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Holder halts deportation for foreign national in civil union

Order could have implications for bi-national same-sex couples

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U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder (Blade photo by Michael Key)

An order to vacate from U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder halting the deportation of a foreign national in a civil union may be sign of hope for bi-national same-sex couples in the United States who are facing separation.

In the decision, dated April 26, Holder remands back to the Board of Immigration Appeals the case of Paul Wilson Dorman — a New Jersey man who’s apparently seeking residency in the United States through his partner — to reassess a previous petition that was denied based on the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriage. The order was made public Thursday.

“In the exercise of my review authority under that regulation, and upon consideration of the record in this case, I direct that the order of the Board be vacated and that this matter be remanded to the Board to make such findings as may be necessary to determine whether and how the constitutionality of DOMA is presented in this case,” Holder writes.

Holder asks the Board of Immigration Appeals to clarify questions not addressed in the initial proceeding, such whether the petitioner’s civil union with his partner makes him eligible as a “spouse” under New Jersey law and the Immigration and Nationality Act as well as whether Dorman can establish exceptional and unusual hardship to qualify for relief.

The details of the Dorman case weren’t immediately known, such when his partner filed the petition, when the Board of Immigration appeals initially rejected the application or when any deportation as a result of the case is expected to proceed. Nor was it clear why Holder decided to intervene in this case when other foreign nationals in same-sex relationships are faced with potential deportation.

Tracy Schmaler, a Justice Department spokesperson, said the action isn’t the first time in history that an attorney general has remanded a case back to Board of Immigration Appeals for reconsideration.

“By way of history, over the years, attorneys general in several administrations have exercised their review authority in immigration cases,” Schmaler said. “Since 1996, attorneys general have reviewed 30 cases involving a variety of immigration law issues.”

Lavi Soloway, an attorney with Masliah & Soloway PC in New York who handles immigration cases, said the order from Holder could be a sign that the Obama administration is looking for a way to help same-sex bi-national couples who are barred from the marriage-based immigration process because of DOMA.

“There isn’t yet a final decision that could be applicable, but on the other hand, the action by the attorney general to vacate the decision would now suggest that it would be appropriate to adjourn any deportation proceedings where there are similar issues at stake,” Soloway said.

Steve Ralls, spokesperson for Immigration Equality, said the implications of the order to vacate remains unclear, but could indicate that the Obama administration to moving to intercede on their behalf.

“It appears to be a positive first step that, I think, is based at least in part on the congressional pressure that has been placed on DOJ around DOMA and the issue of bi-national couples,” Ralls said.

Ralls was referring to letters that member of Congress sent to the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security urging officials to stop the deportations of foreign nationals in legally recognized same-sex marriages. Last month, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and 11 other senators in one letter, and Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and 47 other House members in another letter, asked the Obama administration to make the change.

“I think it’s a positive sign that the attorney general himself decided to intervene to take this step,” Ralls continued. “We’re hopeful that it will then be replicated in other cases for couples who are facing separation, but I think it’s a little too early to know for sure that’s going to be the case.”

Soloway, who’s representing another bi-national same-sex couple who are legally married and also living in New Jersey, said he plans to use the order to help defend his clients who face possible separation because of DOMA.

Josh Vandiver, a U.S. citizen, and Henry Velandia, a professional dancer from Venezuela, were legally married in Connecticut last year. Velandia was placed into removal proceedings in 2009 when his employment-based immigration case was denied. Last summer, Vandiver filed an I-130 marriage-based green card petition for Velandia, but it was denied in January on the sole basis of DOMA.

On Friday, Velandia is set to appear in court for a final hearing before an immigration judge who will decide whether to deport him. If deportation is ordered, Velandia will be barred from returning to the United States for the next 10 years.

On the day of the court proceedings, various grassroots-based LGBT advocacy groups — including Courage Campaign, GetEQUAL, Garden State Equality, and the Immigration Equality Action Fund — plan to rally at the Newark Immigration Court to call on Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano to halt deportations of foreign nationals in legal same-same-sex marriages, such as the separation Vandiver and Velandia may be facing.

Soloway said he intends to bring the Holder order to the attention of the judge in an attempt to adjourn proceedings on any decision to deport Velandia.

“The implication could be that we stop, or at least slow down, deportation proceedings in many, if not most, of the lesbian and gay couples, like Josh and Henry — and that’s why tomorrow we’re going to go into court and ask the judge to do just that on the basis of the attorney general’s action here today,” Soloway said.

