December 10, 2012 at 11:57 pm EST | by Chris Johnson
54 groups call on Obama to take action for bi-national couples
The White House

54 groups are calling on the White House to hold the marriage-based green cards for bi-national couples in abeyance. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

A coalition of LGBT and immigration advocacy groups are teaming up for the first-time ever to call on the Obama administration to take action on behalf of bi-national same-sex couples in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to take up litigation challenging DOMA.

In a letter written Monday to President Obama and other administration officials, the groups call on the administration to place on hold the marriage-based green card applications for bi-national same-sex couples as observers await a final decision from the Supreme Court on DOMA’s constitutionality.

“With the Supreme Court’s decision to rule on DOMA’s constitutionality, we will know by next June whether or not applications for lawful permanent residence for lesbian and gay spouses will ultimately be approvable,” the letter states. “Therefore, we are only asking that, in the interim, these applications be held for a period of a few months. Doing so will prevent extreme hardship to lesbian and gay immigrant families. By holding applications for lawful permanent residence in abeyance neither granting them nor denying them LGBT families can remain securely together in the U.S. until the Supreme Court issues its ruling next year.”

Among the 54 signatories of the letter are LGBT groups such as Immigration Equality, the Human Rights Campaign and the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force as well as the immigration groups such as the Mexican American Legal Defense & Educational Fund (MALDEF) and the National Council of La Raza.

Rachel Tiven, executive director of Immigration Equality, said in a statement the Supreme Court’s decision to rule on DOMA signals the anti-gay law is near its end, which creates an opportune moment for the Obama administration to take action.

“The Supreme Court’s decision to review DOMA means we now have a date-certain for a final determination about the law,” Tiven said. “It makes no sense to continue denying green card applications which, if the law is struck down by the court, would be approved. By holding these applications, the administration can ensure couples will not be separated or forced into exile.”

Straight Americans can sponsor their foreign national spouses for residency in the United States. However, that option isn’t available to gay Americans in legal same-sex marriages to foreign nationals because of the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriage. Under current immigration code, bi-national same-sex couples could be in danger of separation and the immigrant in the relationship without legal status could be subject to deportation. Legislation known as the Uniting American Families Act would address the issue, although the bill hasn’t moved forward.

In the letter, the groups advocacy point out that the Obama administration has taken a similar course of action in past — holding the green card applications of immigrant widows of U.S. citizens in abeyance while litigation was pursued on their behalf — in addition to holding in abeyance applications for HIV-positive foreign nationals while they awaited the end to the HIV travel ban.

Groups such as Immigration Equality have called on the Obama administration for some time to hold the marriage-based green cards in abeyance for bi-national couples, but each time in response the Department of Homeland Security says it will continue to enforce DOMA as long as it’s on the books. According to an article earlier this year in The Advocate, White House officials told LGBT advocacy groups during a meeting that the Obama administration would not take this course of action to help same-sex couples.

But Steve Ralls, spokesperson for Immigration Equality, said this letter marks the first time that LGBT and immigration groups have jointly made the request to the Obama administration.

“We have made the request before – prior to the SCOTUS cert announcement – with a smaller group of LGBT organizations,” Ralls said. “The coalition this time, however, is much larger and includes our allies in the immigration movement for the first time, too.”

In response to a request to comment on the letter, a White House spokesperson referred questions to DHS, which offered the same position articulated earlier.

Peter Boogard, a DHS spokesperson, said, “Pursuant to the Attorney General’s guidance, the Defense of Marriage Act remains in effect and the Department of Homeland Security will continue to enforce it unless and until Congress repeals it, or there a final judicial determination that it is unconstitutional.”

Amid calls to hold the marriage-based green cards in abeyance, the Obama administration has taken action to address the issue. Just last month, the Department of Homeland Security issued guidance stipulating immigration officers should consider “long-term, same-sex partners” as families when considering whether to exercise prosecutorial discretion in the potential deportation of an undocumented immigrant.

NOTE: This posting has been updated from its initial posting to reflect the comment from Steve Ralls.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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