A growing number of congressional representatives are voicing opposition to the Department of Homeland Security's "business as usual" handling of immigration cases involving married binational gay couples -- some who may face future deportation proceedings as a result.
Two California Democrats -- Rep. Jackie Speier and Rep. Mike Honda -- told The Advocate Friday that they disagreed with the recent decision by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to continue adjudicating such cases. That statement came two days after the agency said it had put a hold on such cases while waiting for further legal guidance from DHS attorneys.
Though a USCIS press secretary said there was never a change in policy, the messaging from immigration officials led to confusion for many gay couples, some who had hoped to file green card applications on behalf of noncitizen spouses.
"USCIS had it right the first time," Speier said in a statement. "We should put a halt on the deportation cases of all married, LGBT binational couples who are currently being discriminated under the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). This unfortunate backtrack means more LGBT families will be ripped apart because our immigration laws only give protections to heterosexual couples."
Honda, primary sponsor of the Reuniting Families Act, said, "I believe firmly that USCIS and DHS should halt [these immigration proceedings] until the courts settle the question of the Defense of Marriage Act's constitutionality."
Honda and Speier, who have both been outspoken on the issue in the past, are joined by three congressional colleagues -- representatives Zoe Lofgren of California, and Jerrold Nadler and Joseph Crowley of New York -- who have criticized immigration officials' status quo in handling immigration cases regarding gay married couples.
Several gay couples interviewed in recent days expressed deep concern with the administration's refusal to hold cases their pending legislative repeal of DOMA or resolution in the courts. "My frustration is not only personal," said Doug Gentry, who owns a pet grooming business in Palm Springs, Calif. with his Venezuelan partner, Alex Benshimol. "There are 36,000 binational couples in this same position. We feel DOMA is so obviously discriminatory and unconstitutional."
As for Benshimol's case, "Now we're back to where we started, in this constant fear of him being deported," Gentry said.
Benshimol's visa expired in 2009. Gentry has filed a married-based green card application on behalf of his spouse (the couple married in Connecticut), which is still pending. The couple has a July hearing regarding the application.
Representative Speier's full statement:
"USCIS had it right the first time -- we should put a halt on the deportation cases of all married, LGBT binational couples who are currently being discriminated under the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). This unfortunate backtrack means more LGBT families will be ripped apart because our immigration laws only give protections to heterosexual couples. My hope is DOMA will be repealed once and for all, but until then we should give married, LGBT binational couples and their families the same peace of mind as their heterosexual counterparts.
"I recently applauded the President's decision to order his Justice Department to stop defending DOMA in federal court. In that same spirit, he should now order his Homeland Security Department to halt all deportations until we find the courage to kill this unconstitutional law."