New Immigration Priorities Leave Same-Sex Couples in Limbo

While many fearing deportation were happy to hear that the Obama administration was rearranging its deportation procedures to focus on undocumented individuals with criminal histories. However, there was uncertainty as to how the new approach would affect binational same-sex couples with pending green card petitions.

A meeting in January between many high-level LGBTQ advocate groups and Obama administration officials determined that the White House has rejected a hold on green card petition cases involving same-sex binational couples. Government officials stated that they needed to uphold the Defense of Marriage Act, and so these couples did not fall into the same “hold category” as other deportation cases.

Prior to the decision, same-sex couples were told that their claims would be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, with each case for a fiance visa or permanent resident card given individual treatment. However, because of DOMA, the federal government is not allowed to grant green cards to foreign-born spouses in same-sex couples.

The decisions from the January meeting are especially disheartening to many immigrant and LGBTQ rights advocates considering that in February 2011, the Obama administration stated it would not defend the section of DOMA that bans same-sex couples from federal rights and responsibilities granted any other marriage.

LGBTQ advocates have argued that these cases could at least be deemed low-priority, providing couples time to be together while other trials, primarily dealing with undocumented residents with criminal histories, are worked out.

Many immigration and gay rights advocates believe that the decision is unlawful, and does not follow consitutents to only grant some same-sex couples the rights apart from DOMA. The Advocate quoted one prominent voice making this argument.

“In many, many meetings over the past six months, with different players and different agencies, [the administration] has been quick to say, without hesitation, that our legal arguments are quite sound,” said Rachel Tiven, executive director of Immigration Equality. “So it’s frustrating to hear this idea from them that it’s basically no big deal for individuals to fall out of lawful status.”