House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and more than 80 of her House colleagues today pushed the Obama administration to put in writing a policy that would help to protect same-sex couples in which one partner is a foreign citizen from being separated because current U.S. law doesn't recognize their relationship.
The request, the House's second attempt to move the Obama Administration on the issue, comes after the administration appeared to backtrack this past year on a commitment to include such a policy in its effort to focus the Department of Homeland Security's resources on high-priority immigration cases.
The administration announced in August 2011 that its focus on the "highest priorities" for immigration enforcement would mean that same-sex couples will be considered a family for the purposes of exercising prosecutorial discretion not to institute deportation proceedings against a foreign partner. Advocates celebrated the move, particularly because many of the foreign partners would otherwise be eligible for a green card because of his or her relationship were it not for the Defense of Marriage Act's ban on the federal government recognizing such marriages.
Two months later, however, and as today's letter pointed out, a response from DHS to members of Congress asking about the specifics of the new policy stated only that "LGBT individuals’ ties and contributions to the community are taken into account" — with no mention of the family ties that officials had said would be included in the considerations.
In today's letter, Pelosi — along with Reps. Jerrold Nadler and Mike Honda, the lead sponsors of two bills aimed at addressing LGBT inequalities in the immigration system, and 81 other Democrats — called on Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to "issue a written field guidance or a memorandum to explicitly state the policy of your August 18, 2011 announcement which would direct DHS personnel to consider LGBT family ties as a positive factor for the exercise of prosecutorial discretion."
The House members — including out gay Reps. Barney Frank, Jared Polis and David Cicilline — go on to say that "[a] written policy is the best way to ensure that the decision by President Obama and DHS to recognize LGBT family ties for immigration purposes will be implemented so that families will remain together."
Calling the letter "a true show of congressional force," Immigration Equality spokesman Steve Ralls told BuzzFeed, "It is a simple action, but also one that will have a real impact on real people and families. We hope Secretary Napolitano will heed the advice of those who signed the letter, and take this important step toward protecting some of the most vulnerable individuals within the immigration system from deportation."
Lavi Soloway, the founder of Stop the Deportations and a lawyer who has represented many same-sex couples facing separation said he "commend[s] Leader Pelosi and the other members for keeping the administration feet to the fire on this."
Working on cases involving immigration officials and immigration judges across the country, Soloway explained why he viewed the step sought by Pelosi and the other members of Congress as necessary.
"DHS' refusal to confirm that the prosecutorial discretion guidelines are meant to keep LGBT families together continues to send mixed messages to deportation officers, Immigration Judges and Immigration and Customs Enforcement prosecutors who have the discretion to protect our families and stop deportations," he told BuzzFeed. "These mixed messages confuse officers in the field and leave LGBT families without protection."
Chris Geidner is a Supreme Court correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.
Contact Chris Geidner at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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