Comprehensive Immigration Reform
President Obama Wants to Hear from You
By Steve Ralls on 09/28/2011 @ 02:14 PM
Last week, the White House launched a new, online site that allows everyone to weigh in on issues they care about. We the People is the first-ever White House petition site. Users can search for petitions related to issues they care about . . . or create one of their own. Administration officials have declared that any petition garnering 5,000 signatures or more will receive a response from the White House.
Among the issues already highlighted at the petition site are immigration rights for LGBT families, and repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
We’re getting you started with two petitions we think you’ll care about.
- Click here to ask the President to support the Uniting American Families Act
- And here to demand repeal of DOMA
Of course, the White House site is filled with petitions on a variety of issues many of you care about – including multiple petitions for many different causes. So, after adding your voice to the petitions above, search for others, too.
Together, we can send a strong, united message to the President: End the discrimination LGBT families face under federal law.
DHS: "Our understanding of family includes LGBT families"
By Julie Kruse on 08/19/2011 @ 01:41 PM
Yesterday, the White House and the Department of Homeland Security confirmed: their understanding of family includes LGBT families.
The White House and DHS said that LGBT family ties, including those of gay spouses and partners, will be considered as DHS conducts a case-by-case review of the approximately 300,000 immigrants currently in deportation proceedings to determine which cases are high priority and low priority. DHS plans to close many low priority deportation cases. DHS and DOJ will also utilize these factors in determining whether to place someone in deportation proceedings in the future, or to close a deportation case. Immigrants whose cases are closed will not be subject to deportation in the future “unless the facts of their case substantially change.”
Today’s announcement from DHS appears to be very good news for LGBT couples who are facing imminent separation via a removal order or deportation. LGBT spouses and partners will likely benefit from more of the deportation cancellations and delays that we have seen a few of in the last few months. This is truly groundbreaking, as Immigration Equality does not know of cases in which deportations were cancelled or delayed due to lesbian or gay partnerships or marriages prior to the administration’s decision that DOMA is unconstitutional.
We must all work to ensure this important development makes a difference for real families.
- It’s terrific the administration and DHS consider families to include LGBT families. We must make sure the field officers and attorneys prosecuting cases know that so they actually exercise discretion in the field when determining whether to drop or commence deportation proceedings. LGBT families were not listed in a long list of factors for consideration for discretion in a June memo that this new memo will be based on, as we had requested. So we must continue to press for them to put this new policy in writing.
It IS very helpful that the New York Times and many other media sources put it in their coverage. This will help educate immigration practitioners around the country and aid attorneys advocating for LGBT immigrants that have American spouses or partners.
Nancy Pelosi put it in her press announcement about the new policy also. She definitely shows that immigration is a DOMA issue and vice versa!:
"It is my hope that today’s action by the Administration will result in the suspension of immigration proceedings against gays and lesbians who have petitioned for their spouses, such as my constituents, Bradford Wells and Anthony John Makk, who face separation because of the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act."
- This is not the moratorium on the deportation of lesbian and gay spouses and partners that the Washington Post editorial called for this week. It will help families on a case by case basis only.
- This change does not impact the many couples who need relief but have not received a removal order or deportation notice. It does not help LGBT folks filing for a spousal-based green card for their lesbian or gay spouse, who want that application held in abeyance (as so many of you have asked in signing our petition) so they can stay here legally. Instead, they will continue to live in the constant worry that they are or will be out of status, and could be picked up by police participating in Secure Communities or an ICE agent who may or may not have heard about the new guidelines, and placed into detention and/or deportation proceedings. Or, if the Utah, Alabama, or Georgia laws go into effect, the US partner could be criminalized for “harboring” their loved one.
As our legal director Vickie Neilson said in a recent blog: "What better proof do we need that our immigration system is broken than that the response of many [to the case of Bradford Wells and Anthony Makk] — friends and foes alike — has been “why doesn’t he just fall out of status, violate the immigration laws, and then some day, immigration may exercise discretion on his behalf to not deport him?”
Many Immigration groups share the concern that this new process does not outline an affirmative process by which immigrants can win relief, only a way to address deportations. This is extremely significant. For example, someone whose deportation is cancelled based on this new process will be able to apply for work authorization, but someone who is simply undocumented and not facing deportation cannot. Similarly, an LGBT spouse/partner whose visa is expiring can do nothing under this new policy to stay in status.
- DHS said that there will be “the same narrow mechanisms” in place to allow LGBT spouses and partners they have already deported to return to the US. Nonetheless, parole, the mechanism that allows people to return to the US, is one of the areas which the DHS June memo outlined should be a process in which DHS employees can exercise discretion. Immigration Equality only knows of one gay spouse who returned via humanitarian parole following a deportation, after major advocacy by Senator Kerry.
- Administrative relief is a critical interim solution for our families. But, it can be reversed by any future president. We must continue to fight to end the discrimination against our families in immigration, by pressing for passage of the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA).
Click here to email you members of Congress to urge them to cosponsor and support UAFA.
Thanks for all of your terrific advocacy for inclusion of LGBT families and gay and lesbian spouses and partners in any immigration reform. The hard work had an important payoff yesterday! Please continue to watch this blog or follow us on Twitter and Facebook. The updates are coming fast and quickly so please stay connected.
Join Bradford & Anthony for a Special Call This Friday
By Bradford Wells & Anthony Makk on 08/17/2011 @ 07:36 PM
We hope you will join us for a special conference call this Friday, August 19th at noon eastern time to learn about what’s next for us and other families in our situation.
The extraordinary support you have shown our family over the past few weeks has meant so much. From the thousands of messages you’ve sent to the White House on our behalf, to the notes of support you’ve left online, we have moved beyond words by your actions and well wishes.
With your help, we know we can win. Just this week, the Washington Post editorial board published a powerful editorial calling for help not just in our case, but for every lesbian and gay family facing separation because of discriminatory laws. Make no mistake: This is a turning point for our families, and it is imperative that we seize it.
Please join us this Friday at noon eastern time to learn more about how you can help. To join our call, simply dial (800) 868-1837 and use access code 393639#.
We look forward to talking with you — and thanking you — on Friday’s call.
