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Deportations on hold for foreigners in same-sex marriages

News follows Obama’s determination that DOMA is unconstitutional



An agency within the Department of Homeland Security has put on hold deportation cases for foreign nationals who are in same-sex marriages with American citizens and seeking green cards for U.S. citizenship.

In a statement, Chris Bentley, a spokesperson for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, confirmed on Monday that such cases have put on abeyance until the Department of Homeland Security receives further legal guidance on handling them.

“USCIS has issued guidance to the field asking that related cases be held in abeyance while awaiting final guidance related to distinct issues,” Bentley said.

Last week, Newsweek reported that the heads of two USCIS districts in D.C. and Baltimore had informed lawyers for the American Immigration Lawyers Association that cases in their districts involving married gay and lesbian couples would be put on hold.

A DHS official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the abeyance follows President Obama’s determination in February that the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriage, is unconstitutional and the U.S. Justice Department announcement that it would no longer defense the anti-gay statute against litigation in court.

Because of DOMA, American citizens who are married to foreign spouses of the same gender cannot sponsor their spouses for U.S. citizenship — even if the couple lives in a state or jurisdiction that recognizes same-sex marriage.

Despite the new guidance, Bentley maintained USCIS hasn’t issued any change in policy and intends to continue enforcement of DOMA.

“USCIS has not implemented any change in policy and intends to follow the President’s directive to continue enforcing the law,” Bentley said.

Asked what the possible outcomes could be for the upcoming legal guidance, the DHS official replied, “All I can say is that the department’s policy direction is set by the president, but as a matter of policy we don’t comment on legal guidance until it’s final.”

The final legal guidance on the issue is expected to come down from the Department of Homeland Security’s general counsel. The DHS official said he’s hoping the guidance will be issued “imminently,” but doesn’t have a more specific time.

Steve Ralls, spokesperson for Immigration Equality, said the abeyance means that green cards applications that American citizens make for foreign same-sex spouses will be in “pending status” until the courts make a final determination on DOMA’s constitutionality.

Steve Ralls of Immigration Equality (Blade photo by Michael Key)

“So they will not be denied, and while they are pending, the spouses of those that have applied for sponsorship will be able to remain in the thread, so it essentially stops the removal of anyone who has a pending application until the courts have settled the issue of DOMA’s constitutionality,” Ralls said. “It’s a temporary fix, but it’s a temporary fix that will remain in place until DOMA has made its way through the court system.”

In a statement, Rachel Tiven, executive director for Immigration Equality, called the new guidance “terrific news and a significant step forward for the families we work with.”

Earlier this month, Immigration Equality sent letters to the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security asking that the Obama administration put on hold the appeals of immigrant visa petitions filed by American citizens on behalf of their same-sex spouses.

“At last, after nearly two decades of work and 10,000 — and counting — couples reaching out to our legal team for help, we hope today’s news is a sign that relief is, indeed, on the way,” Tiven said.

Tiven advised couples who think they may be impacted by the announcement to contact Immigration Equality for free legal counsel on what steps would be appropriate for them.

Ralls added the number of couples who will benefit from the abeyance will in the end depend on the breadth of the ruling from the courts on DOMA.

“So it depends on whether the courts decide that both federal and state DOMAs are unconstitutional or whether just the federal DOMA is unconstitutional, so there are sort of a wide variety of possibilities in terms of who the final resolution will benefit,” Ralls said.

If the federal DOMA is struck down, Ralls noted that married bi-national same-sex couples would have the option of moving to jurisdictions that recognize marriage equality to remain together in the United States.

Christopher Nugent, who’s gay and co-chair of the American Bar Association’s rights of immigrants committee, called the news a “positive development to protect couples from unduly separated through deportation,” but said questions linger on how the immigration courts will handle the news guidance.

“For example, if somebody has already been ordered removed and then marries a U.S. citizen, is the immigration court going to grant a motion to reopen?” Nugent said.

One couple that the USCIS move could benefit is Edwin Blesch, an American citizen, and Tim Smulian, his South African spouse. The couple resides in New York state, where their marriage from South Africa is recognized by the state government. Last week, Immigration Equality filed a green card application on behalf the couple.

“Every day, we live with the very real possibility that, despite following every law and every policy of the United States, Tim will be forced to leave the country, and I will be left without my caretaker and the love of my life,” Blesch said in a statement.  “Today’s news gives us great relief, and great hope that we may soon be able to put that worry behind us. For the first time, we can begin to plan the rest of our lives together without fear that we will be torn apart.”



WATCH: Washington Post grills transphobic Libs of TikTok creator

Libs of TikTok creator Chaya Raichik said she doesn’t believe in gender-affirming care & espouses other anti-LGBTQ+ viewpoints



Chaya Raichik, founder of Libs of TikTok is interviewed by Washington Post journalist Taylor California. (Screenshot/YouTube The Washington Post)

Grilled on a range of topics during an interview with Washington Post journalist Taylor Lorenz, Chaya Raichik, spoke about the great replacement theory, the death of Nex Benedict, a 16-year-old nonbinary in high school student in Oklahoma, why she won’t delete her false accusations about the Uvalde shooter and other mass-shooters, her views on gender, feminism and more.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Guilty verdict in first federal murder trial based on gender identity

Dime Doe killed in S.C. in 2019



Dime Doe (Family photo)

A federal jury on Friday handed down a guilty verdict of a man accused of murdering a Black transgender woman in what is classified as the first in the nation federal trial over a hate crime based on gender identity.

After a 4-day trial in a federal hate crime case, a jury found a South Carolina man, Daqua Lameek Ritter, guilty of all charges in the indictment, which included one hate crime count, one federal firearms count and one obstruction count, all arising out of the murder of Dime Doe.

