Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) applauds the Obama administration’s announcement that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will officially define same-sex couples as families when determining whether individuals in removal proceedings are eligible for prosecutorial discretion.
“This policy is life-changing, and potentially life-saving, for NIJC’s clients who face permanent exile, family separation, and oftentimes persecution if they are deported from the United States,” said Keren Zwick, supervising attorney for NIJC’s LGBT Immigrant Rights Initiative. “The U.S. government finally is recognizing that decisions about whether individuals deserve to remain in this country with their families should not hinge on their sexual orientation or the gender of the person they love.”
The policy offers new hope to immigrants who have lived and worked in the United States for years. Many attended school here and want to use their education to build businesses and contribute to the economy. The policy also brings new optimism for U.S. citizen partners who until now have faced an impossible choice: permanent family separation or relocation to a foreign country where, in some cases, same-sex couples face discrimination or persecution.
“DHS’s new policy upholds the spirit of the agency’s June 2011 prosecutorial-discretion memo, which recognized that the U.S. government should not expend resources separating families or deporting individuals who pose no threat to our country and who are contributing to our communities and economy,” said NIJC Executive Director Mary Meg McCarthy. “The decision to treat same-sex couples the same as heterosexual couples in the deportation process is a significant step forward in our country’s long struggle for equality.”
As with DHS’s previous prosecutorial discretion memos, however, this latest announcement is just one step forward. Because of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), same-sex binational couples are still excluded from basic immigration protections. Ordinarily, a U.S. citizen who marries a foreign national can sponsor that person for permanent immigration status, but because of DOMA that option is foreclosed for same-sex couples.
“DHS’s latest announcement is certainly a major step forward, but until same-sex binational couples are able to receive the same immigration benefits afforded to heterosexual couples, same-sex couples will continue to face uncertainty,” Zwick said.