Please join us.
P.S. Can't make the call? Please make a contribution. The legal intake hotline is running at four times — 4x! — its volume just six months ago, and your support allows Immigration Equality to continue providing free, expert immigration advice to the community. Thank you!
What did our Founders say about immigration?
By Rachel Tiven on 07/04/2011 @ 12:41 PM
“He has endeavoured to prevent the Population of these States; for that Purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their Migrations hither ...”
— The Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776
King George’s refusal to pass comprehensive immigration reform helped spark the American Revolution. Our Founders knew that the nation’s future lay in robust immigration, and England’s failure to encourage and regulate it was one of the top ten grievances in the Declaration of Independence.
Two-hundred and thirty-five years later, we must again demand that our leaders take responsibility for naturalizing foreigners and encouraging migration to this great country. On this Fourth of July, here are three reasons why:
- Frances Herbert and Takako Ueda are going to be separated by immigration laws that don’t respect their marriage and their 11 years together. Sign our petition asking the President to keep them together.
- Jose Antonio Vargas can’t be a citizen, even though he grew up in the U.S., graduated from high school and college here, and won a Pulitzer Prize. As a gay man, he proudly came out of two closets in his incredible article “My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant.”
- New York, the Empire State, can’t fix this problem with marriage equality. Nor can Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Iowa, Connecticut or the District of Columbia. To free Frances and Takako, Jose, and every other LGBT immigrant family, we need to repeal the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act” and pass comprehensive immigration reform.
Watch your inbox for an action alert this week on the Senate’s new comprehensive immigration reform bill, which includes the Uniting American Families Act. Better yet, friend us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.
For Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, have a happy Independence Day!
From CNN a Story on One Couple, Fighting to Stay Together
By Christopher Edwards on 06/28/2011 @ 03:37 PM
Today CNN told the heartbreaking tale of one bitnational couple in Vermont fighting to stay together. Watch the video below or at the CNN site (where you can recommend it to your friends).
Sign the petition now at http://imeqactionfund.org/francesandtakako
Coming Out as Immigrant Families
By Christopher Edwards on 06/23/2011 @ 02:47 PM
Last week I joined 2,500 activists, bloggers, journalists and activist/blogger/journalists in Minneapolis for the 2011 Netroots Conference. Amongst strategy sessions and big name keynotes were the personal stories of activists and none were quite as moving as the lesbian and gay DREAM Act students who framed their struggle within the narrative of the LGBT movement. Invoking the words of Harvey Milk and the power of "coming out."
It began on Tuesday with the LGBT Pre-Conference where the DREAM Act students talked about among other things how it was more difficult to come out as a undocumented than to come out as gay:
This conversation led at least one audience member, gay DC blogger Carlos QC, to publicly come out as undocumented.
During that same session i took the opportunity to tie the story of LGBT immigrants into the narrative of fear and bigotry against all immigrants, explaining how LGBT immigrants were not allowed into the country at all before 1980 and how after that HIV-positive immigrants were legally barred from entering the country. These discriminatory practices were carried out by means of search and intimidation. Officials reviewed luggage for any signs of sexuality or HIV meds. Not unlike some binational couples still face while having their computers searched.
I also came out at the conference as being one half of a binational couple, talking a little bit about my 10-year relationship. By my doing so, others at the conference felt they could do the same to me and others.
There is power in identifying ourselves. Whether we come out as LGBT, undocumented, or part of a binational family. We are saying, that we will not be intimidated to live in fear and hide in the shadows. And we create a space for others to reveal their stories as well.
This week we see how that works when Pulitzer-winning journalist Jose Vargas came out in the pages of New York Times as gay and undocumented. Jose, who won his Pulitzer for his work on the Virginia Tech shootings at the Washington Post, writes of his experience as undocumented:
I decided then that I could never give anyone reason to doubt I was an American. I convinced myself that if I worked enough, if I achieved enough, I would be rewarded with citizenship. I felt I could earn it.
I’ve tried. Over the past 14 years, I’ve graduated from high school and college and built a career as a journalist, interviewing some of the most famous people in the country. On the surface, I’ve created a good life. I’ve lived the American dream.
But I am still an undocumented immigrant. And that means living a different kind of reality. It means going about my day in fear of being found out. It means rarely trusting people, even those closest to me, with who I really am. It means keeping my family photos in a shoebox rather than displaying them on shelves in my home, so friends don’t ask about them. It means reluctantly, even painfully, doing things I know are wrong and unlawful. And it has meant relying on a sort of 21st-centry underground railroad of supporters, people who took an interest in my future and took risks for me.
We hear often about "playing by the rules" as if our lives were a game that if we as binational families could just give try harder, prove to be just a little bit more worthy we will finally be able to live without the fear that our partners will be deported. This is too often the story of immigration in the U.S.
After Japanese were interned during World War II the concept of the "model minority" was born. The idea that if Japanese were better educated, more enterprising, more self-sufficient they would never be treated that way again. Japanese-Americans blamed themselves for the bigotry and hate they experienced.
And they aren't' alone. In my own family, my grandmother was the child of a mother from Ireland and a father from Austria. She hated being an immigrant more than anything. As a family with a German-sounding last name, Kurzweil, they were forced to move to Canada so my grandfather could find work in the face of anti-German backlash after World War I. My grandmother wanted nothing more than to just blend in. To her, her greatest success story was finally being that Republican, suburban housewife she so very much craved. No one could tell she was an immigrant's child then!
We have forgotten our immigration stories in this country because there is so much shame associated with growing up as immigrants in the U.S. So many stories of oppression and bigotry — not to mention working an immigration system seemingly designed to confuse — that are suppressed within our family narratives, we have trouble empathizing with the stories of immigrants we see today. In our national dialogue on immigration we have lost the connection between previous generations of immigrants and the current generation of immigrants. And with that loss, we've lost an understanding not just of the difficulty in integrating but the difficulty in immigrating period. Our families all came here in many, many different ways to seek the American Dream. Undocumented families and our LGBT binational families are no different.
