Friday, September 28, 2012

DHS Issues New, Written Guidelines for Discretionary Relief for Same-Sex Binational Families

More than a year after the Morton Memo, which issued guidelines for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents charged with determining which individuals were subject to deportation under current immigration law, the Obama Administration and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have unequivocally defined same-sex binational couples as "family".

While the Morton Memo implied that the definition of family should apply to same-sex binational couples, this was never officially put in writing. As long as the message to ICE agents remained unwritten, it left the actual determination if gay and lesbian couples constituted a family up to any individual agent to decide. Any agent strictly going by the book could cite the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) to null and void any marriage, civil union or domestic partnership, dismiss our family relationship to our partner, and order a fast track deportation for an out-of-status spouse.

It took two letters from Congress, spearheaded by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Jerrold Nadler (long-time leading co-sponsor of the Uniting American Families Act) to the Obama Administration to obtain these written guidelines. Pressure from all leading LGBT immigration rights groups and champions that continued to push for this simple, yet critical step were instrumental in this. The couples represented by Lavi Soloway of Stop the Deportations and the ensuing news coverage and grassroots support, as well as the lawsuit filed on behalf of five same-sex binational couples by Immigration Equality brought our stories into the mainstream -- and kept them there.

Make no mistake -- every same-sex binational couple who has come forward and told their story over the years contributes to these small, but highly significant changes and shifts in getting the US government to recognize our families for immigration purposes, and ultimately to repeal DOMA and accord us with all of the 1,100+ federal marriage rights.

For all of you who signed the Out4Immigration petitions demanding that the Obama Administration and DHS do something to clarify the statements made in the Morton Memo about our families and put this in writing - kudos! This was indeed part of the pressure applied.

As of today, if you are in a same-sex binational marriage, civil union or domestic partnership and you are out of status, should you find yourself in deportation proceedings, you will automatically be classified as "low priority" because of your relationship to an American citizen. There is no longer any room for the DHS or ICE to define your relationship to your American partner as anything other than "family".  

But -- our work is not done. There are still untold numbers of American citizens who have been forced to leave the US to keep their families together. These Americans living in exile deserve the right to bring their families home. There are still an estimated 40,000 same-sex binational couples here in the US right now -- the majority on visas that have an expiration date that will either force those couples into exile, or into the abyss that could land them in deportation proceedings. While guidelines have been changed to protect those who fall below the radar, that is no place anyone legally married to a US citizen should be.

Stand up and tell your story. Become a volunteer or donate to Out4Immigration and help us ensure that all same-sex binational couples and our families are treated equally under US federal and immigration laws.  

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