By LARRY NEUMEISTER
NEW YORK – The U.S. government has dropped its deportation case against an Argentine lesbian who married a U.S. citizen, marking an improvement in the treatment of same-sex couples involving a legal alien and a U.S. citizen, a lawyer for the woman said.
Monica Alcota was supposed to be in U.S. Immigration Court this week, but her lawyers were told that an immigration judge signed an order Nov. 30 dismissing the case because “good cause has been established,” attorney Lavi Soloway said. Alcota is married to U.S. citizen Cristina Ojeda.
Since the Defense of Marriage Act, signed into law in 1996, specified marriage as being between a man and a woman, lawyers for same-sex couples have said U.S. immigration authorities routinely deny them green cards. Advocates have estimated the U.S. has 26,000 same-sex couples where one partner is a U.S. citizen.
The government’s position softened earlier this year when Attorney General Eric Holder said the executive branch would no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act as constitutional, Soloway said. In 2010, a federal judge in Boston struck down the law, saying it forces the state to discriminate against its own citizens and violates the Constitution’s equal protection clause.
Same-sex couples were helped more on Nov. 17 when an interagency working group began finding and closing “low-priority” deportation cases, Soloway said.
“After a courageous battle, Monica and Cristina have arrived at the end of a long journey that began when Monica was pulled off a Greyhound bus in July 2009 and held in an ICE detention facility for three months while we fought for her release,” the lawyer said. ICE stands for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which is responsible for pursuing deportations.
Alcota was taken into custody after a random bus inspection by a border agent, Soloway said.
This is the first time a case involving a lesbian married couple has been dismissed since the U.S. government relaxed its pursuit of the cases, Soloway said. He said gay couples in New Jersey and San Francisco had previously obtained dismissals.