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Kerry seeks to aid lesbian bi-national couple

With expiration of student visa, woman faces deportation to Pakistan

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Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) is seeking to aid a married lesbian couple in his state by asking the Department of Homeland Security to take administrative action to ensure the foreign national in the relationship won’t be deported to Pakistan.

In a redacted letter dated March 27 and obtained last week by the Washington Blade, Kerry asks Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano to hold in abeyance the I-130 marriage-based green card petition for the couple until the Defense of Marriage Act is overturned either by Congress or the courts.

“I know that you and I both believe that every family is worthy of recognition and respect, and that no family should be torn apart based on a discriminatory law,” Kerry writes. “Abeyance will allow this remarkable young couple to move forward with their dream of building a life together at home in Massachusetts.”

Gloria (right) and Jackie could be faced with separation if their green card application isn't placed in abeyance. (Photo courtesy Stop the Deportations)

The couple is using their first names only, Gloria, a Pakistani national, and Jackie, who are both 24 and reside together in Beverly, Mass. The two met as roommates in college in 2008 and their shared Christian faith brought them closer. After falling in love, they married in Massachusetts in October.

But Gloria’s student visa expired after she could no longer afford tuition and had to stop attending school last year, ending her legal status in the country and putting her in a situation where she could be deported to Pakistan.

In March, Jackie filed a marriage-based green card petition to sponsor Gloria for residency in the United States. U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services has yet to make a decision on the petition, but it will likely be denied unless it’s held in abeyance because DOMA prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriage.

Their attorney, Lavi Soloway, co-founder of Stop the Deportations and partner at Masliah & Soloway, redacted their last names in the letter he gave to the Blade, saying he did so at their request out of concern for their safety and safety of family members overseas. He also declined to disclose the school they both attended.

Recalling that the Obama administration has determined DOMA was unconstitutional and stopped defending the anti-gay law in court, Kerry writes this announcement last year left many same-sex couples “wondering how that will apply to their pending cases” and enables an opportunity for action.

“Among those harmed by the discrimination enshrined in law by DOMA are many of my constituents in Massachusetts who face separation from husbands, wives, grandparents, grandchildren, extended family, colleagues and community,” the senator says.

Kerry writes that the case of Gloria and Jackie “clearly justifies” action because of the potentially harsh treatment Gloria would face if sent back to Pakistan. Homosexuality is a crime punishable by jail time there and Christians have been known to face persecution in the country.

“She is certain that if she is forced to return to Pakistan, her life will be in danger, not only because of her sexual orientation and her marriage to a United States citizen, but for religious reasons as well,” Kerry writes.

It’s not the first time Kerry has asked the Obama administration to take action to stop the separation of bi-national same-sex couples. In April 2011, Kerry led a group of 12 senators who signed a letter to Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security asking that the marriage-based green card petitions for these couples be held in abeyance.

In a phone interview, Gloria said she and her spouse “feel very frustrated” they face this situation that wouldn’t be before them if they were an opposite-sex couple. She said she believes the effort will be worthwhile if “some positive outcome could come out of all this work that we’re putting into it.”

Additionally, Gloria said she dreads the prospect of having to return to Pakistan and face persecution because of her religious beliefs and sexual orientation.

“That would be just a devastating situation,” Gloria said. “We don’t even want to think about it. We have built our lives together here in America and our home is here. Our friends and family, and everything that we’ve built together is here.”

In a statement, Jackie also expressed frustration that DOMA precludes her from protecting her spouse and that the Obama administration hasn’t yet taken action to protect married bi-national couples.

“It hurts, as an American, to think that my government causes me and my wife so much distress by allowing DOMA to do so much harm,” Jackie said. “It is not what I expected of President Obama; I expected more. My wife and I met in college over three and half years [ago] and plan to continue building our lives together. Part of our future will now be this fight for full equality.”

Jackie added that coming out publicly with their story wasn’t an easy decision because they fear it may mean backlash for Gloria’s family in Pakistan  — as well as for Gloria if she’s forced to return to the country.

“But we will not stand by helpless while our marriage is treated as nothing by the federal government,” Jackie said. “I know that our president in his heart does not want to do harm to our marriage, and I am disappointed that he’s letting this happen when he has the power to stop it.”

Soloway said the president’s opposition to DOMA should be “matched with deeds,” and that halting the denial of marriage-based green card petitions would be consistent with the administration’s stated belief that same-sex couples shouldn’t be forced to make a choice between staying together and staying in the country.

“The president has an opportunity to develop policy that protects all LGBT families impacted by DOMA,” Soloway said. “He must now act to save Jackie and Gloria and thousands of lesbian and gay bi-national couples who, just like them, want nothing more than to be able to live their lives in peace.”