As we head into LGBT Pride weekend, we see the wisdom and the courage our LGBT history in standing up against fear and oppression. The times now for immigrants — with papers or without, LGBT or not — and their families to come out and stand up to tell our stories. It's the only way to help others understand how broken the system is and to identify real people with the statistics. It has been undeniably at the root of the success of our LGBT movement and it must happen to move the U.S. to a more just and humane immigration system for our LGBT families and for ALL families.
Remember to share your story. We collect those stories and use them directly in our conversations lawmakers and those setting policy for immigrants.
A Safe Haven Success — Thank you!
By Win Chesson on 06/07/2011 @ 05:57 PM
We did it!
Thanks the tremendous efforts and incredible generosity of our supporters, especially our Host Committee, this year’s Safe Haven Awards was our best yet! We raised half a million dollars and had record attendance, including guests from our pro bono community, business coalition partners, and loyal supporters like you. Thank you.
With not even one empty seat in the gorgeous TimesCenter theatre we were at capacity and able to meet (and exceed!) our first ever $50,000 challenge match from binational couple Martin Chavez and Adam Norbury. Together we raised over $150,000 Tuesday night — more than triple our record for money raised the night of any IE event. This is simply incredible and a testament to each of you.
On behalf of the entire Immigration Equality team, thanks again for to our many donors and supporters who dedicated time, treasure, and talent over the past several months to make the Safe Haven Awards a success.
We are also extremely grateful for the fantastic photography of Charles Ludeke.
Please check out his wonderful photos from the event, below:
Erik & Ranesh Ramanathan: A Family Commitment
By Christopher Edwards on 06/03/2011 @ 03:49 PM
Erik & Ranesh Ramanathan are a binational couple living near Boston. This is the story of their over 20 year relationship and their struggle to remain together despite immigration discrimination against LGBT couples.
Watch to see how they remained together against all odds and why they work with and for Immigration Equality. Then take action and share your story at ImEqActionFund.org\share
Breaching the Wall, and Staying the Course
By Rachel Tiven on 03/30/2011 @ 02:41 PM
The last week has been a rollercoaster ride.
First, there were reports that some offices of USCIS – the agency that issues green cards – were holding applications of married lesbian and gay couples in abeyance. On Friday, USCIS headquarters denied that was the case. Then on Monday, a spokesperson from USCIS called the press to say that the agency had directed its local offices to hold marriage-related cases in abeyance. Today, the New York Times reports that USCIS has changed course from the position it took on Monday and that “the agency would probably resume action on same-sex marriage cases in coming days and would continue to deny immigration status to foreigners based on those marriages.” And Metro Weekly has just reported “The Hold is Over.”
If the government has changed course, Immigration Equality has not. We strongly reiterate our call for the Administration to stop separating our families. Since the historic announcement that the Department of Justice would no longer defend the so-called Defense of Marriage Act in court, we have been advocating with the Administration to stop tearing our families apart based on an unconstitutional law. We are also putting together our own federal lawsuit to challenge DOMA on behalf of lesbian and gay Americans with foreign national spouses. Our position remains the same.
In the meanwhile, the entire country is talking about our families and our issues. We are breaching the wall that keeps LGBT Americans from taking on the rights and responsibilities of marriage – including the opportunity to keep our families from being torn apart.
We have never been so close to victory, and our expert advice and analysis has never been more needed. Our legal team is fielding 20 times as many calls and emails as usual, from families who want to know: Are we finally safe? We wish that the answer were yes, because we know that every day of separation or uncertainty is too long to wait to move forward with your lives.
Because USCIS is now saying that they will not put applications on hold, most couples should not file a spousal green card application (known as Form I-130). Until the Administration agrees that no American should be separated from their family based on an unconstitutional law, those will likely be denied.
However, most couples who are considering marrying should do so. Public opinion is turning in our favor, and when we cross the finish line, your marriage – which is a powerful statement about the longevity and commitment of your lives together – will be key to ensuring that you and your husband or wife can remain together.
We are updating and expanding the legal information on our website by the hour. Please consult our legal team's latest FAQs - here - where your family’s questions may be answered. Every case is unique, and couples with complex questions can always contact our legal team via our website. Our counsel, as always, is free to the community. Please keep in mind, however, that the incredible demand for our help means that we cannot answer every question immediately, and please be patient.
Make no mistake: We will soon end DOMA and pass the Uniting American Families Act. Public opinion has tilted in our favor and we are closer than ever to making real policy changes that will keep our families together. Immigration Equality’s commitment to you remains the same. Together, we’ve put our families on the front page. Now, we can work together to win, once and for all.
Save the Date: Upcoming Events Near You
By Staff on 03/13/2011 @ 04:41 PM
Spring has sprung! Following our record-setting 2010 asylum record, we're putting together a DOMA challenge on behalf of binational couples and calling on the DHS to stop denying green cards to binational spouses.
So we at Immigration Equality and the Action Fund keep spreading the word and working to raise financial support for our work. We're participating in events from coast to coast and planning some our own. Check and save the dates for these upcoming events:
March 16 / Everywhere
LGBT Immigration & Asylum Law National Conference Call
Learn more and find RSVP info
RESCHEDULED: March 23 / Washington, DC
Due to a scheduling confilict this event moved to March 23 from March 16: DC Log Cabin Republicans featuring Immigration Equality's Julie Kruse
Learn more and find RSVP info
CANCELLED: March 23 / New York, NY
Due to a scheduling conflict Women at the Helm: Shaping the LGBT Agenda has been cancelled. It will be rescheduled at a later date.
Meet and hear from our executive director Rachel B. Tiven at NYC's LGBT Center, RSVP at Facebook.
April 28 / New York, NY
Safe Haven Host Committee Party
To attend, join the Host Committee
May 31 / New York, NY
Safe Haven Awards
Save the Date
Late Jun / Los Angeles, CA
Immigrant Art Expo
Save the Date
We hope to see you at one of the events above. And keep your eye here at the Voices for Equality blog or our events section for even more events coming in late spring and summer.
LGBT Immigration & Asylum Seekers: A Call with The LGBT Bar
By Steve Ralls on 03/10/2011 @ 04:29 PM
For decades, immigrants have requested asylum by the United States from their home countries due to political strife, economic hardship, or social injustice. With regards to LGBT individuals in many communities abroad it is mortally dangerous to be open with their lifestyle therefore political asylum is critical.
