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EXCLUSIVE: Obama administration issues written deportation guidelines

DHS clarifies when LGBT couples are in ‘family relationships’

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The US Department of Homeland Security

New guidance from the Department of Homeland Security stipulating that gay and lesbian bi-national couples are families spells out three criteria for immigration officials who are determining whether to exercise prosecutorial discretion in potential deportation cases.

The memorandum from U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement was long sought by LGBT advocates and lawmakers seeking greater protection for bi-national same-sex couples, who may be faced with separation under the nation’s current immigration code if the immigrant in the relationship doesn’t have legal status in the United States. It was obtained exclusively Tuesday by the Washington Blade and can be downloaded here.

The guidance offers three criteria for immigration personnel as they determine whether a same-sex relationship would “rise to the level of a ‘family relationship'”:

Same-sex relationships that rise to the level of “family relationships” are long-term, same-sex relationships in which the individuals

• are each other’s sole domestic partner and intend to remain so indefinitely;

• are not in a marital or other domestic relationship with anyone else; and typically maintain a common residence

• and share financial obligations and assets.

Notably, the guidance doesn’t mandate that the couples be in a legal same-sex marriage as it lays out criteria for when they would be eligible for prosecutorial discretion.

ICE maintains that being in a family relationship is one factor that immigration officials should consider when determining whether to exercise prosecutorial discretion and other issues may trump familial status.

“Officers, agents and attorneys must consider the totality of circumstances presented in an individual case,” the guidance states. “Family relationships may be outweighed by criminal history, prior immigration violations, or other indicia that an individual meets ICE enforcement priorities.”

The guidance is dated Oct. 5 and signed by three senior officials within ICE: Executive Associate Director Gary Mead, Executive Associate Director James Dinkins and Principal Legal Director Peter Vincent. According to the heading, it was distributed to ICE field office directors, chief counsel and special agents.

Lavi Soloway, an immigration attorney and co-founder of Stop the Deportations, commended DHS for issuing the guidance, saying it marks the first time ever the Obama administration “has put in writing a policy to protect gay and lesbian couples who are threatened with deportation.”

“We are grateful that the Obama administration has finally issued written guidelines that we can take into court when we fight deportations,” Soloway said. “We continue to represent numerous same-sex couples in immigration courts around the country who are facing imminent deportation, and this document will help us finally resolve those cases so that no couple is torn apart.”

Soloway added the guidance is “evidence that the Obama administration is able to develop innovative, interim remedies” to help LGBT people. Calling the guidance a “great start,” Soloway said DHS should follow up by opening up “humanitarian parole” to reunite same-sex partners if one is living in exile and placing in abeyance marriage-based green card applications for bi-national same-sex couples to ensure they can stay together in the United States.

The memorandum follows a June 2011 memorandum from ICE that laid out criteria for when immigration officials should exercise prosecutorial discretion in cases that may be a low priority for deportation. That earlier guidance said one of the relevant factors was “the person’s ties and contributions to the community, including family relationships.” The Obama administration previously told media outlets that bi-national same-sex couples were included in this category, but LGBT inclusion wasn’t until now spelled out directly to immigration officials.

The Blade reported last week that Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano delivered a letter to Congress informing lawmakers that DHS would issue this follow-up guidance in response to a letter from 84 House Democrats requesting the update. But LGBT advocates have been pushing for updated guidance for more than a year since ICE first issued its memorandum on prosecutorial discretion in June 2011.

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National

DOJ urged to investigate threats against providers of transition-related care

Boston-area hospital forced to evacuate in August

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A coalition of major health organizations are calling on U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland to investigation threats against providers of gender transition-related medical care for youth, asserting ongoing hostility, including bomb threats and threats of personal violence.

The letter, dated Oct. 3, says medical providers are facing threats for providing “evidence-based health care” to youth, which has meant care for gender transitions, such as hormones, puberty blockers and gender reassignment surgery. The targets of these threats, the letter says, are children’s hospitals, academic health systems and physicians across the country.

“These coordinated attacks threaten federally protected rights to health care for patients and their families,” the letter says. “The attacks are rooted in an intentional campaign of disinformation, where a few high-profile users on social media share false and misleading information targeting individual physicians and hospitals, resulting in a rapid escalation of threats, harassment and disruption of care across multiple jurisdictions.”

The letter has an organizational signature from American Academy of Pediatrics, American Medical Association and Children’s Hospital Association, listing no names as representatives. According to the letter, the group represent 270,000 physicians and medical students and CHA represents more than 220 children’s hospitals across the country.

Major health organizations call on the U.S. Justice Department to take action weeks after Boston Children’s Hospital was forced to evacuate over a bomb threat. Authorities later arrested a woman charged with making the after she reportedly phoned in the threat and called the staff “sickos.”

The threats, the letter says, have had significant impact on providers and services to patients, including a new mother being prevented from being with her preterm infant because of a bomb threat; the need for increased security at children’s hospitals; and staffers facing “increased threats via social media – including to their personal accounts.”

A statement from organizations accompanying the letter urges social media companies — including Twitter, TikTok and Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram — to “do more to prevent coordinated campaigns of disinformation.”

Jack Resneck, president of the American Medical Association, said in a statement accompanying the letter “individuals in all workplaces have the right to a safe environment, out of harm’s way and free of intimidation or reprisal.”

“As physicians, we condemn groups that promote hate-motivated intolerance and toxic misinformation that can lead to grave real-world violence and extremism and jeopardize patients’ health outcomes,” Resneck said.

The Washington Blade has placed a call in with the Justice Department seeking comment on the letter and the American Medical Association seeking comment on why the letter has organizational signatures as opposed to signatures from any of their representatives.

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Virginia

Youngkin makes additional appointments to Va. LGBTQ+ Advisory Board

Governor plans to revise transgender, nonbinary student guidelines

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Republican Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Republican Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin on Friday announced the appointment of three people to the Virginia LGBTQ+ Advisory Board.

Youngkin named Kerry Flynn, Jason Geske and Collin J. Hite to the board.

Casey Flores, the president of Log Cabin Republicans of Richmond, in July resigned from the board before his tenure was to begin. The resignation came amid growing criticism over a series of anti-LGBTQ and misogynist comments he made against Vice President Kamala Harris and U.S. Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), among others.

Youngkin last month announced he plans to revise the Virginia Department of Education’s guidelines for transgender and nonbinary students. Thousands of high school students across Virginia on Sept. 27 walked out of class in protest of the planned revision.

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Survey shows 72% of Utah residents back same-sex marriage

Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah said he’s not surprised to see that a majority of Utahns now support marriage equality

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The results of a poll run by the Hinckley Institute of Politics and the Desert News found 72% of Utah’s residents agree that marriages between same-sex couples should be recognized by law as valid, with the same rights as cis-gender marriages.

“For a state that less than 20 years ago passed laws and a constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage, there has been a seismic shift in opinion,” said Jason Perry, director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah.

The Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics survey also found that 23% of those surveyed disagreed, while 5% expressed that they don’t know.

The poll shows Utahns are aligned with the nation as a whole on the issue. A Gallup poll in May found 71% of Americans say they support legal same-sex marriage, a new high.

Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah, told the Desert News that he’s not surprised to see that a majority of Utahns now support marriage equality.

“Utah is a pro-family state, and we recognize that families come in all shapes and sizes. When we see loving, committed couples joining in matrimony, our natural impulse is to support and encourage that love. This gives me great hope for the future,” he said.

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