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Napolitano Orders Same-Sex Couples' Immigration Rights To Be Put In Writing

"I have directed [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] to disseminate written guidance to the field that the interpretation of the phrase 'family relationships' includes long-term, same-sex partners," the Homeland Security Secretary wrote. Pelosi and more than 80 colleagues had requested the move.

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Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Thursday that she has ordered written guidance be issued that same-sex couples' relationships be considered "family relationships." The move is the most tangible proof yet that the Department is taking action urging field offices not to pursue deportation cases against a foreign same-sex partner of an American citizen who would be able to obtain a green card if in an opposite-sex relationship.

The news came in a letter from Napolitano to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on Thursday, where she stated that "the phrase 'family relationships' includes long-term, same-sex partners" for purposes of exercising prosecutorial discretion in immigration enforcement matters, nearly two months after a DHS spokesman told BuzzFeed that such a policy was in place.

The written guidance had been requested repeatedly by lawmakers.

From Napolitano's letter:

In an effort to make clear the definition ofthe phrase "family relationships," I have directed [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] to disseminate written guidance to the field that the interpretation of the phrase "family relationships" includes long-term, same-sex partners. As with every other factor identified in Director Morton's June 11 memorandum, the applicability ofthe "family relationships" factor is weighed on an individualized basis in the consideration of whether prosecutorial discretion is appropriate in a given case.

Because of the Defense of Marriage Act's prohibition on the federal government recognizing same-sex couples' marriages, such couples — when one is not a U.S. citizen — are not able to obtain a green card, which is readily available to opposite-sex couples.

Pelosi said in a statement, "The directive by Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano for DHS to issue written guidance to clarify that 'family relationships' includes LBGT couples is welcome and will provide a measure of clarity and confidence to families dealing with separation in immigration cases.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York, who has long been the lead sponsor in the House of the Uniting American Families Act to allow , said in a statement, "With the written guidelines that I requested and which will be issued by ICE, federal immigration officials will finally have the clear direction they need to make responsible and compassionate decisions on family ties in immigration cases."

Pelosi, however, pushed for legislative changes that she has said in the past will only happen if Democrats take back the House, "We have more to do: we need to pass the Uniting American Families Act and the Reuniting Families Act, to relegate DOMA to the dustbin of history, and to fight discrimination in all of its forms. From supporting marriage equality to seeking fairness in our immigration laws, the Obama Administration has embraced progress for LGBT families — progress that will and must continue."

Advocates also had been pushing for the move, which Immigration Equality executive director Rachel Tiven called "huge."

"Until now, LGBT families and their lawyers had nothing to rely on but an oral promise that prosecutorial discretion would include all families," she said in a statement. "Today, DHS has responded to Congress and made that promise real."

Napolitano's Letter

Chris Geidner is a Supreme Court correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.

Contact Chris Geidner at

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