Immigration change could help gay foreign nationals facing deportation

Published: August 18, 2011

The Obama administration unveiled on Thursday new immigration policy that could enable many undocumented immigrants facing deportation to stay within the United States — a move that could enable bi-national same-sex couples at the risk of separation to stay together within the country.

Under the new guidance, immigration authorities within the Obama administration will conduct a case-by-case review of the approximately 300,000 undocumented immigrants facing possible deportation to determine which cases are high priority and low priority. Those who have been convicted of crimes or pose a security risk will be a higher priority for deportation, while those who are deemed lower priority will be taken out of the pipeline.

Administration officials will weigh a person’s ties and contributions to the community and family relationships. During an on background conference call with media outlets on Thursday, a senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said these criteria are inclusive of LGBT families and same-sex couples.

“The prosecutorial discretion memo provides for the use of discretion for people with strong community ties, with community contributions and with family relationships,” the official said. “We consider LGBT families to be families in this context.”

Under current immigration code, straight Americans can sponsor their spouses for residency in the United States through the green card application process if their spouses are foreign nationals. The same rights aren’t available to gay Americans because same-sex marriage isn’t legal in many places in the country and because the Defense of Marriage Act prohibits federal recognition of these unions.

Consequently, foreign nationals who are in committed relationships with gay Americans may have to leave the United States or face deportation — which could mean separation from their partner — if these foreign nationals are discovered to be undocumented or upon expiration of their temporary visas. The new policy guidance offers another opportunity for the Obama administration to cancel the deportation of these foreign nationals, enabling them to remain in the country with their partners.

Steve Ralls, a spokesperson for Immigration Equality, said the new change seems like “good news” for bi-national same-sex couples who are facing imminent separation via a deportation or removal order.

“While Immigration Equality has not yet seen the written guidelines that will accompany the changes the agency has announced, our understanding is that the guidance is meant to be LGBT-inclusive,” Ralls said.

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