U.S. House Democrats are calling on the Obama administration to make more explicit assurances that new immigration policies will enable foreign nationals to stay in the United States if they’re in same-sex relationships with American citizens.
In two separate letters dated Sept. 27, 69 lawmakers seek clarification from the Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department that bi-national same-sex couples will be included in policies that aim to take low priority cases out of the deportation pipeline.
“The recognition of LGBT family ties as a positive factor is a critical step forward in identifying key family and community ties to implement common-sense immigration enforcement,” the letter states. “We ask that you ensure that this recognition is reflected in the work of DHS and DOJ employees and the newly established working group in implementing your priorities for immigration enforcement.”
The letter is signed by Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), sponsor of the legislation known as the Uniting American Families Act, which would allow gay Americans to sponsor their foreign partners for residency in the United States. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and 68 other Democrats — including gay Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and David Cicilline (D-R.I.) — make up the additional signatories to the letter.
Under current immigration code, gay Americans can’t sponsor their foreign partners for residency in the United States because same-sex marriage isn’t legal in many places in the country and because the Defense of Marriage Act prohibits federal recognition of those unions. Consequently, foreign nationals who are in committed relationships with gay Americans may have to leave the United States or face deportation.
In a June 17 memo, U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement allows immigration officials to exercise prosecutorial discretion in cases they deem low priority for deportation, although this memo offers no explicit guidance on foreign nationals in same-sex relationships.
On Aug. 18, the Obama administration unveiled a new policy based on this memo saying it would examine foreign nationals facing deportation on a case-by-case basis and take those who are low priority out of the pipeline.
Officials are set to weigh a person’s ties and contributions to the community and family relationships as reasons to take potential deportees out of consideration. Administration officials have stated that being in a same-sex relationship will be considered in the context of community contributions and family relationships.
However, lawmakers in the letter seek additional assurances that bi-national same-sex couples won’t be left out.
House Democrats ask that LGBT family ties be made an explicit component of the guidance for the working group examining deportation cases to ensure field staff are aware of the policy.
“Without specific guidance, it is unlikely that agency officers, agents, and attorneys making decisions about individual cases will be aware that LGBT family ties are a factor for consideration for exercising discretion in closing or not initiating removal proceedings,” the letter states.
Additionally, lawmakers ask that the working group include a member experienced in working with gay immigrants and their families to ensure that these factors are recognized in the working group’s case-by-case review of deportation cases.
“The vulnerability of LGBT immigrants — the historical stigmatization of whom both within and outside the U.S. is well-documented — makes knowledgeable review a necessity,” the letter states.
Neither the Justice Department nor the Department of Homeland Security immediately responded to the Washington Blade’s request for comment on the letter.
Lavi Soloway, founder of Stop the Deportations, said the assurances that lawmakers are seeking will be helpful in ensuring foreign nationals in same-sex relationships won’t be deported.
“This is vitally important to ensuring that Secretary [of Homeland Security Janet] Napolitano’s interagency working group announced Aug. 18 fairly and consistently implements the administration’s guidelines for setting aside low-priority removal cases,” Soloway said. “It should not be left to the discretion of ICE attorneys or individual deportation officers to interpret the word ‘family’ in the June 17 prosecutorial discretion memo.”