On Wednesday, March 16, the National LGBT Bar Association, in partnership with Immigration Equality, will host a national call-in to discuss developments in the field of LGBT immigration and asylum seekers. It will be led by Justin Connor, with speakers Victoria Neilson, Legal Director at Immigration Equality, Scott Titshaw, Assistant Professor of Law at Mercer University, and Chad Ellsworth, Associate at Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen & Loewy, LLP.
LGBT Immigration & Asylum Seekers
Wednesday, March 16, 2011 | 5:00pm EST
Please RSVP to receive dial-in instructions.
This call will be approximately one hour in length and is open to the public. You may submit questions before and during the call to Immigration@LGBTbar.org.
Description: United States asylum law is derived from international agreements written after World War II. With the large influx of migrants from other countries, the U.S. wrote an internationally universal standard that would outline who would be considered as a refugee. Since then, however, courts have needed to expand such definition and circumstances that would consider one who might need asylum. In 1994, Attorney General Janet Reno declared the Matter of Toboso-Alfonso case as precedent, which was pivotal for helping to categorize homosexual men and women as a “particular social group”—which, as explained in the Refugee Act of 1980, is a possible definition for a refugee into the United States. Now in the U.S., as it pertains to the 36,000 binational same-sex marriages, asylum law is a very important issue when it comes to the Federal government recognizing LGBT unions and granting protection.
Moderator: Justin Connor is in-house counsel to a telecommunications company based in McLean, Virginia, where he handles transactional/corporate law, dispute resolution, regulatory, M&A and corporate governance issues. Justin also worked in private practice in Washington and Dubai, and practiced for several years at the Federal Communications Commission, before he won a Fulbright fellowship to Lebanon in 2004. From a client’s perspective, Justin has learned first-hand about LGBT immigration and asylum law, because his partner is Syrian and recently won his own asylum case in the United States.
Speakers: Victoria Neilson is the Legal Director at Immigration Equality. She runs the organization's pro bono asylum project and provides technical assistance and mentoring on LGBT and HIV immigration issues to attorneys around the country. She is the primary author of The LGBT/HIV Asylum Manual, a comprehensive guide for attorneys. Victoria is member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association and former chair of the New York City Bar Association’s Committee on AIDS. She was a 2009 recipient of the LGBT Law Association of Greater New York (Le-Gal) Community Vision award.
Professor Scott Titshaw has a scholarship at Mercer University Walter F. George School of Law that focuses on immigration, comparative law and issues concerning sexual minorities. He teaches Property, Real Estate Transactions, International Business Transactions and Sexuality and the Law. Professor Titshaw was an adjunct professor at the University of Georgia School of Law and practiced immigration and transactional law with Arnall Golden Gregory LLP in Atlanta. He clerked with U.S. District Court Judge Adrian Duplantier in New Orleans, and served as a legal translator with Germany’s Federal Constitutional Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht) in Karlsruhe, Germany.
Chad Ellsworth is an associate with Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen and Loewy, LLP. His practice focuses on the representation of individual and business clients on a wide variety of corporate immigration and related employment matters. Chad has advised human resource personnel, managers, executives and professionals and multinational corporations on immigration matters and prepared their nonimmigrant and immigrant visa petitions and applications. He has experience writing policies for, and training human resource employees, recruiters and managers on immigration laws and procedures including Form I-9, Social Security Administration’s “No-Match” Letter, Employment Standards Administration Wage and Hour Division Labor Condition Application investigations and related immigration workforce enforcement and compliance issues. He is a member of the firm’s Corporate Compliance Group. Chad also handles LGBT asylum cases on a pro bono basis.
Immigration Equality Calls on DHS to Stop Denying Green Cards for LGBT Spouses
By Steve Ralls on 03/09/2011 @ 10:51 AM
In an interview published last night, Immigration Equality executive director Rachel B. Tiven calls on the Department of Homeland Security to stop denying green card applications filed by spouses of LGBT Americans.
“It is imperative that the administration stop breaking up families based on a law that it says is unconstitutional,” Tiven told reporter Andrew Harmon. “We’re calling on the Department of Homeland Security to stop denying green card applications for the spouses of American citizens.”
Representatives Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) – both important leaders on LGBT and immigration issues in Congress – joined Immigration Equality’s call for a halt to deportations involving legally married spouses. New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand also weighed in, telling reporters that, ““The recent news of deportations involving legally married gay and lesbian binational couples is heartbreaking.”
Tiven's call for a halt to green card denials follows the Justice Department's announcement that it believes Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) - which prohibits extending federal rights, including immigration benefits, to married gay couples - is unconstitutional. Last week, Immigration Equality's legal team announced they are preparing a federal court case, on behalf of married lesbian and gay couples, specifically challenging DOMA.
To read the full interview, click here.
FAQs: DOMA, Marriage, and Our Families
By Victoria Neilson on 02/28/2011 @ 12:08 PM
Our legal team is fielding 20 times as many calls and emails as usual, and we are updating and expanding these FAQ's very frequently. Our counsel is always free to the community thanks to the thousands of people who donate to the organization. Please keep in mind that the surge in demand means we cannot answer every email and phone call immediately.
Note: If you are thinking of getting married, or are already married and thinking of filing papers with Immigration, or have already done so, please contact our legal department. We can give you individualized information that is not possible in a general FAQ.
Q: What did the Department of Justice (DOJ) do last week in the DOMA litigation?
This is terrific news. The Justice Department took a major step forward last week when it announced that it sees DOMA, the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act,” as discriminatory and unconstitutional. This is the first time the DOJ (and the president) have ever taken a public position against DOMA. By taking this position, many LGBT rights activists and legal scholars feel that the DOMA litigation will be more likely to succeed. As momentous as this move was, however, the Justice Department made clear that for now, DOMA is still in force and will continue to bar federal government agencies – including the ones that control immigration – from recognizing valid marriages.
Q: If the answer is “not yet,” then when?
