Deportation Proceedings for Married LGBT Immigrants Halted, Then Immediately Reimplemented

LGBT and immigration rights advocates had high hopes on Monday when the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced that it would put a hold on the deportation of some LGBT people who are part of a bi-national married couple, due to recent challenges to the constitutionality of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

But immigration officials were quick to clarify on Tuesday that they have not made any policy changes  that would allow an opening for gay and lesbian couples, adding to the confusion that has surrounded DOMA discussions since last month.

According to the hold announced on Monday, LGBT immigrants who married their partners and are otherwise eligible for a green card would not be asked to leave the U.S., at least in some parts of the country, “until immigration officials in the departments of Justice and Homeland Security assess the impact of ongoing challenges to Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act or perhaps until the courts can resolve these challenges,” according to Metro Weekly. Attorney Lavi Soloway clarified at the time, “This is about whether the federal government should be discriminating between different groups of married couples.” Immigration Equality considered a legal challenge to U.S. immigration law based on these new developments as well, saying that they created a new opportunity to keep together families who are threatened with separation.

But on Tuesday, chief spokesman Christopher S. Bentley issued a second statement, saying that the agency “has not implemented any change in policy and intends to follow the president's directive to continue enforcing the law,” reports the New York Times. He added that the agency suspended cases for a brief period while lawyers clarified “a narrow legal issue” regarding DOMA, but that immigrants would continue to be denied the option to stay in the country. “The guidance we were awaiting ... was received last night, so the hold is over, so we're back to adjudicating cases as we always have,” he told Metro Weekly.

President Obama and the Department of Justice brought national attention to DOMA and opened up a new conversation regarding the rights of bi-national LGBT married couples last month with the decision to stop defending Section 3 of DOMA in court. The DOJ noted that the clause was unconstitutional due to sexual orientation classifications being subject to heightened scrutiny.

GLAAD profiled the particularly heartbreaking story of a binational couple that was threatened with separation while most other couples were getting ready to celebrate Valentine’s Day earlier this year.  After reaching out to Brian and Anton and providing them with media training, as well as spreading awareness of their story to other media outlets, Anton was granted a stay of deportation in what would have literally been his last minutes together with Brian. “For now, we feel like a weight has been lifted off our shoulders,” Brian said of the stay. “We can breathe a little easier. We have this time together, to work on our relationship and this pending motion that will hopefully keep Anton here permanently.”

For more information on DOMA and how to talk about it with others, make sure to read GLAAD’s new resource page. In the meantime, we will continue to monitor and provide updates regarding LGBT immigrant rights and DOMA developments.

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