New written immigration guidelines will protect binational same-sex couples

This week, the Department of Homeland Security issued new written deportation guidelines for U.S. immigration officials that specifically clarify that discretionary relief will be extended to immigrants in same-sex partnerships or marriages with U.S. citizens. This means that foreign citizens who are same-sex partners with US. citizens will be included in a policy suspending deportations for immigrants who don't pose any security risk to the country.

The memorandum, dated October 5, provides guidelines for Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers:

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.  

Binational same-sex couples (like David and Howard, pictured) have long encountered immigration challenges because of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits the federal government from respecting marriages or unions between same-sex couples. DOMA prevents the U.S. citizen from sponsor their foreign same-sex partner for their green card, although different-sex couples in the same situation are eligible to do so. It is important to note that this memo still does NOT allow gay and lesbian U.S. citizens to sponsor their same-sex partner for permanent resident visas or U.S. citizenship. 

The formal memorandum comes just over a year after President Obama and the DHS declared in June 2011 that their efforts to enforce immigration laws would begin viewing LGBT relationships as "family relationships." In that declaration, the administration said they intended to place a lower priority on immigration cases involving binational same-sex couples. Now, the administration has delineated the policy in writing so that there can be no question as to how cases involving binational same-sex couples should be handled.  

These new written guidelines mark one of the first times that immigration policies in the United States will formally recognize same-sex couples.  

The Washington Blade broke the news yesterday, and they spoke with Lavi Soloway, an immigration attorney and co-founder of Stop the Deportations: The DOMA Project, which works to highlight the stories of binational same-sex couples affected by DOMA:

"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.

Freedom to Marry applauds this huge step forward toward the complete protection of binational same-sex couples and their families. This is a great interim remedy while we continue to chip away at DOMA, which continues to interfere with the lives of same-sex couples across the country. As long as DOMA stands, same-sex couples will continue seeing their relationships placed in a lesser class from relationships between different-sex couples.

Learn more about DOMA here, and read stories illustrating how DOMA hurts same-sex couples.