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5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Jos. A. Mustich

    May 6, 2011 at 6:58 am

    It’s time dude. Cheers, Joe Mustich, CT Justice of the Peace, USA.

  2. Halibut

    May 6, 2011 at 9:57 am

    Separate and apart from DOMA, this is an example of the arrogance of this administration, we don’t like the law so we won’t enforce it.

    • Dee

      May 6, 2011 at 7:12 pm

      Yeah because it’s obviously unconstitutional and the government is too incompetent to label it as such. So if by arrogance you mean common sense, then I agree.

    • Jon

      May 7, 2011 at 11:30 am

      No its an issue of treating tax paying Americans equally- wait till a law effects you and then lets see how horribly miserable your life becomes and how much you beg for chance.

      You lake empathy and for that you heart is hollow- you might as well be dead you horribly selfish person.

      Lives are being ripped apart because of assholes like you!

  3. James Mason

    May 7, 2011 at 10:59 am

    Let’s not forget the building blocks that were set in place before this wonderful news. Senator John Kerry’s intervention last year in reuniting American Tim Coco with his Brazilian spouse Genesio Oliveira played a pivotal role in the successes that have followed. Kerry put the issue on Obama’s and Holder’s radar and then work doggedly behind-the-scenes to keep up the momentum. Kerry reminded Holder of his authority to vacate decisions by the Board of Immingration Appeals (BIA) and then signed the letter to Holder recently. Thank you Senator Kerry!

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National

Alarming numbers of Texas Trans kids in crisis over litany of anti-Trans bills

“Under the guise of protecting children- Texas legislators are directly harming thousands of transgender & nonbinary youth”

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LGBTQ youth protest anti-Trans bills at the Texas Capitol building (Photo Credit: Equality Texas)

NEW YORK – The Trevor Project received nearly 4,000 crisis contacts from transgender and nonbinary youth in Texas in 2021, with many directly stating that they are feeling stressed and considering suicide due to anti-trans laws being debated in their state.

This new data comes during a year when Texas lawmakers have proposed nearly 70 anti-LGBTQ bills, including more than 40 bills that specifically target transgender and nonbinary youth — far more than any other state.

The Texas State Senate passed its anti-trans sports ban SB3 this week, and the companion bill HB10 is now moving forward in the Texas House. 

Republican Texas Governor Abbott has prioritized SB 3 and called for a third consecutive special session of the legislature to consider this bill, which would ban transgender student-athletes from playing on sports teams consistent with their gender identity.

“The Trevor Project’s crisis counselors have been hearing from transgender and nonbinary youth in Texas who are scared and worried about anti-trans laws being debated in their state — and some have even expressed suicidal thoughts. This is a crisis. We urge Texas lawmakers to consider the weight of their words and actions — and to reject HB10/SB3,” said Amit Paley, CEO and Executive Director of The Trevor Project.

  • Between January 1 and August 30, 2021, The Trevor Project received more than 10,800 crisis contacts (calls, texts, and chats) from LGBTQ young people in Texas looking for support. More than 3,900 of those crisis contacts (36%) came from transgender or nonbinary youth.
  • Crisis contacts from LGBTQ young people in Texas seeking support have grown over 150% when compared to the same time period in 2020.
  • While this volume of crisis contacts can not be attributed to any one factor (or bill), a qualitative analysis of the crisis contacts found that:
  • Transgender and nonbinary youth in Texas have directly stated that they are feeling stressed, using self-harm, and considering suicide due to anti-LGBTQ laws being debated in their state.
  • Some transgender and nonbinary youth have expressed fear over losing access to sports that provide important acceptance in their lives.

“As a transgender young person in Texas, this new data from the Trevor Project is not surprising, but it’s nonetheless harrowing and alarming to see this representation of the detrimental impact Texas Lege is having on our community — especially our kids. Lawmakers and proponents of bills like SB3 and HB10 should be alarmed by these statistics, too,” Landon Richie a Trans youth activist and GenderCool Youth Leader from Houston told the Los Angeles Blade.

“Under the guise of protecting children and promoting fairness, Texas legislators are directly harming thousands of transgender and nonbinary youth, denying them the dignity, respect, and childhoods that they deserve. It’s never an exaggeration to say that the passage — and merely debate — of these bills will cost lives,”  Richie added.

National mental health organizations like The Trevor Project and state LGBTQ equality groups including Equality Texas and Transgender Education Network of Texas (TENT) are raising concerns about the impact of such legislation on the mental health and wellbeing of transgender and nonbinary youth.

The Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health found that more than half (52%) of transgender and nonbinary youth seriously considered suicide in the past year and 1 in 5 attempted suicide. Further, Trevor released a new research brief earlier this month on LGBTQ youth participation in sports, which found that a majority of LGBTQ young people (nearly 66%) do not actively participate in sports — with many citing fear of bullying and discrimination as a key factor for not participating.

If you or someone you know needs help or support, The Trevor Project’s trained crisis counselors are available 24/7 at 1-866-488-7386, via chat at TheTrevorProject.org/Help, or by texting START to 678678. 

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2nd largest school district in Utah bans Pride & BLM flags as ‘too political’

“We have to have a politically neutral classroom, and we’re going to educate the students in the best possible way that we can”

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Davis School District Offices in Farmington Utah (Photo Credit: Davis School District)

FARMINGTON, Ut. – Administrators this week in the Davis School District, which is Utah’s 2nd largest school district with 72,987 students, banned LGBTQ Pride and Black Lives Matter flags, saying they are ‘politically charged.’

According to the Salt Lake City Tribune, Davis Schools spokesperson Chris Williams told the paper; “No flags fly in our schools except for the flag of the United States of America.” Williams later walked that statement back adding a clarification that some of the Districts schools have flags from sports team or international countries which are considered “unrelated to politics.”

“What we’re doing is we’re following state law,” said Williams. “State law says that we have to have a classroom that’s politically neutral.”

Amanda Darrow, Director of Youth, Family, and Education at the Utah Pride Center in Salt Lake City, told multiple media outlets the school district is “politicizing the rainbow flag” which doesn’t belong on a political list.

“That flag for us is so much more,” said Darrow. “It is just telling us we’re included in the schools, we are being seen in the schools, and we belong in these schools.”

KUTV CBS2 News in Salt Lake City checked with the Utah State Board of Education. In an email, spokesman Mark Peterson said, “There is nothing in code that specifically defines a rainbow flag as a political statement so it would be up to district or charter school policies to make that determination.”

The local Utah chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union also weighed in saying in a statement;

Whether or not a school district has the legal ability to ban inclusive and supportive symbols from classrooms, it is bad policy for them to do so,” the advocacy organization said in a statement. “Utah schools have an obligation to ensure that all students, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identify, feel welcome inside a classroom. We urge school administrators and teachers to adopt policies that make all students feel safe and included.”

Williams insisted the policy is not meant to exclude anyone and that all students are loved and welcomed – they just want to keep politics out of school he told the Tribune and KUTV.

“We have to have a politically neutral classroom, and we’re going to educate the students in the best possible way that we can,” said Williams.

A Utah based veteran freelance journalist, writer, editor, and food photographer weighed in on Twitter highlighting the negative impact of the Davis Schools decision on its LGBTQ youth.

Davis County School District bans LGTBQ and BLM flags as ‘too political’

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Non-binary person reports assault by Proud Boys near Portland

‘They nearly killed me’

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Juniper Simonis (Photo by Mariah Harris)

It was a typical day for Juniper Simonis. The freelance ecologist decided to break from work for lunch at about 3 p.m. to take their service dog, Wallace, to the local dog park and grab a bite to eat.  

But a planned peaceful afternoon quickly turned ugly. Simonis says they survived a gang assault of about 30 perpetrators in Gresham, Ore., a suburb outside of Portland. The Oregon resident encountered the group for only minutes but suffered a concussion, sprained jaw, extensive car damage and verbal assaults, they said. 

“They nearly killed me,” they said.

Simonis said they turned into a parking lot to pick up lunch in Gresham, Ore., and stumbled upon a rally that included several members of the Proud Boys — a far-right, ultra-nationalist organization known for its anti-LGBTQ, anti-feminism and neo-fascist ideologies. 

There was a “Flag Ride” right-wing rally in a parking lot earlier that day. Simonis was under the impression the event had ended after checking reports on Twitter. After pulling into the lot, originally to look for lunch options, Simonis saw a large gathering still in the lot. 

Simonis decided to take pictures of what was happening to post online to warn others and was intentional in keeping their distance, they said. As Simonis was preparing to leave the area, they yelled from inside the car, “Fuck you, fascists, go home.” 

“I did not expect this to escalate into violence,” they said. 