LGBT rights supporters have repeatedly asked the Obama administration to hold the marriage-based green cards for bi-national same-sex couples in abeyance on several occasions, and each time, officials have responded that they’ll continue to enforce DOMA while it’s on the books.

According to The Advocate, LGBT groups met with White House officials in January to discuss the possibility of putting the green cards in abeyance and administration officials told the advocates that such action wouldn’t be taken.

Peter Boogard, a DHS spokesperson, expressed a similar sentiment when asked by the Blade to comment on the Kerry letter.

“DHS responds directly to members of Congress, not through the media,” Boogard said. “Pursuant to the attorney general’s guidance, the Defense of Marriage Act remains in effect and the executive branch, including the Department of Homeland Security, will continue to enforce it unless and until Congress repeals it, or there is a final judicial determination that it is unconstitutional.”

While the administration hasn’t taken action to hold the marriage-based green card applications in abeyance, it has said it would include bi-national same-sex couples as part of an effort announced in August to take low-priority cases out of the deportation pipeline by granting them prosecutorial discretion.

The criteria for being taken out of the deportation pipeline include a person’s ties and contributions to their community and family relationships, and administration officials have said these criteria are inclusive of LGBT families and same-sex couples. An informed source said individuals whose I-130 is denied because of DOMA typically don’t receive a notice to appear for deportation hearings in court, unless there are additional derogatory factors.

But Soloway said whether Gloria will be placed into deportation proceedings is hardly the point if her green card application is denied because she’s “vulnerable to deportation every day.”

“She can be placed into proceedings simply because her immigration status as a foreign student has lapsed,” Soloway said. “Her school was required to report her to Immigration Services when she was no longer enrolled as a student. Every night, Jackie and Gloria go to sleep not knowing if their luck will run out. Will tomorrow be the day on which Gloria comes into contact with an overzealous police officer who stops and questions her and takes her into custody when her immigration status is discovered?”

Soloway also said holding the green card application in abeyance is the only way for Gloria to remain in legal status to enable her to hold a job or maintain a valid driver’s license.

“She cannot support herself and build a stable and secure future with Jackie as any other married couple would,” Soloway said. “She is trapped and can never leave the country because if she does she will be prohibited from returning. This untenable situation is the result of DOMA, and would be mitigated if their green card case were simply held in abeyance.”

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U.S. Federal Courts

Lesbian mother from El Salvador released from ICE custody

Jessica Barahona-Martinez arrested on June 26, 2017

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(Bigstock photo)

A federal judge last week ordered the release of a lesbian mother from El Salvador who had been in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody since June 2017.

Jessica Patricia Barahona-Martinez and her three children entered the U.S. on May 31, 2016. A court filing notes she fled “persecution she faced in El Salvador as a lesbian, and because the government had falsely identified her as a gang member.”

Barahona-Martinez lived with her sister and other relatives in Woodbridge, Va., until ICE arrested and detained her on June 26, 2017. She was housed at two ICE detention centers in Virginia until her transfer to the South Louisiana ICE Processing Center, a privately-run facility the GEO Group, a Florida-based company, operates in Basile, La., in October 2020. 

An immigration judge in November 2019 granted Barahona-Martinez asylum for the second time. The government appealed the decision and the Board of Immigration Appeals, which the Justice Department oversees, ruled in their favor.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Louisiana last month filed a writ for habeas corpus petition in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana’s Lafayette Division that asked for Barahona-Martinez’s release. U.S. District Judge Terry A. Doughty on Sept. 27 ruled in her favor.  

“Petitioner (Barahona-Martinez) ultimately argues that her prolonged detention violates due process; she moves that this court issues a temporary restraining order, requests release, a bond hearing, an expedited hearing and costs and attorney fees,” wrote Doughty.

“This court finds that petitioner has plausibly alleged her prolonged detention violates due process,” added Doughty.

An ACLU spokesperson on Monday told the Blade that ICE has released Barahona-Martinez and she is once again in Virginia with her children and sister. 

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State Department

State Department hosts intersex activists from around the world

Group met with policy makers, health officials, NGOs

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The State Department last week hosted a group of intersex activists from around the world. (Courtesy photo)

The State Department last week hosted five intersex activists from around the world.

Kimberly Zieselman, a prominent intersex activist who advises Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad, brought the activists to D.C.

• Morgan Carpenter, co-founder and executive director of Intersex Human Rights Australia

• Natasha Jiménez, an intersex activist from Costa Rica who is the general coordinator of Mulabi, the Latin American Space for Sexualities and Rights

• Julius Kaggwa, founder of the Support Initiative for People with Atypical Sex Development Uganda

• Magda Rakita, co-founder and executive director of Fujdacja Interakcja in Poland and co-founder of Interconnected UK

• Esan Regmi, co-founder and executive director of the Campaign for Change in Nepal.

Special U.S. Envoy for Global Youth Issues Abby Finkenauer and Assistant Health Secretary Rachel Levine are among the officials with whom the activists met.

