The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Janet Napolitano recently announced that the agency has broadened the definition of “family relationships” in immigration proceedings to now include same-sex couples.
On July 31, 2012, 84 members of Congress signed a letter sent to Napolitano asking her to take legal action to prevent foreign-born partners in a same-sex relationship with an American from being separated and/or deported.
“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,” Napolitano wrote in a letter to Congress.
The announcement marks an important victory in immigration reform, as fewer families will be torn apart due to strict fiancée visa and work permit restrictions in the United States. Same-sex couples have been fighting for immigration equality since the passing of 1996’s Defense of Marriage Act, which banned federal recognition of same-sex marriages and the immigration benefits it holds.
“Until now, LGBT families and their lawyers had nothing to rely on but an oral promise that prosecutorial discretion would include all families,” Rachel Tiven, executive director of Immigration Equality, said in a statement. “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.”
There are approximately 36,000 binational same-sex couples in the United States who could potentially benefit from the news. Immigration applications will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.
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