The DREAM Act kids seem to be getting a break, but what about gay couples?
Update, 5:30 p.m.: It seems gay couples are still out of luck. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Virginia Kice e-mailed to clarify what the new memo means when it talks about "spouses." That doesn't include gay ones: "Pursuant to the Attorney General's guidance, the Defense of Marriage Act remains in effect and the Executive Branch, including [the Department of Homeland Security], will continue to enforce it unless and until Congress repeals it or there a final judicial determination that it is unconstitutional," Kice wrote.
A memo sent on Friday from the director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement appears to tell immigration officers to have a little heart when it comes to enforcing immigration law against DREAM Act-eligible students. Specifically, it says immigration officers deciding who to target for deportation should consider whether illegal aliens were brought into the United States as kids and whether they are now pursuing higher education.
The June 17 memo came from ICE Director John Morton, who provides a list of categories that ICE agents should use to help them exercise "discretion" when deciding who to prioritize for deportation. ICE is one of three federal agencies that can start deportation proceedings against illegal immigrants. However, Morton lists 19 factors that ICE officers should consider when deciding to do so, including whether the immigrants were brought here as children, whether they plan to pursue higher education, or if they have served in the military.
The new list also says ICE officers should consider whether the immigrant has a U.S. citizen spouse or family member.
So that brings up the devil in the details: Does that include gay spouses?
Gay Americans cannot sponsor their spouses for a visa as
straight couples can. Just last week, we wrote about a gay San
Francisco couple who could soon be separated because of this inequity. The ICE memo states that immigration officers should consider "whether the person
has a U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse," but activists are
demanding that ICE broaden -- or at least clarify -- the definition of spouse.
Immigration Equality, a national nonprofit which advocates for gay immigrants, says Morton's memo is ambiguous on this point.
ICE has taken a significant step in recognizing that tearing apart
families should not be a government priority, it must be explicit
that lesbian and gay families are protected, too," Rachel Tiven, Immigration
Equality's director, said in a statement.
Tiven stated that it was especially important to explicitly mention LGBT
families, since the current Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as only between a man and woman, does not include
them. "If the Administration does support efforts to keep LGBT families
together, it should tell its field offices as much," Tiven says.
We asked ICE for a clarification, we will tell you more when we learn more.
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