Immigration officials have moved closer to recognizing the validity of same-sex relationships with two pending cases in the U.S., thanks to a recent announcement by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano that illegal immigrants without a criminal record could be allowed to stay in the country if they face deportation.
Napolitano announced the plan on August 25 in a letter to a group of senators who support revamping the immigration system. Under the change, approximately 300,000 deportation cases pending in immigration court will be reviewed case by case.
In California, the decision halted a deportation case against a Venezuelan man in a same-sex marriage.
Lavi Soloway, an attorney for Venezuelan citizen Alex Benshimol, says Immigration Judge Marilyn Teeter administratively closed the deportation case against his client at the request of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Benshimol was fighting to stay in the country with his American husband, Doug Gentry, after overstaying his visa. The Cathedral City couple was married last year.
Soloway asked for the deportation to be halted, in line with a June memo from ICE director John Morton outlining the discretion prosecutors have in immigration cases.
ICE said the decision is consistent with the agency’s focus on deporting foreigners convicted of crimes.
In Colorado, a lesbian couple gained more time in their case because of the policy change.
Attorney Lavi Soloway said Denver immigration Judge Mimi Tsankov told the court that lawyers from both sides of the case should take additional time to review the case in light of the decision. Soloway said the judge also cited recent questions surrounding a law defining marriage as between a man and a woman.
Soloway said his client, Sujey Pando, was expecting a ruling in her case on August 26, but Napolitano’s announcement won them more time.
“It definitely impacted the courtroom, and I think to some extent it mellowed the position of the trial attorney,” Soloway said. “This was a Hail Mary pass, and we got very, very lucky that this hearing was scheduled the day after Napolitano’s statement.”
In May, Attorney General Eric Holder set aside the ruling of an immigration judicial panel in the deportation case of Paul Wilson Dorman, a gay man illegally in the U.S. who wants to stay with his partner, whom he married in a civil union in New Jersey.
Holder asked the panel to reconsider the case, and whether Dorman’s civil union or same-sex partnership would qualify him as a spouse under immigration law were it not for the Defense of Marriage Act, which the Obama administration has declined to defend in court. It defines marriage as between a man and woman. —AP