were carried out because DOMA rendered same-sex married couples “legal strangers”.
Combined, these two steps do more to end immigration inequality against same-sex binational couples than everything we’ve worked on since the Permanent Partners Immigration Act (the precursor to the Uniting American Families Act, UAFA) was first introduced in 2000. However, make no mistake that the work that has preceded these two monumental shifts toward ending the gratuitous cruelty that shuts out same-sex married couples from the same rights as opposite-sex married couples has as its bedrock the grassroots advocacy of a handful of groups who have worked to raise awareness in some of the darkest days of the Bush Administration (remember those?) and these first two years of Obama, as well as the unwavering support of Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT).
What does the USCIS announcement really mean to you if you are a married same-sex binational couple? First, seek the advice of a competent and trusted immigration attorney. And, if you are uncomfortable with the advice you receive, get a second opinion – or even a third. The best place to start is with the law firm Masliah and Soloway, they are the founders of Immigration Equality, have co-authored the original PPIA legislation and now run the Stop the Deportations Project. Lavi Soloway has been the attorney for a number of the couples whose cases have recently been put on hold by immigration judges, who, following President Obama’s order to stop defending DOMA, have decided that they cannot make a ruling against a same-sex binational couple’s green card case without using DOMA to block it. As a result, the decisions in these cases have been delayed.
Second, note the key word here is “delayed”. The optimists among us like to believe DOMA will be gone by the end of the year. Pessimists think it will take 10 years and there will be numerous setbacks along the way. The reality is none of us know how long this will take, but if we look at any civil rights history, once a movement gains momentum, and that momentum becomes relentless, barriers tend to come down faster than expected. And that’s where all of us come in – whether we are a married same-sex binational couple supported by an immigration attorney’s advice to file the I-130, or a couple advised against marrying and/or filing right now, we need to tell our stories at every opportunity.
In the past 10 years it is our stories that have helped us make progress each small step of the way. From individuals who financed their own trips to Washington DC, who visited their representatives in their home offices, who wrote letters and made phone calls – these actions led to the record 161 co-sponsors of UAFA in the last session of Congress, got us a Congressional hearing in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, led to more than 30 cities and one state (California) sponsoring resolutions supporting same-sex binationals and put us in at least two Comprehensive Immigration Reform bills (with promises of inclusion in others).
It is this work by all of us in the LGBT immigration rights community and our allies in the marriage equality movement that has led to what is happening now.
There are three clear goals now in sight that we all need to work on together:
1) A national policy of abeyance (i.e., putting same-sex binationals’ green card applications on hold until DOMA can be resolved one way or the other). According to Christopher Nugent, who chairs the immigrant-rights committee for the American Bar Association and has testified before the Senate on immigrant benefits and DOMA, the two individual USCIS districts are unlikely to be making the decision to put green card applications from same-sex binationals on hold on their own. He suggests that the shift in practice is a national one because “they can’t do that in two jurisdictions and not do it in other jurisdictions.” How to accomplish: If you are able, seek the advice of an immigration attorney and weigh your options for getting married and if you can get married (or already are married), file the I-130 form (with appropriate legal counsel).
2) Repeal DOMA. More than 50% of Americans support marriage equality. Nearly 70% support gay and lesbian couples having the same rights as heterosexual couples. Keep repeal DOMA in the headlines. Use your social media tools like Facebook to circulate stories and get those on the sidelines to become active supporters.
3) Champion UAFA. The bill that would add three words to current immigration law “or permanent partner” wherever the word “spouse” appears is scheduled to be reintroduced in Congress very soon. With USCIS delaying decisions on green cards due to the fragile state of DOMA as law of the land, the time has never been better than to showcase the justice this bill will deliver to gay and lesbian American citizens with foreign partners.
If you have not joined Out4Immigration yet either via our Yahoo Groups list or Facebook page (or both), please sign up today. Those of you already working with us know that we will bring you the news and the calls to action via these two channels as it happens. Want to be more involved in community outreach, communications or in helping us launch creative ways to get those green cards? Email us at email@example.com
Kathy Drasky is a volunteer media coordinator for Out4Immigration.
update at 2.30pm PST: According to Metroweekly - U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Asks Field Offices to Put Bi-National Immigration Cases on Hold.
Following up on reports from this weekend, Metro Weekly just received confirmation from Christopher Bentley, the spokesman for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, that cases of foreign partners who are married to a same-sex partner and would otherwise be eligible for a green card are on hold in light of questions about the continued validity of the Defense of Marriage Act. (read more...)