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Immigration Breakthrough?

Immigration Breakthrough?


In what appears to be a significant victory for LGBT binational couples, immigration agencies are putting a hold on the denial of green cards for noncitizen spouses of a U.S. citizen. The decision to put a temporary stop to green card denials is pending "guidance related to distinct legal issues," officials said Monday.

In a statement first reported Monday by Metro Weekly, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services press secretary Christopher Bentley said in regard to cases involving married gay couples where one spouse is a noncitizen, "USCIS has issued guidance to the field asking that related cases be held in abeyance while awaiting final guidance related to distinct legal issues."

As he had also stated on Friday, Bentley said, "USCIS has not implemented any change in policy and intends to follow the President's directive to continue enforcing the law," referring to the Defense of Marriage Act. Last month Atty. Gen. Eric Holder announced that the Obama administration would no longer defend the 1996 law in current legal challenges against it, though the Justice Department would continue to enforce the law.

The news was greeted with praise by LGBT immigration attorneys and advocates who have long fought for equality in the nation's immigration system for LGBT binational couples. Said Lavi Soloway, whose "Stop the Deportations" project has brought increased attention to the injustice faced by gay couples who are excluded from green card rights or are facing deportation proceedings as the result of DOMA: "We are one step away from achieving full equality for gay and lesbian binational couples.

"For many binational couples," Soloway continued, "this means that the filing of alien relative petitions and green card applications will temporarily protect them from deportation, accomplishing the single most important goal: keeping couples together. All couples should be cautioned that despite this new policy, DOMA is still the law of the land."

Rachel Tiven, executive director of Immigration Equality, said Monday that the USCIS statement "is terrific news and a significant step forward for the families we work with. As Immigration Equality noted in our letters to the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice, we believe it is appropriate to hold spousal applications until DOMA's constitutionality is settled."

The news comes after a report last week by Newsweek/The Daily Beast that immigration offices in Baltimore and Washington, D.C., were putting green card applications and alien relative petitions involving married binational gay couples on hold, effectively deferring potential deportation proceedings.

Soloway has repeatedly advised, however, that binational gay couples seek legal counsel prior to filing any marriage-based petition or green card application.

Over the past month three congressional representatives -- Zoe Lofgren of California and Jerrold Nadler and Joseph Crowley of New York -- have all called on the administration to put on hold any deportation proceedings involving married binational gay couples.

"Ultimately the DOMA law needs to be repealed," Crowley told The Advocate last week. "But what's paramount is that families need to be able to stay together."

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