DOMA won’t be fully dead until it is either repealed by a majority vote of Congress and signed by the President, or until the U.S. Supreme Court finds it unconstitutional. Legislation to repeal DOMA was introduced in the last session of Congress, and several members of Congress have announced their intention to introduce it in the current Congress very soon. DOMA has several sections, but Section 3, the part at issue recently which defines marriage as only between a man and a woman for the purpose of federal benefits, is the one most relevant to binational couples and the one on which the Supreme Court is most likely to rule in the next few years.
Q: What happens to the DOMA challenges that are already in court?
For more than a year, we have been watching closely to see what happens in Gill vs. Office of Personnel Management, a case that Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD) brought on behalf of several married Massachusetts couples. In this case GLAD argues that the federal government has to recognize those couples as validly married. GLAD won the case at the trial court and is in the process of defending its victory in the First Circuit Court of Appeals. That litigation is directly affected by the Justice Department’s announcement that it will no longer defend DOMA in Court, and it is unclear who will step in to take their place as the opposing party.
Q: But what if no one defended DOMA in Gill? Then what would happen?
In that unlikely scenario, then, yes, there would be a final decision for residents of Massachusetts, and they would be eligible for federal marriage benefits, including immigration. It’s not clear whether couples that marry in Massachusetts but live elsewhere would be able to apply for immigration benefits.
Q: Can couples who live and marry in Massachusetts get green cards now based on the lower court ruling?
No. Although the Justice Department generally defends lawsuits when the constitutionality of a law is challenged, if they refuse to do so then someone else, either a Member of Congress or a private interest group, may be able to step in and defend the law instead. This is what happened in the Perry case in California when the California government refused to defend Proposition 8. At this point we are all waiting to see who will step in to defend in the Gill appeal, but it is extremely unlikely that no one will do so.
Q: My partner lives abroad and can’t get a visa here, can I now file a fiancé/fiancée visa for him?
No. Until there is a final decision in the DOMA litigation or a repeal of DOMA by the legislature, any marriage-based immigration application will be denied. Filing a fiancé/ee visa will reinforce the fact that your partner has “immigrant intent” and make it even less likely that he could get a short-term visa in the future.
Q: We’re already married; should we apply for a green card?
The DOJ memo states that the U.S. government will continue to enforce DOMA until there is a final judicial decision or until Congress changes the law. That means that, at least for now, if you file a marriage-based green card application, it will still be denied and if your foreign born partner is out of status he or she will probably be put into deportation proceedings.
Q: We’re not married, but should we get married now just to be ready?
Maybe. Same sex couples need to weigh the benefits of getting married against the risks. If your partner has a tourist visa or student visa, he or she may be found to have “immigrant intent” if Immigration learns that he or she is married. If you are concerned about “immigrant intent” issues you should speak with an attorney before marrying.
On the other hand, if at some future point marriage is recognized for immigration purposes, there may be advantages to being married longer. For example, in a marriage-based petition for lawful permanent residence, a foreign national can get a green card with just one “green card” interview if she has been married for at least two years prior to filing. With this new development in the DOMA litigation, it is more important than ever that you consult a qualified immigration attorney about your individual situation.
Please speak with someone in our legal department before getting married.
Q: If DOMA is struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court, then will the immigration issue be solved for same sex binational couples?
For couples who live in the states with full marriage recognition (currently Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Iowa, and Washington DC) yes – once there is a final ruling on DOMA, their marriages should be accepted for immigration purposes. For couples who reside in states that don’t have marriage recognition, the immediate effect of the ruling would depend on what the U.S. Supreme Court decision says. If the Court issues a narrow ruling finding that same sex couples in a state that recognizes their marriage must be allowed to receive federal benefits, there may be no immediate solution for people who live in the majority of states where there is no state-recognized marriage. However, couples in those states could relocate to the states which do have favorable marriage laws. If the Supreme Court issued a sweeping ruling barring marriage discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, then states that currently forbid same sex marriage might not be able to do so in the future.
Q: How does DOMA affect a marriage performed abroad?
In general, a marriage that is validly entered into, whether abroad or in the U.S. is valid for all purposes. DOMA is the big exception to this rule. In immigration it gets a little more complicated. Immigration generally performs a three part test:
- Was the marriage valid where celebrated?
- Is there any strong public policy ground against recognizing the marriage either in the state where the couple lives or intends to live or at the federal level?
- Is it a bona fide marriage?
So, whether a marriage has taken place in Canada or Massachusetts, the answer to the first question would be yes. It's the answer to the second question which currently prevents people from getting immigration benefits.
Q: If we’re getting so much closer to ending DOMA, is it still important to push the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA)?
Absolutely. Much of the LGBT rights movement, like other civil rights movements, has involved advances followed by setbacks. Today, it looks like the tide has turned against DOMA, but, unfortunately, no one can guess what will happen in a court case that may not ultimately be decided for several years. Binational couples suffer every day, and it would be dangerous to put all of our eggs into one basket when the result is so uncertain. We must continue to fight for UAFA to ensure that couples in every state can stay together, and we must continue to fight in case the DOMA litigation stalls.
Q: Does any of this DOMA talk have any effect on couples where one spouse is transgender?
Yes, in many marriage-based green card applications where one spouse is transgender, the transgender spouse has to submit evidence about his or her medical transition as well as documents about legal recognition of his or her gender change, and these cases generally involve a long battle with Immigration. If DOMA were no longer in effect, it would not matter to Immigration whether marriages were considered opposite sex or same sex so it would not be necessary to submit this kind of proof of gender.
Give A Damn Campaign Releases Immigration PSA
By Steve Ralls on 02/22/2011 @ 12:46 PM
Our friends at The Give A Damn Campaign - headed up by the legendary Cyndi Lauper - have released this new public service announcement featuring Immigration Equality supporter Judy Rickard and her British partner, Karin.
For more information on the campaign, which is highlighting immigration-related issues all month, click here.
UPDATE: Ask Your New Elected Officials to Stand Up for Our Families!
By Julie Kruse on 01/19/2011 @ 01:05 PM
It’s an exciting time here in Washington, DC, as members of the 112th Congress take office – including over 90 freshmen Representatives and 13 brand new Senators. Many of these officials know little about the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA), which would allow gay and lesbian Americans to sponsor their foreign-born partners for immigration status.
