DHS to issue new, written guidance providing relief to LGBT immigrant familiesTop Highlights, Breaking News Friday, September 28th, 2012
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is issuing new, written guidance that will extend discretionary relief to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) immigrants with U.S. citizen spouses and partners. The new written directive, which was announced in response to a congressional letter spearheaded by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), marks one of the very first times LGBT families have been recognized within federal immigration policies. The guidelines, which are expected to be distributed soon to field offices across the country, will instruct officers and field agents to recognize LGBT families for purposes of relief as defined by a June 2011 memo from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director John Morton.
Praising the Obama administration, and specifically the DHS Rachel B. Tiven, executive director of Immigration Equality said, “This is a huge step forward. Until now, LGBT families and their lawyers had nothing to rely on but an oral promise that prosecutorial discretion would include all families. Today, DHS has responded to Congress and made that promise real. The administration’s written guidance will help families facing separation and the field officers who are reviewing their cases.”
Family Equality Council Executive Director Jennifer Chrisler also praised the Obama administration and congratulated Immigration Equality. “This is incredible news for the 36,000 bi-national same-sex couples in the U.S. – nearly half of whom are raising children,” said Chrisler. “Too often, our nation treats non-citizen same-sex partners and their spouses as legal strangers to one another. No parent in our country should be forced to make the heart-wrenching choice of whether to leave their spouse and children behind or whether to uproot their children from their schools, friends, community and extended families to settle in another country with more welcoming immigration laws. These new written guidelines will bring these families one step closer to being treated with the respect that all American families deserve. We thank President Obama‘s administration and offer congratulations to our friends at Immigration Equality for spearheading the community effort to get this done.”
In the June 2011 memo from Director Morton, the Department of Homeland Security spelled out factors ICE officers should consider when deciding which immigration cases are classified as “low priority” for removal. Those guidelines included family ties to a U.S. citizen. DHS stated verbally in August of last year that it intended for the “family” guidelines to be LGBT-inclusive, but it had not previously distributed written guidance codifying that intent to field offices. In a letter yesterday to the 84 members of Congress who demanded written guidelines, the administration said it intends to do so.
“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,” Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano wrote.
“The new guidelines will put in writing a commitment the administration has expressed over the past year,” said Tiven. “Now, the courts and Congress should act to make relief permanent, and provide access to green cards for all LGBT families.”
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