Originally published on Advocate.com March 22 2011 9:30 AM ET
Government attorneys have agreed to suspend deportation proceedings in the case of a binational lesbian couple in New York pending their marriage-based immigration case.
Monica Alcota and Cristina Ojeda of Queens are the first married LGBT couple to argue in court that a pending deportation should be terminated since the Obama administration’s February announcement that it would no longer defend section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, according to their attorney. Alcota, a citizen of Argentina, wed her American wife last year in Connecticut but has continued to face removal proceedings.
At a Tuesday morning hearing in New York Immigration Court, a U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement attorney indicated that the government was willing to adjourn the deportation proceedings against Alcota while Ojeda proceeds with a green card petition on behalf of her noncitizen spouse. The judge agreed with the government attorney’s recommendation and asked the couple for an update on Ojeda’s alien relative petition by December.
“It definitely brings us more hope,” Ojeda told The Advocate of the hearing. “It’s the first time someone has been willing to let us pursue our case and believes that we should be treated equal."
The couple’s attorney, Lavi Soloway, said that while there was no clear indication that the government's Tuesday decision has broader policy implications on other immigration cases involving married, binational gay couples, the outcome is nevertheless “tremendously significant.”
“It means that for the first time in a deportation proceeding, the judge and the government have looked at a married gay couple and considered fairly that they ought to have an opportunity to pursue a marriage-based immigration case, given the changing legal landscape," Soloway said.
Update: Rep. Joseph Crowley, a New York Democrat whose district includes a section of northern Queens, praised the government's decision to suspend deportation proceedings against Alcota.
“In any case involving a married gay couple where one person is [a citizen] and the other person does not have legal residence, the government should suspend deportations," Crowley told The Advocate in a brief telephone interview. "Ultimately the DOMA law needs to be repealed. But what’s paramount is that families need to be able to stay together."
Crowley joins two congressional colleagues — representatives Zoe Lofgren of California and Jerrold Nadler of New York — who have called on executive agencies to stop deportations involving married binational gay couples who are denied permanent resident sponsorship rights as a result of DOMA.
"I think it would be eminently reasonable — if not morally compelled — for the administration to pause deportation proceedings that target the loved ones of LGBT Americans, having come to acknowledge that DOMA discriminates in a constitutionally unjustifiable manner," Lambda Legal senior counsel Jennifer Pizer said in an e-mail. "Tearing families apart and shipping one member out of the country inflicts devastating emotional harm, and frequently also severe peril when the non-U.S.-citizen spouse/partner's country of origin is violently homophobic, as many places are."
Immigration proceedings, Pizer added, "often are very slow, as the adjudication systems are under-resourced and can be distressingly arbitrary. Pausing the process of ripping families asunder in service of overtly mean-spirited discrimination would be a small, humane, overdue step."
Soloway said that both the immigration judge and the ICE attorney were "gracious and matter of fact" during the couple's Tuesday hearing.
Last week Immigration Equality called on the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security to use discretion in deportation proceedings involving married, binational gay couples pending ultimate resolution of the current legal challenges to DOMA.
Read more on Alcota and Ojeda here.