Will you take a moment right now to educate your Representative and Senators about UAFA, and ask them to support this bill when it’s introduced in the new Congress?
As a constituent, you are in a unique position to influence your elected officials in Washington, DC, by telling them what matters to you and your family. Today – the first day of the new Congress – is a great day to reach out to your Representative and Senators and share your story. We need you to begin a relationship with them. Our families are working to build support for UAFA in every part of this country - and that begins with you. Please contact your elected officials today.
UPDATE: Former Cosponsors in Congress in 2011
All cosponsors will have to come back on to the bill again as all bills expired at the end of last year. So those who cosponsored in the past and have left Congress will not be counted as cosponsors again. Those who remained will need to come back on the bill again this year.
The list of current members who cosponsored in 2009-2010 is below.
Of the 25 Senators who were cosponsors last year, 21 have returned to Congress. And of the 135 Representatives in the House who were cosponsors last year, 121 have returned.
If your Senators and Representatives cosponsored before, you can thank them and ask them to do it again this year! The lists are below.
Current Senators who were cosponsors in 2009-2010
Patrick Leahy (VT)
Daniel Akaka (HI)
Barbara Boxer (CA)
Sherrod Brown (OH)
Maria Cantwell (WA)
Benjamin Cardin (MD)
Bob Casey (PA)
Richard Durbin (IL)
Al Franken (MN)
Kirsten Gillibrand (NY)
Tom Harkin (IA)
Daniel Inouye (HI)
John Kerry (MA)
Frank Lautenberg (NJ)
Robert Menendez (NJ)
Jeff Merkley (OR)
Chuck Schumer (NY)
Mark Udall (CO)
Sheldon Whitehouse (RI)
Ron Wyden (OR)
Bernie Sanders (VT)
Current Representatives who were cosponsors in 2009-2010
Gary Ackerman (NY-5)
Rob Andrews (NJ-1)
Joe Baca (CA-43)
Tammy Baldwin (WI-2)
Xavier Becerra (CA-31)
Shelley Berkley (NV-1)
Howard Berman (CA-28)
Tim Bishop (NY-1)
Earl Blumenauer (OR-3)
Robert Brady (PA-1)
Lois Capps (CA-23)
Michael Capuano (MA-8)
Andre Carson (IN-7)
Kathy Castor (FL-11)
Judy Chu (A-32)
Yvette Clarke (NY-11)
Wm. Lacy Clay (MO-1)
James Clyburn (SC-6)
Gerry Connolly (VA-11)
John Conyers (MI-14)
Joseph Courtney (CT-2)
Joseph Crowley (NY-7)
Elijah Cummings (MD-7)
Susan Davis (CA-53)
Danny Davis (IL-7)
Peter DeFazio (OR-4)
Diana Degette (CO-1)
Rosa DeLauro (CT-3)
Ted Deutch (FL-19)
Mike Doyle (PA-14)
Donna Edwards (MD-4)
Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC)
Keith Ellison (MN-5)
Eliott Engel (NY-17)
Anna Eshoo (CA-14)
Sam Farr (CA-17)
Chaka Fattah (PA-2)
Bob Filner (CA-51)
Barney Frank (MA-4)
John Garamendi (CA-10)
Raul Grijaliva (AZ-7)
Luis Gutierrez (IL-4)
Jane Harman (CA-36)
Alcee Hastings (FL-23)
Martin Heinrich (NM-1)
Jim Himes (CT-4)
Maurice Hinchey (NY-22)
Mazie Hirono (HI-2)
Rush Holt (NJ-12)
Mike Honda (CA-15)
Jay Inslee (WA-1)
Steve Israel (NY-2)
Jesse Jackson Jr. (IL-2)
Hank Johnson (GA-4)
Eddie Bernice Johnson (TX-30)
Dennis Kucinich (OH-10)
James Langevin (RI-2)
Rick Larsen (WA-2)
John Larson (CT-1)
Barbara Lee (CA-9)
Sheila Jackson-Lee (TX-18)
Sander Levin (MI-12)
John Lewis (GA-5)
Nita Lowey (NY-18)
Carolyn Maloney (NY-14)
Edward Markey (MA-7)
Doris Matsui (CA-5)
Carolyn McCarthy (NY-4)
Betty McCollum (MN-4)
Jim McDermott (WA-7)
Jim McGovern (MA-3)
Gregory Meeks (NY-6)
Mike Michaud (ME-2)
George Miller (CA-7)
Brad Miller (NC-13)
Gwen Moore (WI-14)
Jim Moran (VA-8)
Jerry Nadler (NY-8)
Grace Napolitano (CA-38)
Richard Neal (MA-2)
John Olver (MA-1)
Frank Pallone (NJ-6)
Bill Pascrell (NJ-8)
Ed Pastor (AZ-4)
Donald Payne (NJ-10)
Chellie Pingree (ME-1)
Jared Polis (CO-2)
David Price (NC-4)
Mike Quigley (IL-5)
Charles Rangel (NY-15)
Laura Richardson (CA-37)
Steve Rothman (NJ-9)
Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-34)
Bobby Rush (IL-1)
Tim Ryan (OH-17)
Linda Sanchez (CA-39)
John Sarbanes (MD-3)
Janice Schakowsky (IL-9)
Adam Schiff (CA-29)
Allyson Schwartz (PA-13)
Bobby Scott (VA-3)
José Serrano (NY-16)
Brad Sherman (CA-27)
Albio Sires (Ny-13)
Louise McIntosh Slaughter (NY-28)
Adam Smith (WA-9)
Jackie Speier (CA-12)
Pete Stark (CA-13)
Betty Sutton (OH-13)
John Tierney (MA-6)
Paul Tonko (NY-21)
Edolphus Towns (NY-10)
Niki Tsongas (MA-5)
Nydia Velazquez (NY-12)
Debbie Wasserman Schultz (FL-20)
Maxine Waters (CA-35)
Henry Waxman (CA-30)
Anthony Weiner (NY-9)
Peter Welch (VT)
Lynn Woosley (CA-6)
David Wu (OR-1)
On Being a Binational Gay Couple
By Ryan on 01/11/2011 @ 02:52 PM
So part of being in a relationship with someone who’s not American, is understanding what it means to be in a binational relationship. The implications of such is that one is American, and one isn’t. No big deal.
