Originally published on Advocate.com November 08 2011 8:08 AM ET
WASHINGTON, D.C. — A new federal working group tasked with a system-wide review of pending deportations will include an LGBT liaison to oversee cases involving gay binational couples.
The interagency working group, announced in August by Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, includes DHS executive secretary Philip A. McNamara as the LGBT liaison, DHS deputy press secretary Matthew Chandler wrote in an email response to The Advocate.
The working group's inclusion of McNamara, one of several openly LGBT presidential appointees in Homeland Security, is “a very big step in the right direction” as DHS and Department of Justice officials undergo a review of some 300,000 current deportation cases, said Rachel Tiven, executive director of the LGBT immigration advocacy group Immigration Equality.
“We are pleased the administration has heard our concerns about the need to identify a working group member who is familiar with the unique obstacles faced by LGBT immigrants and their families,” Tiven said Monday. “Mr. McNamara has been engaged on those issues and is someone who we believe will have an open-door policy. We hope his appointment to the working group will be followed by clear, written guidance for all members of that group to ensure that, as cases are reviewed, LGBT individuals receive the discretion and consideration their cases warrant.”
The addition of an LGBT liaison to the working group follows calls by immigration rights advocates and allied lawmakers to ensure that the administration's updated discretionary guidelines for deportation cases are inclusive of gay binational couples and their families, who are denied equal citizen sponsorship rights under the Defense of Marriage Act.
In a September letter to Secretary Napolitano, a group of Democratic House members led by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Jerrold Nadler, chief sponsor of House legislation to repeal DOMA, requested that written guidance specific on LGBT binational couples be issued to field officers, agents, and attorneys. The lack of such written instructions leaves too much room for potential error by those making the decisions on individual cases, they wrote.
Pelosi and Nadler also asked that the new working group “include a member experienced in working with LGBT immigrants and their families to ensure that these factors are recognized and understood in the working group’s case-by-case review.”
“The vulnerability of LGBT immigrants — the historical stigmatization of whom both within and outside the U.S. is well-documented — makes knowledgeable review a necessity,” Pelosi, Nadler, and 67 congressional colleagues wrote.
Such vulnerability is not simply a matter of historic discrimination, but also of the challenge to identify gay binational couples in deportation proceedings. “Our community is not always visible just by perusing an immigration file,” said Immigration Equality spokesman Steve Ralls. “With [gay binational couples], there are special circumstances surrounding visibility, and it’s vital to have someone in the working group who is well aware of the issues that our clients face,” he said.
In an October 25 response to Nadler and Pelosi, a DHS official reiterated previous administration promises that an LGBT individual’s “ties and contributions to the community” will be taken into account when considering whether such a deportation case can be considered low priority and thus suspended. The response letter did not specify whether written guidance will be issued to Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials, however (a PDF of the letter provided to The Advocate is available here).
A spokesman for Nadler said the New York congressman will be discussing the written guidance matter in a meeting with Secretary Napolitano this week.
McNamara’s professional bio is available here via DHS.