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Public Statements

Letter to Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Homeland Security - Civil Rights and Marriage Equality

Today, in a letter to Secretary Janet Napolitano, twenty-two U.S. Senators, including Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), led by Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) urged the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to quickly make any necessary administrative changes and appoint an independent ombudsman for bi-national LGBT couples in response to the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). The ruling in the United States vs. Windsor case declared Section 3 of DOMA unconstitutional, allowing married bi-national LGBT couples to apply for a green card and access to federal protections and benefits. Before the ruling, an estimated 36,000 bi-national LGBT couples were forced to live in fear of separation because DOMA prohibited the American citizen from sponsoring their spouse for a green card.

"Last week's ruling is a major step forward in the civil rights and marriage equality movement. Immigration policy is clear that marriages are recognized as valid based on the place of celebration. Now that the Supreme Court has acted, we were pleased to see U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services issue the first approval of a green card to an LGBT family in Florida," the Senators wrote. "We urge you to swiftly make any further necessary administrative changes required to immediately implement the ruling across the Department. We also urge you to appoint an independent ombudsman for LGBT issues who reports directly to you, is available and accessible to the public, and is empowered to resolve complaints across agencies within the Department. We believe the ombudsman is necessary to address the inquiries from LGBT couples and resolve any problems these couples face, some with very complex situations requiring careful attention."

Senator Murray was joined in signing the letter by Senators Tom Harkin (D-IA), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Charles Schumer (D-NY), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Bernard Sanders (D-VT), Robert P. Casey, Jr. (D-PA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Mark Udall (D-CO), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Al Franken (D-MN), Christopher Coons (D-DE), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).

The full text of the letter follows:

Dear Secretary Napolitano:

In the United States v. Windsor case, the United States Supreme Court ruled Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional. While this was a great day for equality and justice, there remains much work to correct the past injustices of this law. For too long, married bi-national LGBT couples were treated as second-class citizens by our federal government and were denied equal access to federal protections and benefits. In our immigration system, bi-national LGBT couples were forced to choose between the spouse they love and the country they love. After the Supreme Court's ruling in United States v. Windsor, Americans no longer must face this choice. However, the harsh reality of DOMA has already split apart thousands of loving and committed families. Today, we write to ask for your help in remedying these past actions and ensuring our immigration policies are swiftly changed to provide equal access to LGBT couples.

The Supreme Court's decision was a moment of joy for loving, committed LGBT couples across America. But for many bi-national married LGBT couples this ruling was too late. Although thirteen states and the District of Columbia issue marriage licenses to LGBT couples, bi-national families were needlessly torn apart under DOMA because the federal government did not recognize their marriage as valid. Too many of the estimated 36,000 bi-national LGBT couples in the United States lived in constant fear of separation, simply because the United States citizen was unable to sponsor their LGBT spouse for a green card. Now that Section 3 of DOMA has been ruled unconstitutional, not one more bi-national LGBT couple should have to experience this uncertainty.

Last week's ruling is a major step forward in the civil rights and marriage equality movement. Immigration policy is clear that marriages are recognized as valid based on the place of celebration. Now that the Supreme Court has acted, we were pleased to see U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services issue the first approval of a green card to an LGBT family in Florida. We urge you to swiftly make any further necessary administrative changes required to immediately implement the ruling across the Department. We also urge you to appoint an independent ombudsman for LGBT issues who reports directly to you, is available and accessible to the public, and is empowered to resolve complaints across agencies within the Department. We believe the ombudsman is necessary to address the inquiries from LGBT couples and resolve any problems these couples face, some with very complex situations requiring careful attention.

Every American should have the choice to marry who they love and live in the country they love. The Supreme Court has decided in favor of justice and equality -- finally making this choice possible. We thank you for your leadership on this important issue and we urge you to act decisively and quickly to correct these past injustices. We look forward to hearing back from you about the actions your Department will take and timeline for these actions, to remedy past discrimination and ensure equal access in our immigration system for all bi-national LGBT couples. As your Department moves forward to correct the systematic and unconstitutional actions of the past, we stand ready to be your allies and partners in the Senate.


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