For most couples, the adjustment of a multicultural, binational relationship might be most for your family and friends and involve a bit of learning- thats probably the fun part. They probably didn’t know what to expect- what they’d eat, act like, take offense to, etc. My partner is Mr Happy and likes everything and is so laid back that I think everyone just found him “normal”. Well, normal for me at least. ha. Regardless for most families getting used to the fact that theres a new person in a family members life who is non traditional might be tough. For my family and friends, having my partner be non traditional meant nothing but something exciting and interesting. Until it meant limitations.
Now that we are in a binational relationship in exile, things are different. Now what it means to me is no longer just binational, but gay and binational.
You see, if one is in a male-female traditional relationship, the option for binational couples to settle together via marriage is there. Marriage for heterosexual couples where one is a citizen of the US provides a fast route for permanent residency. For gay couples, that option does not exist. In other countries like England, France, Portugal, Australia, and many more there are options.
One reason it doesn’t exist in the US is the Defense of Marriage Act from 1996, which mandates that for federal purposes marriage is between a man and women. This act allows states to also amend their constitutions to not recognize any other type of marriage. Because of this, one can get married in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Washington DC etc but not have it recognized federally. Henceforth, gay marriage provides no path to immigration. Immigration is a federal issue, and if the marriage isn’t federally recognized than the immigration sponsored on behalf of that marriage is not legitimate.
There are other avenues for gay binational couples. One that I’m currently experiencing is living abroad where we can stay together while waiting for things to change in the US. For a fee, my visa here can become a permanent residency by applying and getting a defacto partner visa. This is actually applied for by both hetero and homosexual couples, and allows for residency based on proof of at least one year in a committed relationship. This comes at a cost- six months ago this was under $1000 and has now jumped to $2700. It takes anywhere from a couple months to a six month period for approval.
Other couples bide their time between two countries. I know of a lesbian couple that spends six months at a time between London and New York City. This essentially limits any consistent income source and interrupts lives between both sides of the family.
Lastly, there are other options- specialized work visas, academic based visas to study and the annual Green Card Diversity Lottery is an option. All, are not easy. To go to University would require money, the lottery is luck based and millions apply for the 50k given out, and the specialized work visas may or may not apply to you.
Currently we are speaking with the empathetic and kind people at Immigration Equality, who assist couples and asylum seekers with paths to immigration. Besides offering advice on paths to immigration for binational couples, they also offer assistance in fighting for equality for marriage and immigration. They’ve helped many couples live together in the US via asylum or assistance to the best attorneys. They’ve been heavily working to push lawmakers to sign on to the Uniting American Families Act, which if passed would end discrimination for binational couples once and for all.
Ryan is one half a binational couple and Immigration Equality Action Fund supporter. This piece was reprinted from the his and his partner's blog detailing their life together. You can find the original post here plus a wonderful follow-up: On A Personal Note.
Sharing the stories of our families, our struggles, and our lives is essential to our advocacy work, please share yours at our Share your Story page. If you are interesting in writing for our Voices for Equality blog, please contact Christopher.
Asking & Telling: A Letter to Our Binational Families
By Steve Ralls on 12/02/2010 @ 01:17 PM
When I was first approached about working with the team at Immigration Equality, one of the first things I was told was, “We’d like you to help us do for LGBT immigrant families what you’ve helped do for ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’”
As some, but not all, of our supporters know, I spent nearly a decade working to repeal the military’s ban on lesbian, gay and bisexual service members. When I began that work in 1999, just about half of the country supported repealing the law; by the time I left that campaign in 2008, repeal was supported by 8 out of 10 Americans.
Today, Congress is closer than ever to ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” While I certainly don’t take all the credit for that success, I did learn some very important lessons over that decade about how to build winning campaigns. I think it’s important for our binational families to understand some of those lessons in our work to pass the Uniting American Families Act, too.
In recent weeks, I’ve heard many of our supporters ask: Why should we support the DREAM Act? Why isn’t UAFA moving as a standalone bill in the lame duck Congress? And, is Immigration Equality pushing as hard as it can for our families?
They are all fair questions, and their answers go to the very heart of how a winning campaign is built. These universal truths apply to almost every successful legislative campaign.
We need allies. The suffering, separation and pain of LGBT binational families facing exile is why all of us at Immigration Equality come to work every day. We know there are tens of thousands of you who are counting on us to win, and win quickly. The truth, however, is that legislation passes when public support reaches a critical “tipping point” that spills beyond the borders of just those who are directly impacted. Returning to the military reference, while we knew there were 65,000 LGBT service members in the armed forces, repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” really started moving forward when veterans organizations, straight military personnel and the larger LGBT and progressive movements lined up behind it. That’s how we got to 80% support for repeal.
How we got those groups behind us is important to understand, too.
When then-Senator Kennedy wanted to add a federal hate crimes law - which, like the DREAM Act, impacted the LGBT community as well as many others - to the Defense Authorization Bill, repeal advocates steadfastly stood with him, and supported the decision . . . even though that bill, at that time, did not include a repeal measure for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” LGBT troops understood that, by standing with their potential allies in one fight, they’d have a whole new army of supporters fighting with them when the time to move repeal came about.
The hate crimes measure passed — in large part because of those alliances that were built — and today, that same authorization bill is where repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” now resides.
Binational families have similar, important bridges that can be built now by supporting passage of the DREAM Act and other important immigration matters. If we do so — as we explained to Congress.org just last week — the long-term alliance will be strong, important and effective in passing UAFA that much sooner.
We need to pursue every option for winning, and not just one. It’s not often reported — but it’s true — that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal legislation wasn’t introduced as a stand-alone bill in the Senate until March 3, 2010. The option of moving repeal as a stand alone bill didn’t even exist in the Senate until earlier this year. And even when that measure was introduced, it was never pursued for passage as a single issue bill. The fate of repeal has always rested on a strategy built upon a larger legislative vehicle.
