WASHINGTON, DC – Last week, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced a major administrative shift in the way same-sex couples are to be considered during immigration proceedings, saying that the term “family relationships” will now include same-sex units.
The action may dramatically reduce the deportation of gays and lesbians who are in bi-national relationships.
The Department of Homeland Security includes the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency, which conducts proceedings in deportation cases, and family relationships are among the factors considered in such cases.
ICE Director John Morton issued a memo last year in which he ordered officials to consider the circumstances in individual cases, including whether the person has close family ties to the U.S. “In an effort to make clear the definition of the phrase ‘family relationships,’ I have directed ICE to disseminate written guidance to the field that the interpretation of the phrase ‘family relationships’ includes long-term, same-sex partners,” said Napolitano.
For years, LGBT rights activists have called for the same immigration rights to be granted to bi-national same-sex couples as those enjoyed by heterosexual couples. In July, 84 Members of Congress signed a joint letter to Napolitano requesting her to prevent the deportation of same-sex immigrants from their American citizen partners.
There are an estimated 36,000 bi-national gay couples in the U.S. Two same-sex couples have brought suit challenging the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the 1996 law that prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriages, and denies benefits granted to straight couples, including the right to immigrate.