Same-sex couples will officially be considered families in immigration proceedings, Homeland Security secretary Janet Napolitano has confirmed, in a move that will help keep many from being split up by deportation.
Homeland Security had issued a memo last year saying that immigrants who are facing removal from the U.S. could be considered “low priority” by prosecutors in deportation cases if certain factors were present, and among them were close family ties in the nation. Government officials had said informally that same-sex relationships would be included in that definition, but now Napolitano has made that official.
In an effort to make clear the definition of the phrase ‘family relationships,’ I have directed [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] to disseminate written guidance to the field that the interpretation of the phrase ‘family relationships’ includes long-term, same-sex partners,” Napolitano said in a letter this week, NBC News reports. Her letter came in response to an inquiry sent in July by Rep. Nancy Pelosi, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, and more than 80 other members of Congress.
LGBT rights groups praised her action. “This is a huge step forward,” said Rachel B. Tiven, executive director of Immigration Equality, in a press release. “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.”
“This is incredible news for the 36,000 binational same-sex couples in the U.S. — nearly half of whom are raising children,” added Family Equality Council executive director Jennifer Chrisler.
Pelosi, who had intervened to help binational couple Bradford Wells and Anthony John Makk stay together, told the San Francisco Chronicle the directive “will provide a measure of clarity and confidence to families dealing with separation in immigration cases. Our nation is served when loving families are kept together.”
Tiven said further action is needed, however. “Now the courts and Congress should act to make relief permanent, and provide access to green cards for all LGBT families,” she said.