WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and lead sponsor of the Uniting American Families Act, was joined by Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and 67 additional Members of Congress in pushing to protect LGBT binational families from unnecessary deportations. The 69 Members sent letters to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Attorney General Eric Holder requesting that LGBT family ties be considered in pending deportation cases involving binational same-sex couples.
“The recognition of LGBT family ties as a positive factor is a critical step forward in identifying key family and community ties to implement common-sense immigration enforcement,” wrote the Members. “We ask that you ensure that this recognition is reflected in the work of DHS and DOJ employees and the newly-established working group in implementing your priorities for immigration enforcement….Without specific guidance, it is unlikely that agency officers, agents, and attorneys making decisions about individual cases will be aware that LGBT family ties are a factor for consideration for exercising discretion in closing or not initiating removal proceedings.”
The Obama administration recently announced a concerted effort to prioritize immigration enforcement. Identification of high-priority deportation cases would be based on the June 17, 2011 prosecutorial discretion memo released by the Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, John Morton. While that memo discusses the importance of recognizing family ties in analyzing immigration cases, it does not explicitly say that LGBT family ties, including those of spouses and partners of U.S. citizens and permanent residents, are to be included. The Obama administration also announced that a working group made up of officials with the departments of Homeland Security and Justice would be formed to review removal cases and prepare new guidance for the field on immigration enforcement.
The letters are included below:
Dear Secretary Napolitano and Attorney General Holder:
We applaud the August 18, 2011 announcement that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) plans to close many low-priority immigration deportation proceedings. We especially commend DHS for stating that it will consider the family ties of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people as a factor in determining cases that merit relief from deportation, including for gay and lesbian foreign nationals who are the spouses and partners of U.S. citizens and permanent residents. We write to you today with two requests that will further the enforcement of this important mandate.
The August 18 announcement made clear that the identification of high-priority deportation cases would be based on the June 17, 2011 prosecutorial discretion memorandum released by the Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, John Morton, and explained that a DHS and Department of Justice (DOJ) interagency working group would be created to review removal cases and prepare guidance for the field. Director Morton’s memorandum identifies “Factors to Consider When Exercising Prosecutorial Discretion.” These factors include “the person’s ties and contributions to the community, including family relationships” and “whether the person has a U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse, child, or parent.” The memorandum does not, however, explicitly say that LGBT family ties, including those of spouses and partners of U.S. citizens and permanent residents, are to be included among the family relationships that weigh in favor of an exercise of discretion.
We ask that consideration of LGBT family ties be communicated in the guidance being prepared by the new DHS/DOJ working group. All field staff implementing the new policies in all relevant DHS and DOJ agencies must be made aware of this new consideration as they exercise discretion in deciding which new cases to place in removal proceedings and which current cases to close. Without specific guidance, it is unlikely that agency officers, agents, and attorneys making decisions about individual cases will be aware that LGBT family ties are a factor for consideration for exercising discretion in closing or not initiating removal proceedings.
Additionally, we ask that the working group include a member experienced in working with LGBT immigrants and their families to ensure that these factors are recognized and understood in the working group’s case-by-case review of all individuals currently in removal proceedings as well as its review of new cases placed in removal proceedings. The vulnerability of LGBT immigrants – the historical stigmatization of whom both within and outside the U.S. is well-documented – makes knowledgeable review a necessity.
The announcement on August 18 constitutes a major step forward in ensuring that immigration enforcement resources prioritize enhancing border security, national security, and public safety as well as in exercising discretion when warranted. The recognition of LGBT family ties as a positive factor is a critical step forward in identifying key family and community ties to implement common-sense immigration enforcement. We ask that you ensure that this recognition is reflected in the work of DHS and DOJ employees and the newly-established working group in implementing your priorities for immigration enforcement.
We appreciate your consideration of these two requests and look forward to working with you to address these important issues.
Jerrold Nadler, Nancy Pelosi, Barney Frank, Tammy Baldwin, Jared Polis, David Cicilline, Gary Ackerman, Shelley Berkley, Howard Berman, Earl Blumenauer, Lois Capps, Michael Capuano, Andre Carson, Judy Chu, Yvette Clarke, Joe Courtney, Joseph Crowley, Susan Davis, Diana DeGette, Michael Doyle, Eliot Engel, Anna Eshoo, Sam Farr, Bob Filner, John Garamendi, Raul Grijalva, Luis Gutierrez, Alcee Hastings, Brian Higgins, James Himes, Maurice Hinchey, Rush Holt, Michael Honda, Steve Israel, Jesse Jackson, Jr., Hank Johnson, Rick Larsen, John Larson, Barbara Lee, Sander Levin, John Lewis, Zoe Lofgren, Carolyn Maloney, Doris Matsui, Jim McDermott, James McGovern, Gwen Moore, James Moran, Eleanor Holmes Norton, John Olver, Gary Peters, Chellie Pingree, Mike Quigley, Charles Rangel, Steven Rothman, Lucille Roybal-Allard, Jan Schakowsky, Adam Schiff, Jose Serrano, Adam Smith, Jackie Speier, Fortney Pete Stark, Edolphus Towns, Niki Tsongas, Nydia Velazquez, Henry Waxman, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Peter Welch, Lynn Woolsey
Some background on the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA):
- UAFA would add the term “permanent partner” to sections of the Immigration and Naturalization Act that apply to married heterosexual couples.
- “Permanent partner” is described as an adult who is in a committed, intimate relationship with another adult in “which both parties intend a lifelong commitment.”
- This legislation would afford equal immigration benefits to permanent partners as exist for married heterosexuals, and it would impose the same restrictions, enforcement standards and penalties as are currently in immigration law.
- Because the U.S. does not legally recognize gay and lesbian couples and their children as families, many same-sex binational couples are torn apart.
- Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) also introduced UAFA in the Senate.
- At least 25 countries currently allow residents to sponsor gay and lesbian permanent partners for legal immigration, including Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Israel, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.