by Marene Gustin
On the eve of President Obama’s sweeping immigration reform announcement, that included plans to give U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents the right to sponsor their same-sex permanent partners to immigrate to the United States, one Houston couple received some very good news.
On January 25, the United States Department of Justice Executive Office for Immigration officially closed the deportation case of Mexican national Isaias Gregorio Rivas-Guzman, who is legally married to Wilfred “Fred” Smith.
“I’m very excited,” says attorney Raed Gonzalez. “They made them jump through so many hoops, but now this has given me hope for the future, for other couples.”
Rivas-Guzman fled his native Mexico in 2004 due to discrimination for being gay. He met Smith at a church dinner here in 2005, and they have been together ever since. But while traveling in Louisiana in 2009, immigration officials detained Rivas-Guzman and he had been fighting deportation ever since then, despite the Obama administration’s 2011 policy to grant Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials prosecutorial discretion to close cases of illegal immigrants who have deep ties in the U.S. and no serious criminal record.
Last summer, at the urging of Democratic lawmakers in Washington DC, the Homeland Security office announced that a foreigner’s longstanding same-sex relationship with a U.S. citizen could be considered under prosecutorial discretion to stave off the threat of deportation.
On October 5 of last year, the decision was finalized in written guidelines instructing ICE officials to recognize LGBT families on a case-by-case basis for deportation relief. The ruling does not even require the couples to be legally married—just in a committed, long-term relationship.
Rivas-Guzman and Smith are legally married, having tied the knot in Massachusetts in 2011. But it took two requests and almost two years before the ruling to administratively close the deportation case came.
“We are still absorbing our news and at the same time almost can’t believe it all worked out,” says Smith. “I realized at that moment that no matter how hard that fateful afternoon at the Amtrak train station in New Orleans was, it was all worth it because now Isaias and I could feel free! We could leave our home without fear that he could be taken away from me at any moment. I thought about a time when we went to Arandas Bakery to pick up a popular cake for Three Kings’ Day. As we turned the corner towards the building from the parking lot, the place was swarming with ICE agents and I almost started to cry thinking he would be snatched away from me. When I woke up today, one of my first thoughts was that I no longer have to live my life in fear.”
The Rivas-Guzman deportation case is one of only a handful in the country to be closed for a gay non-citizen meeting the new criteria. But Gonzalez thinks there will be more to come. Currently, the rules state the person in question must have no serious criminal record and be in a committed same-sex relationship that rises to the level of a “family relationship.”
But it’s not the end of the road for Smith and Rivas-Guzman. The couple is still waiting to hear the outcome of a separate case filed by Smith requesting a visa for his husband, something granted routinely to heterosexual married couples. Such a move would be the first of its kind in the country.
“The decision made by ICE not to pursue Isaias’ deportation case is groundbreaking, and we hope it’s the beginning of a trend,” Gonzalez sums up. “Fairness dictates equal execution of the laws and the rights of non-citizens regardless of nationality or where they are coming from. Many gay couples facing separation, exile, or the daily uncertainty of living in the United States without lawful immigration status now have hope. We will not rest until equality is achieved.”