Thursday, March 31, 2011

USCIS: Allow Love, and Say Yes to Keeping Our Families in the US

by Chris Barnett, cross-posted from Daily Kos

This posting is dedicated to Gina, who is soon exiling herself from her home on the West Coast to be with her partner in the UK. We should be ashamed to let ourselves lose this good citizen as she does what she must for herself, and for love.

For Americans in same-gender relationships with non-US citizens (or binationals as we refer to ourselves), the fight to try and secure the right to sponsor our partners for legal residency so that they can be with us in the US has been a long, and often dispiriting one. So it is not surprising that our community has been thrown into a tumult with word this week that the United States Customs and Immigration Service (USCIS) was considering the possible changes as to how our families are treated under the law, following the Administration's recent change in stance re: DOMA.

From Jennifer Vanasco at just two days ago:
Newsweek/The Daily Beast has learned that the heads of two USCIS [U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services] districts, Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, informed attorneys from the advocacy group American Immigration Lawyers Association that cases in their districts involving married gay and lesbian couples would be put on hold. The news could have far-reaching effects.

Questions have been swirling because of course no one knows exactly what this meant, and in fact what seemed like potential for reprieve quickly went into backpedal mode, with emphasis on the fact that the abeyance would likely only endure short-term, as USCIS considered implications of the Administration's stance and what that might mean for changes in policy. Yesterday, we found out that USCIS press secretary Christopher S. Bentley was stating:
“The cases were held while we were waiting for legal guidance. There’s no need to hold the cases any longer.”

Essentially, what we hoped would be an end to our partners being deported, seems like a crumb tossed out instead, and cruelly so. With the abeyance now lifted, the best binational couples can now hope for--especially those facing deportation proceedings--is case-by-case review. Still, it seems a door has cracked open, and this issue is coming into the public eye with much greater frequency and to a much greater degree than ever before. This is, I guess, a good thing--yet even so, Mr. Bentley states a falsehood, that there is no need to hold the cases any longer. The denial of the right of LGBT Americans to sponsor their foreign partners has severe consequences not only for the couples involved, but for all who love and count on them. It also inherently diminishes ALL of our families and relationships. In fact, the biased and misguided laws which penalize us for who we love--and by extension all those who love and count on us--are the main reason to hold these cases, in perpetuity!

Currently, Americans in same-gender binational relationships have these choices: leave the country to live in one that acknowledges our families; try to maintain the relationships long distance, which frequently leads to a ban on our partners coming in to the country due to the federal government viewing them as overstay risks; be torn apart and give up the chance for the family we should all be so fortunate to find; or recognize that the law is afoul of our families, and relegate ourselves to the shadows to live with our undocumented partners. This situation must end! No one should have to give up being American in America, and all that means, because of who they love.

Binationals have been working on this issue for years, as well as organizations like Out4Immigration, and others. Much of the focus in this effort has been on the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA), a bill which would open family reunification to LGBT people and their loved ones. Stop the Deportations/The DOMA Project is also a good place to follow day-by-day developments as the terrain continues to shift. While recent developments bring up more questions than answers, what is clearly and quickly emerging is that the time to lobby policy makers only has passed, and we must now also engage those who are as well enforcing the cruel laws that rip apart the lives of citizens.

Those of us who are affected know that the time is past for this cruel implication of DOMA to be relegated to the dustbin of overturned, prejudiced policies. Now, we need help. Out4Immigration is running a petition at to appeal to the President, Secretary Napolitano, and the USCIS as well as Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to stop deporting our partners. Will you help?

Promoting the petition doesn't hurt, too! Thanks, everyone!

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