Immigration Judge Postpones Deportation Proceedings For Two Years, Allowing Married Gay Binational Couple to Remain in U.S.
Directs Government Attorneys To Act on Request for Termination of Deportation Proceedings Within Sixty Days
SAN FRANCISCO, CA – This morning in San Francisco, Doug Gentry and Alex Benshimol -- a married same-sex binational couple -- appeared before Immigration Judge Marilyn Teeter for a deportation hearing and were permitted to remain in the country despite the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the law that prohibits the recognition of same-sex marriages by the federal government. This is the latest in a series of recent court rulings that have demonstrated the inequality that DOMA forces same-sex couples to live under.
Specifically, the judge laid out two options. She gave the government 60 days to decide whether it will agree to drop deportation proceedings against Alex -- a Venezuelan citizen -- altogether. If the government elects not to drop proceedings, the same judge will revisit the case again in September 2013, ensuring that Doug and Alex are protected from deportation for at least two more years allowing them to return to building a life together with their family, including Alex's two step-children.
"Today the Immigration Judge demonstrated compassion and understanding for Doug and Alex as a married binational couple, granting them a reprieve from deportation by postponing further proceedings to September 2013," said Lavi Soloway, lawyer for Doug and Alex, and founder of Stop the Deportations. "The Judge also gave the government 60 days to inform the court whether it will agree with our request to terminate these proceedings pursuant to prosecutorial discretion guidelines issued June 17 by Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton. We will continue to advocate for termination of these proceedings and a moratorium on all deportations of spouses of lesbian and gay Americans."
"Today's hearing was one more step in the march toward full federal equality for LGBT Americans and those they love," said Robin McGehee, executive director of GetEQUAL. "Doug and Alex's courage to stand up for their family and the tens of thousands of other families facing deportation from this country is nothing short of inspirational. We will continue to work on cases like these that highlight the lived discrimination that LGBT folks in this country face, and will not stop until we can rest our heads at night knowing that we are fully equal under the law."
"We are pleased with the progress that this case demonstrates." said Mickey Lim, Vice President of Out4Immigration. "However there are thousands of same-sex binational couples who are still living with uncertainty because of the Defense of Marriage Act and many more that have already been exiled or separated by this unfair discriminatory law. We applaud Doug and Alex's courage to put a face on the issue and will continue to work towards securing equal immigration rights for same sex couples! We look forward to the day when we can welcome all of our friends and families back home!"
Alex came into the U.S. 12 years ago from Venezuela and overstayed a tourist visa, an immigration violation that straight binational couples can easily remedy once married; as a gay married couple, Doug and Alex do not have that option. Many same sex binational couples are legally married like Alex and Doug, but they are still treated as legal strangers in the eyes of the federal government. There is only one reason Doug and Alex faced deportation proceedings at all — the Defense of Marriage Act, a law that the President and the Attorney General have both determined to be indefensible and unconstitutional.
To support the couple and to show widespread public support for their right to remain together, legally, in the United States, many organizations working for full federal equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Americans held a rally outside the courthouse in San Francisco where the hearing is scheduled to take place. Organizations leading the rally efforts include GetEQUAL, Marriage Equality USA, Out4Immigration, and Stop the Deportations.
These organizations launched a petition drive last week to show public support for Doug and Alex, garnering close to 17,000 signatures of individuals who are supportive of assigning all the same rights and responsibilities to same-sex binational couples as to heterosexual binational couples.
Organizations supportive of the couple and the rally include API Equality, API Legal Outreach, Asian Law Caucus. Asian Pacific American Legal Center, Central American Resource Center, Chinese For Affirmative Action, Equality California, Immigration Equality, Love Honor Cherish, National Center For Lesbian Rights, National Immigration Justice Center, San Francisco Immigrant Legal And Education Network, and the San Francisco LGBT Center.
Representatives Mike Honda (D-CA) and Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) have also been actively supportive of the couple, and provided written statements that were read at the rally. Rep. Lofgren's statement included a passionate plea for binational families, including the excerpt below:
"Legally-married couples are being torn apart today in America because our laws unconstitutionally discriminate against same-sex marriages. Each and every day, American spouses are being forced to make unacceptable choices: live their lives separated from one another by thousands of miles, abandon their lives in this country and move someplace else, or break the law and go into hiding. This is a heartbreaking situation all across the United States. I believe the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional and that the government should respect legally-married same-sex couples. I am confident that DOMA one day will not be law. The whole country will look back and understand it was simply discrimination."
Speakers at the rally included Bevan Dufty (Former San Francisco Supervisor), Phil Ting (San Francisco City Assessor/Recorder), Vincent Pan (Chinese for Affirmative Action), Ross Mirkarimi (San Francisco Supervisor), Lavi Soloway (Attorney for Doug & Alex), Heidi Li (API Legal Outreach), Ming Wong (National Center for Lesbian Rights), Ana Perez (CARECEN), Annette Wong (SFILEN), Dusty Araujo (National Immigrant Justice Center), and Judy Rickard (Author, “Torn Apart: United By Love Divided By Law”).
VISIT THE O4I BLOG TO READ ABOUT OUR WORK AND ACTIONS TO END DISCRIMINATION AGAINST SAME-SEX BINATIONAL COUPLES.
Let's Keep the Pressure On: Other Actions You Can Take This Week
Online activism: Sign our weekly petitions at change.org urging Congressional and Executive Support of Equal Immigration Rights for Same-Sex Binational Couples! We got a total of 12 new co-sponsors since the bill, Uniting American Families Act (UAFA) has been introduced on April 14th .
Devote Campaign - Out4Immigration: Did you see the video about Out4Immigration's volunteers that was shot by Devote Campaign recently? Check it out here!
Stay tuned: To our Yahoo! Groups list, Facebook page or follow us on Twitter to keep up with breaking news and urgent actions. It seems something is happening to tear down the barriers same-sex binational couples face every day. Be a part of the change!
JOIN US! Visit Out4Immigration on the web and join our Yahoo! Groups list to keep up with our daily conversation on equal immigration rights for same-sex binational couples. You can also join us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter. Visit our blog for latest news and actions.
THANKS TO ALL OUR VOLUNTEERS! Out4Immigration is an all-volunteer, grassroots group. Everything we do comes from people volunteering their personal time - to build coalitions with their communities, to get resolutions and letters in support of UAFA, to speak at conferences and rallies, to staff booths at events, to organize events and march in parades. Thank you all for stepping up. It is your commitment to this cause that will ultimately end discrimination in US immigration law.
Out4Immigration is an all-volunteer, grassroots organization dedicated to raising awareness about the discrimination same-sex binational couples face under current US immigration law and the difficulties they encounter in keeping their families together legally in the United States. For more information, visitOut4Immigration
Founded in 2010, GetEQUAL is a national grassroots organization whose mission is to empower the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) community and our allies to take bold action to demand full legal and social equality, and to hold accountable those who stand in the way. For more information, go to www.getequal.org
We are a volunteer grassroots organization that addresses the widespread discriminatory impact of U.S. immigration laws on the lives of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and HIV+ people and their families through education, outreach, advocacy and the maintenance of a resource and support network.
NO U.S. citizen should be forced to choose between country and partner!