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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, August 3 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 31
Dems press Homeland Security on LGBT immigration policy
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Dems press Homeland Security on LGBT immigration policy

Agency asked to stop separating same-sex couples

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and 83 other Congressional Democrats sent a letter this week to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano, asking her to commit in writing to protecting same-sex couples from being separated because one of them is a foreign national.

The letter was signed by Seattle-area U.S. Reps. Jim McDermott (D-7th Dist.) and Adam Smith (D-9th Dist.), and by Rep. Rick Larsen (D-2nd Dist.), who represents most of Snohomish, Skagit, and Whatcom counties. Democrat Norm Dicks (D-6th Dist.) did not sign the letter.

Pelosi, Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), and Mike Honda (D-Calif.) were the first signers. Nadler and Honda are the prime sponsors of two bills addressing LGBT inequalities in the U.S. immigration system.

Among other notable signers were openly Gay Congressmen Barney Frank (D-Mass.), Jared Polis (D-Colo.), and David Cicilline (D-R.I.), civil rights hero John Lewis (D-Ga.), and John Conyers (D-Mich.), the ranking member and former chair of the House Judiciary Committee.

The letter, dated July 31 and published August 2, was the House Democrats' second attempt to get a written commitment on binational Gay and Lesbian couples from the Obama administration.

Napolitano, whose department has jurisdiction over immigration issues, had previously made a verbal commitment to 'prosecutorial discretion' in cases where one member of a same-sex couple faces deportation because he or she is not a U.S. citizen.

Opposite-sex couples receive expedited green cards and U.S. citizenship, under longstanding U.S. policy.

'Since our last letter to you,' the Democratic representatives wrote Napolitano, 'there have been several key developments which show that the verbal policy you articulated to protect LGBT families in and of itself remains inadequate, and with the lifting of the injunction on Arizona's SB 1070 and other state copycat laws, families face a greater threat of separation.'

'[A] written policy is needed now more than ever,' the letter urges.

CHANGE WAS PROMISED
Napolitano announced in August 2011 that DHS would focus on what she called the 'highest priorities' for immigration enforcement, and that it would consider same-sex couples as a 'family' for the purposes of enforcement and would allow 'prosecutorial discretion' in initiating deportation proceedings against foreign partners.

When members of Congress asked DHS to outline the specifics of the new policy in October 2011, they were told only that 'LGBT individuals' ties and contributions to the community are taken into account' - with no mention of the family ties that officials had said would be included in the considerations.

In their latest letter, House Democrats called on Napolitano to remedy that omission and 'issue a written field guidance or a memorandum to explicitly state the policy of your August 18, 2011, announcement, which would direct DHS personnel to consider LGBT family ties as a positive factor for the exercise of prosecutorial discretion.' LGBT immigration activists praised Pelosi and her colleagues for the letter.

'It is a simple action, but also one that will have a real impact on real people and families,' Immigration Equality spokesperson Steve Ralls told BuzzFeed blog.

'We hope Secretary Napolitano will heed the advice of those who signed the letter, and take this important step toward protecting some of the most vulnerable individuals within the immigration system from deportation.'

Lavi Soloway, the founder of Stop the Deportations and a lawyer who has represented many same-sex couples facing separation, said he 'commend[s] Leader Pelosi and the other members for keeping the administration's feet to the fire on this.'

'DHS' refusal to confirm that the prosecutorial discretion guidelines are meant to keep LGBT families together continues to send mixed messages to deportation officers, immigration judges, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement prosecutors who have the discretion to protect our families and stop deportations,' Soloway added.

'These mixed messages confuse officers in the field and leave LGBT families without protection.'

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