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Customs Agency Plans Rule Change to Ease Travel for Families Headed by Same-Sex Parents

by Chris Geidner | MetroWeekly

U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced that under a new rule it plans to propose on Tuesday, March 27, families headed by same-sex couples would be allowed to file a joint declaration to customs agents upon return to the United States — saving hassle for those families and nearly 75,000 hours a year of customs agents’ time.

According to the pre-publication version of the proposed rule, CBP is “proposing to expand the definition of the term ‘members of a family residing in one household’ to allow more U.S. returning residents to file a family customs declaration for articles acquired abroad.”

In its summary of the proposed rule, CBP states that it has concluded “that this proposed change would more accurately reflect relationships between members of the public who are traveling together as a family.”

CBP anticipates that this proposed change will “reduce the amount of paperwork that CBP officers would need to review during inspection and, therefore, facilitate passenger processing.” According to the CBP, the rule change would save the agency 72,600 hours annually.

Under the current version of the regulations, a joint family customs declaration can only be filed by members of a family traveling together who are “related ‘by blood, marriage, or adoption;’ live together in the same household at their last permanent residence; and intend to live in the same household after returning to the United States.”

According to the pre-publication version of the proposed rule, “CBP does not believe that the current definition encompasses other relationships where members of the public travel together as a family. CBP believes that the definition unnecessarily limits the number of individuals who may file a family customs declaration for articles acquired abroad.”

The new proposal would expand the definition to include those who “[a]re related by blood, marriage, domestic relationship, or adoption.” “Domestic relationship” is defined in the pre-publication proposed rule as including “foster children, stepchildren, half-siblings, legal wards, other dependents, individuals with an in loco parentis or guardianship relationship, and two adults who are in a committed relationship including, but not limited to, long-time companions, and couples in civil unions, or domestic partnerships, wherein the partners share financial assets and obligations, and are not married to, or a partner of, anyone else.”

Written comments on the proposed rule change will be accepted for 60 days following the expected publication of the rule on March 27.

Immigration Equality executive director Rachel Tiven praised the development.

“We asked the Obama administration to stop discriminating against families on federal customs forms, and today’s announcement is welcome news. Separating families in the customs line was a waste of government resources and a painful symbol of the double standard LGBT families face at the federal level,” she said in a statement. “This proposal ends that insult. It sends an unmistakable message that the Administration, and the United States, recognize gay families as ‘real families,’ too. We thank our coalition partners, especially Family Equality Council, for their part in this victory.”

The Family Equality Council’s executive director, Jennifer Chrisler, noted why her organization had pushed for the change, saying in a statement, “No child should have to ask their parent if they really are a family because of an arcane customs form. But that is what is happening to LGBT families who are treated differently when re-entering the United States through Customs and Border Protection after travelling abroad. In many cases couples are forced to declare they have no relationship with their spouses and parents are forced to split up their children in order to get through the customs process.”

Of the proposed change, she said, “President Obama and this administration have recognized the need to modernize forms and regulations to reflect the reality of today’s American families and we applaud them for that.” But, she added, “We look forward to the day when LGBT families are recognized, respected and protected by all laws and policies.”

READ the pre-publication version of the rule: 2012-07122.pdf

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