White House Rejects Hold On Deciding Gay Couples’ Green Card Petitions

When the Obama administration announced in August that it would be conducting a case-by case review of active deportations, this seemed to ensure same-sex binational couples would have the opportunity to stay together, especially given that the working group included an LGBT liaison. Though the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) prevents the federal government from granting green cards to foreign-born same-sex spouses, advocates argued that those cases could be deemed low priority and at the very least delayed until the law is changed or found unconstitutional by the courts. Immigration and Customs Enforcement even agreed to defend same-sex couples from deportation.

But according to a report from The Advocate’s Andrew Harmon, the Obama administration seems to have dismissed this approach. At a January high-level meeting with LGBT groups, White House officials rejected a hold on green card petitions from the same-sex binational couples, arguing they had to enforce DOMA. Advocates have pointed out that the White House can avoid denying green card applications without granting permanent residency — that extended limbo is still better for couples than the immediate threat of deportation. In fact, as Rachel Tiven, executive director of Immigration Equality, told Harmon, this decision is a complete reversal of the support the administration had been giving:

TIVEN: We wanted to make clear to the administration that this is a priority for us, that it’s a new big ask of the LGBT community. In many, many meetings over the past six months, with different players and different agencies, [the administration] has been quick to say, without hesitation, that our legal arguments are quite sound. So it’s frustrating to hear this idea from them that it’s basically no big deal for individuals to fall out of lawful status.

Congressional leaders like House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senators John Kerry (D-MA) Patrick Leahy (D-VT) have spoken out on behalf of couples who face the threat of deportation. Though some couples have been spared deportation in high-profile cases, Immigration Equality estimates there are some 36,000 couples at risk or already living in exile.