That, of course, doesn’t mean that stand alone bills aren’t important. They absolutely are. Using the repeal campaign as a reference again, it’s important to point out that the House repeal bill has been around since 2005. Building support for that measure was absolutely critical in building the case for its inclusion in a larger, “must pass” bill.
The same is true for UAFA. That is why Immigration Equality seizes every possible option for passing the bill. We ask every Congressional office to co-sponsor UAFA. And, we ask Congressional leaders on immigration to include it in larger bills. We know how time sensitive this issue is, and we support any possible way to win for you. In order to win, however, we need you to stand with us in supporting all of those options, too.
We need to be strategic. It is critical that all of our families understand that the Immigration Equality team is exploring every option for keeping you together. We have a bipartisan strategy ... we have an administrative strategy ... we have a legal strategy ... and we have a messaging strategy. Those are all built with our families’ best interests in mind. They are not all developed, however, for public consumption by those who are working on Capitol Hill to oppose us.
In the 12+ years I’ve been working in Washington, one rule has always been true: Giving away your full strategy is the surest way not to win. Indeed, putting every card on the public table allows political opposition to organize, strategize and out-maneuver you.
Each of us comes to work every day to fight for you. Which is what informs the most important point of all:
We are in this together. Questions are fair, and even necessary. We try to answer as many as we can. But, at the end of the day, it is our ability to unite behind, and build, our movement that will give us the power to win. We can’t do it alone ... we can’t do it with a one-track strategy ... and we can’t do it by helping our opposition. But we can do it if we build, and stand with, allies ... if we stand together in supporting every possible avenue for victory ... and if we trust in each other that, yes, all of us want the same victory and are committed to working – together – to make that happen.
I accepted Immigration Equality’s challenge because I believe — passionately— in our cause. I have a Vietnamese partner, and I have been moved beyond words by the stories of all of your families, too. But in order to keep my promise – that I will help Rachel, Julie and the rest of our team “do for binational families what I did for ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’” I’ll need – and we’ll all need – your help, too.
HuffingtonPost Highlights LGBT Binational Families on Thanksgiving
By Steve Ralls on 11/25/2010 @ 09:50 AM
This morning, HuffingtonPost.com's home page includes the stories of LGBT binational families as part of the site's 'Thanksgiving 2010' coverage. HuffPo - one of the most widely read sites on the web - features Immigration Equality's recent work on behalf of the Uniting American Families Act among its front page headlines for the holiday.
As most Americans begin the holiday season on Thursday, in a national observance of "thanks," many will come together with family, friends and loved ones. But for one group of Americans, the holidays can be an especially painful experience. Thousands of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens in relationships with partners from abroad will be forced to spend Thanksgiving alone... or packing their bags so they can keep their families together.
Under current U.S. immigration laws, lesbian and gay Americans do not have the right to sponsor their foreign national partners for residency, as their straight neighbors do. Instead, immigration laws force these couples -- about 17,000 of whom are raising young children who are American citizens -- to separate or leave the country, forced into exile because their families are not recognized under federal law. This painful reality is forcing many American citizens, and their families, to flee their own country, exacting a heavy cost on our economy, communities and on the countless people who constitute their extended families, too.
In San Jose, California, Judy Rickard will spend Thanksgiving without her partner Karin, who is a British citizen. Judy took early retirement from her job with a university so she could be with her partner. Though Karin has been able to remain in the U.S. for six months each year, thanks to a tourist visa, the couple were forced to live abroad the remainder of the year. When Karin was forced to return to Britain earlier this year, however, Judy had to remain behind. Now, they will spend the holidays apart, while confronting a painful choice together: Will Judy sell her home and relocate abroad? And if she does, how will she maintain ties with her family -- including her elderly parents -- here in the United States?
Each day, more and more binational couples are moving abroad, as 19 countries -- and counting -- allow them to keep their families together. While many nations have amended their immigration laws to recognize lesbian and gay families (with Ireland being just the latest to do so), the United States continues to bar federal recognition of those families at nearly every turn.
The stark reality is that United States law is forcing Americans to rip their families apart, or leave their own country in order to be with the person they love.
New Co-Sponsor on the Immigration Subcommittee!
By Connie Utada on 11/19/2010 @ 11:11 AM
Post-election, support for the Uniting American Families Act continues to grow. Congressman Pedro Pierluisi (D-PR, pictured) is the newest member of Congress to cosponsor. He is a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and the House Judiciary Committee and its Immigration Subcommittee. The total of House cosponsors is now 136 including the lead, Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY).
If your Member of Congress is a current co-sponsor please call their office, via the Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and thank them for standing up for our families! If your representative has yet to co-sponsor the bill, call the same number to ask him or her to cosponsor; you can learn of additional ways to take action here.
Stand with our Families!: Ask your Senators to Support CIR
By Julie Kruse on 11/09/2010 @ 08:49 AM
Last week, many of you joined us on our post-election conference call to learn about what Tuesday’s vote means for our families. The short answer is that the new Congress will bring new opportunities, and new challenges.
Our work to seize those opportunities, and meet those new challenges, begins today.
For the first time ever, LGBT immigrant families are included in broader reform legislation. The Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2010, sponsored by Sens. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT), is the first comprehensive Senate bill to include our families.
It is imperative that we stand with our champions in Congress and build support for this critically important legislation.
Please call your senators today, and make the following ask:
Please co-sponsor the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2010 (S 3932). This bill will allow gay and lesbian Americans to sponsor their foreign-born partners for immigration.
Now, more than ever, we must ensure our voices are heard on Capitol Hill. By calling your Senator today, you can help us put lawmakers on notice that, regardless of which party is leading Congress, our families want – and need – LGBT-inclusive immigration reform now.
We will continue to make progress in Washington, but we can’t do it without your help. Please take a moment — right now — to call your Senators and urge them to co-sponsor this important legislation.
Join us, and demand change in this Congress, this year. We can send a strong message to Congress that our families will not step down, will not rest and will push – every day and with every lawmaker — for immigration reform that helps all families.
Thank you for being part of that effort, and for everything you do for LGBT families.