“Acts of violence against LGBTQI+ people, including transgender women of color like Dime Doe, are on the rise and have no place in our society,” said Acting Associate Attorney General Benjamin C. Mizer. “The Justice Department takes seriously all bias-motivated acts of violence and will not hesitate to hold accountable those who commit them. No one should have to live in fear of deadly violence because of who they are.”

According to court documents and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, evidence presented at trial showed that Ritter was upset that rumors about his sexual relationship with Dime Doe were out in the community. On Aug. 4, 2019, the defendant lured Doe to a remote area in Allendale, S.C., and shot her three times in the head. At trial, the government proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Ritter murdered Doe because of her gender identity. Ritter then burned the clothes he was wearing during the crime, disposed of the murder weapon and repeatedly lied to law enforcement. 

This was the first trial under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act for violence against a trans person. The Shepard-Byrd Act is a landmark federal statute passed in 2009 which allows federal criminal prosecution of hate crimes motivated by the victim’s actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.

“A unanimous jury has found the defendant guilty for the heinous and tragic murder of Dime Doe, a Black transgender woman,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “The jury’s verdict sends a clear message: Black trans lives matter, bias-motivated violence will not be tolerated and perpetrators of hate crimes will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. This case is historic; this defendant is the first to be found guilty by trial verdict for a hate crime motivated by gender identify under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. We want the Black trans community to know that you are seen and heard, that we stand with the LGBTQI+ community and that we will use every tool available to seek justice for victims and their families.”

Ritter faces a maximum penalty of life in prison. A sentencing hearing will be scheduled at a later date. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering federal sentencing guidelines and other statutory factors.

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Okla. lawmaker describes LGBTQ people as ‘filth’

State Sen. Tom Woods made comment on Friday



Oklahoma state Sen. Tom Woods (Photo courtesy of Woods' state Senate website)

Republican Oklahoma state Sen. Tom Woods took part in a public legislative panel forum on Friday, during which the panel was asked by a constituent about the death of Nex Benedict, a 16-year-old nonbinary Owasso High School student who had been attacked and beaten in a school bathroom. 

The Oklahoma Voice reported that Cathy Cott, a 64-year-old semi-retired resident, asked the lawmakers why the Legislature had such an obsession with the LGBTQ citizens of the state, what people do in their personal lives and how they raise their children, according to the Tahlequah Daily Press, which first reported the remarks.

When she got no answer, she asked about the bills targeting the LGBTQ community.

“Why does the Legislature have such an obsession with the LGBTQ citizens of Oklahoma and what people do in their personal lives and how they raise their children?” Cott asked.

Woods replied, “We are a Republican state — supermajority — in the House and Senate. I represent a constituency that doesn’t want that filth in Oklahoma. You know we are a religious state. We are going to fight and keep that filth out of the state of Oklahoma because we’re a Christian state” 

The Tahlequah Daily Press also reported several audience members clapped, while others appeared shocked.

Cott said in an interview with Oklahoma Voice that she was not surprised by Woods’ answer.

Cott said she has many family and friends who are LGBTQ.

“I have dealt with other state representatives and senators and been to lobby day and tried to advocate for the LGBTQ+ community when I can so I am used to it,” she said. “They haven’t said anything like this to me before where they describe citizens of the state as filth, but they let me know they just don’t care.”

She said Woods’ remarks absolutely contribute to the hostile climate in the state for the LGBTQ community.

Prior to his election to his seat to represent Oklahoma’s Senate District 4 in 2022, Woods was a farmer and business owner. He ran a dairy farm, feed store and trucking company. His district runs along the eastern border of Oklahoma from West Fort Smith to Grove, and runs into Tahlequah.

Another Republican, state Sen. Dewayne Pemberton, a former teacher, told the audience he’s always seen educators’ jobs as “to educate students, not indoctrinate students.”

In a statement to the Washington Blade, Human Rights Campaign National Press Secretary Brandon Wolf said:

“The only ‘filth’ here is this vile statement from a sitting state senator. This is the kind of hate speech that incites deadly violence against our communities. This is what we mean when we say that the flames of dehumanization and hate have been fanned in Oklahoma. Enough is enough. There needs to be accountability for this climate of hate — and the damage being done.”

GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis told the Blade:

“Enough is enough. Oklahoma’s Republican leaders are continuing to nurture a climate of anti-LGBTQ animus, modeling disgusting anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, questioning our very humanity, attacking marginalized youth and educators who support them and improperly handling bullying and assaults at school. Leaders with a bully pulpit have the power to inspire empathy and understanding, but they also have the power to inspire hate, bullying and physical attacks. These so-called leaders fomenting hate, Sen. Tom Woods, Supt. Ryan Walters, Gov. Kevin Stitt are failing Oklahoma’s youth in dangerous and myriad ways.”

There has been national outage in reaction to the death of Benedict. Vice President Kamala Harris, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, House Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) are among those in leadership decrying the death and the political climate that LGBTQ advocacy groups say have been contributing factors.

HRC President Kelley Robinson has called for federal investigations by the U.S. Justice and Education Departments.

In her social media post, the vice president said: “My heart goes out to Nex Benedict’s family, friends, and their entire community. To the LGBTQI+ youth who are hurting and are afraid right now: President Joe Biden and I see you, we stand with you and you are not alone.”

Republican Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, who in 2022 signed an anti-trans bill prohibiting students from using public school restrooms that do not match the sex listed on their birth certificates, wrote in his statement that “our hearts go out to Nex’s family, classmates and the Owasso community. The death of any child in an Oklahoma school is a tragedy — and bullies must be held accountable.”

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