The attack itself only lasted about three minutes, Simonis said. Simonis was quickly surrounded by several people and physically blocked from leaving the lot. People stepped in front of the parking lot exit, then a car was moved to barricade Simonis. People began to shout homophobic slurs at Simonis, they said. 

“I’m in serious trouble now and I know it,” they said. 

Simonis was then punched while inside their vehicle and was briefly knocked out. They regained consciousness a few seconds later, and a cinder block was thrown at the car and shattered the back window of their car inches away from their service dog, Wallace. 

Simonis got out of the car to assess the damage and make sure their service dog was safe. They quickly got back in their car and was able to leave the lot by maneuvering around the blocked exit, Simonis said. 

Wallace, Juniper Simonis’ service dog. (Photo by Mariah Harris)

Looking back at the photos and videos Simonis took before the assault, Simonis said they saw people looking into the camera and acknowledging them taking photos. 

“I honestly don’t know if I hadn’t said anything, that … things would have gone any different,” they said. 

Last year, Simonis was targeted and arrested by federal police in Portland during the tumultuous Black Lives Matter protests in the city. They were denied medical attention, misgendered, jumped and aggressively handcuffed while taken into custody. 

Simonis is still working through legal proceedings in a multi-plaintiff lawsuit. 

A witness to the event called the Gresham Police Department, which was only a few blocks away from the incident. But the call went to voicemail and the witness did not leave a message, Simonis said. 

Another witness called 911, Simonis said, which led to an officer calling Simonis about 45 minutes after the accident to take a report.   

In the police report obtained by the Blade, Simonis is consistently misgendered. Simonis’ sex is also listed as “unknown” in the report. The incident was labeled as vehicle vandalism. 

Simonis said the conversation with the officer was filled with victim-blaming and the officer wrote in the report that Simonis should avoid “approaching groups of this nature.”  

“At no point in this conversation does he treat me as an actual victim of a crime,” Simonis said.

The Gresham Police Department did not respond to a request for comment. 

Weeks after the assault, Simonis is struggling mentally and physically, they said. 

The concussion makes working on a computer virtually impossible because of light sensitivity and trouble focusing, Simonis said. The pain caused by the sprained jaw makes it difficult to focus, as well. 

Simonis is not able to begin physical therapy for their jaw until November because of long medical wait times, they said. The cost to repair the car damages will be about $8,000, as well, they said.  

The times where Simonis is able to focus are usually taken up by piecing together what happened that day, they said. 

“The part of my brain that I use for work has been hijacked functionally by the part of the brain that needed to know what happened to me,” they said. “There is such a painful need to understand what happened to me.”

Because of past traumatic events, like the experience of being in federal custody last year, Simonis said processing and living with the trauma is a bit easier to handle. But their ability to work will be forever changed yet again, they said. 

“I’m not able to work at the pace that I used to work at before I was assaulted by DHS. I’ll never be,” they said. “And this is just a further knockdown.” 

The trauma of the event has increased Simonis’ hyper-vigilance, as well. 

“Every time I hear a car go by, I’m double-checking,” they said. 

Even though Simonis has the tools to process and live with the immense trauma, they will never be the same person, they said. 

“They fucking changed my life forever. Point blank,” they said. “Not just mentally, but physically and physiologically. I can’t go back to where I was before. I’m lucky that I survived.”

Simonis has reported the attack to the FBI and is pursuing legal action with two specific goals in mind: to heal and to prevent similar crimes from happening.

“I am somebody who believes in abolishing the carceral system and the justice system as it exists and policing,” Simonis said. “But also a 37-year-old trans and disabled person who somehow managed to survive this long. And so naturally has become pragmatic about the world.”

Because of the reaction of the Gresham Police Department, Simonis did not want to work with local officers and instead went to the federal level. But because of the alleged assault by agents in Portland last year, this decision wasn’t easy for them.

Perpetrators in the assault threatened to call the police on Simonis,  even though Simonis did not commit a crime. Reporting the crime to the federal level is also a layer of protection, they said. 

“All of this is forcing my hand,” they said. There is no easy decision in the situation, they added. 

“We all know that crimes are underreported. We hear about it all the time,” they said. And there are reasons why people don’t report crimes and they’re totally understandable. A lot of victims are very concerned about what will happen if they break anonymity. In my situation, I’ve already broken anonymity.”

With recent arrests and crackdowns on the Proud Boys and other hate groups in the United States, Simonis is bracing for a long process. 

“This isn’t just going to go on a shelf,” they said. 

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