Zieselman told the Washington Blade on Sept. 21 the activists offered State Department officials an “intersex 101” overview during a virtual briefing.

More than 60 Save the Children staffers from around the world participated in another virtual briefing. Zieselman noted the activists also met with Stern, U.N. and Organization of American States officials, funders and NGO representatives while in D.C.

“The people we met were genuinely interested,” Rakita told the Blade.

Stern in an exclusive statement to the Blade said “the visiting intersex activists clearly had an impact here at State, sharing their expertise and lived experience highlighting the urgency to end human rights abuses, including those involving harmful medical practices against intersex persons globally.” Andrew Gleason, senior director for gender equality and social justice at Save the Children US, in a LinkedIn post he wrote after attending his organization’s meeting with the activists echoed Stern.

“There are many learnings to recount from today’s discussion, but one thing is clear, this is unequivocally a child rights issue, and one that demands attention and action at the intersection of LGBTQI+ rights, reproductive rights and justice, disability justice and more,” wrote Gleason. “Gratitude to the panelists for sharing such poignant testimonies and providing insights into what organizations like ours can do to contribute to the broader intersex movement; and thank you to Kimberly for your leadership and bringing this group together.”

The activists’ trip to D.C. coincided with efforts to end so-called sex “normalization” surgeries on intersex children.

Greek lawmakers in July passed a law that bans such procedures on children under 15 unless they offer their consent or a court allows them to happen. Doctors who violate the statute face fines and prison.

Germany Iceland, Malta, Portugal and Spain have also enacted laws that seek to protect intersex youth. 

A law that grants equal rights and legal recognition to intersex people in Kenya took effect in July 2022. Lawmakers in the Australian Capital Territory earlier this year passed the Variation in Sex Characteristics (Restricted Medical Treatment) Bill 2023.

Intersex Human Rights Australia notes the law implements “mechanisms to regulate non-urgent medical care to encourage child participation in medical decisions, establish groundbreaking oversight mechanisms and provide transparency on medical practices and decision making.” It further points out the statute “will criminalize some deferrable procedures that permanently alter the sex characteristics of children” and provides “funding for necessary psychosocial supports for families and children.”

“It’s amazing,” Carpenter told the Blade when discussing the law and resistance to it. “It’s not perfect. There was some big gaps, but physicians are resisting every step of the way.”

The State Department in April 2022 began to issue passports with an “X” gender marker.

Dana Zzyym, an intersex U.S. Navy veteran who identifies as non-binary, in 2015 filed a federal lawsuit against the State Department after it denied their application for a passport with an “X” gender marker. Zzyym in October 2021 received the first gender-neutral American passport.

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Federal Government

Federal government prepares for looming shutdown

White House warns of ‘damaging impacts across the country’

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U.S. Capitol Building (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

However remote they were on Monday, odds of avoiding a government shutdown were narrowed by Thursday evening as House Republicans continued debate over their hyper-partisan appropriations bills that stand no chance of passage by the Upper Chamber.

As lawmakers in the Democratic controlled Senate forged ahead with a bipartisan stop-gap spending measure that House GOP leadership had vowed to reject, the federal government began bracing for operations to grind to a halt on October 1.

This would mean hundreds of thousands of workers are furloughed as more than 100 agencies from the State Department to the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation roll out contingency plans maintained by the White House Office of Management and Budget. On Thursday the Office of Personnel Management sent out memos to all agencies instructing them to ready for a shutdown on Sunday.

Before 1980, operations would continue per usual in cases where Congress failed to break an impasse over spending, as lapses in funding tended to last only a few days before lawmakers brokered a deal.

Since then, the government has shut down more than a dozen times and the duration has tended to become longer and longer.

“Across the United States, local news outlets are reporting on the harmful impacts a potential government shutdown would have on American families,” the White House wrote in a release on Thursday featuring a roundup of reporting on how the public might be affected.

“With just days left before the end of the fiscal year, extreme House Republicans are playing partisan games with peoples’ lives and marching our country toward a government shutdown that would have damaging impacts across the country,” the White House said.

The nature and extent of that damage will depend on factors including how long the impasse lasts, but the Biden-Harris administration has warned of some consequences the American public is likely to face.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, for example, warned: “There is no good time for a government shutdown, but this is a particularly bad time for a government shutdown, especially when it comes to transportation.”

Amid the shortage of air traffic controllers and efforts to modernize aviation technology to mitigate flight delays and cancellations, a government shutdown threatens to “make air travel even worse,” as Business Insider wrote in a headline Thursday.

Democratic lawmakers including California Congresswoman Barbara Lee and Maxine Waters, meanwhile, have sounded the alarm in recent weeks over the consequences for the global fight against AIDS amid the looming expiration, on Oct. 1, of funding for PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.

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