Integrity Legal

Posts Tagged ‘same sex visa’

31st March 2011

It recently came to this blogger’s attention that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has issued instructions to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) to dispense with the hold on deportations of same sex spouses of United States Citizens and Lawful Permanent Residents which was announced approximately 2 days ago. To quote directly from an article posted on the Advocate.com entitled Official: No Hold On Gay Immigration Cases:

Wednesday morning USCIS press secretary Christopher S. Bentley told The Advocate that the agency had received legal guidance to lift the hold it had issued Monday. The guidance was issued in the form of written communications from the Office of the General Counsel at Department of Homeland Security (USCIS is a component of DHS).

Those interested in reading more about this information are highly encouraged to click on the hyperlinks immediately preceding the quotation to learn more.

Clearly, officials at the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) were attempting to provide some relief to those in the LGBT community in the USA with their same sex bi-national partners who are stuck in the currently limbo-like immigration system, as it pertains to same sex marriages. The question this blogger has is: why all of this bureaucratic runaround? There is a clear venue for resolving this issue: the United States Supreme Court, but it would seem as though the administration would like solve this issue through internal bureaucratic rule making and unilateral executive actions, but this is not the way law is made and this is not the legal way of effecting change in situations such as the one currently facing the LGBT community. Even a Supreme Court decision on this issue is unlikely to be straightforward as there are many aspects of the Full Faith and Credit Clause which come up in the context of interstate recognition of same sex marriage. However, the decision of the Supreme Court, in this blogger’s opinion, on the issue of FEDERAL recognition of same sex marriages legalized and solemnized in the sovereign States is likely to produce an outcome whereby an avenue would be created to allow same sex bi-national couples to receive immigration benefits of the same quality as those granted to different sex bi-national couples.

The announcement from USCIS on Monday about placing a “hold” on deportations of same sex partners of US Citizens and Permanent Residents came as a relief to many in the United States who may only be subject to deportation due to the onerous (and possibly UnConstitutional) provisions of the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act” (DOMA) since some same sex bi-national couples have legalized and solemnized a valid same sex marriage in one of the 6 States (along with the District of Columbia) that allows same sex marriage. The only thing precluding Federal recognition of same sex marriages performed within the jurisdiction of the sovereign States which recognize such unions is the questionably Constitutional so-called “Defense of Marriage Act” (DOMA) which was promulgated and enacted under the Presidency of William Jefferson Clinton.

In a recent memorandum from the Attorney General (Eric Holder) to the Speaker of the House of Representatives it was noted that the President’s administration has taken the position that same sex married couples ought to be granted the benefit of so-called “strict scrutiny” review from the Supreme Court and that the administration would discontinue in prosecuting DOMA cases against LGBT couples. This blogger has noted that such a position may not be beneficial to the overall cause of equal immigration rights as failure to get a “case or controversy” before the United States Supreme Court could lead to a situation in which this complex legal issue is not adjudicated by the Highest Court in the USA and therefore remains in the “limbo” in which this issue currently continues to languish. The Department of Homeland Security’s announcement further shows that until the provisions of DOMA, which preclude Federal recognition of same sex marriage, are overturned the position of the married LGBT community (at least in the eyes of the law and the immigration authorities) will remain precarious.

One point in the above cited article was of particular interest to this blogger. The following passage was quoted from the aforementioned article:

Bentley declined to release any of the written documents at this time, saying it was privileged communication. He emphasized that the official policy itself within DHS had never changed.

What PRIVILEGE!!!! So now the United States government, in the form of the Department of Homeland Security, invokes privilege (a legal principle generally reserved for individual natural persons when dealing with the US government) to keep their own policy memorandum regarding this issue secret? Why the secrecy? Why all of the pomp and circumstance about how important the administration’s memo was to the LGBT community when in reality it would appear to have done nothing substantive for the cause of LGBT equal rights and might have even placed the LGBT community in a less favorable position compared to their position prior to the administration’s memo to the Speaker of the House? So the Department of Homeland Security is claiming privilege when communicating with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS), an American agency under DHS jurisdiction. Does anyone find it strange that the United States government now claims that civilian inter-agency memos regarding official policy which pertains to Americans and their families are privileged? It was this blogger’s belief that the United States governmental authorities are servants of the people and therefore required to provide transparency in their policy making endeavors especially when such policy making can impact a wide spectrum of the United States Citizenry and their families.

Clearly, the struggle to secure equal immigration rights for the LGBT community has yet to be won, but for those interested in this issue it is clear that there may be a long campaign to see equal treatment of same sex bi-national couples under the law of the United States of America. This blogger and this blog will continue to monitor this important and interesting issue.

Another method to gain equal immigration rights for same sex bi-national couples is through passage of legislation such as the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA) which would grant same sex bi-national couples the benefit of applying for an immigrant visa for a “permanent partner” thereby circumventing the immigration restrictions imposed by DOMA. Federal legislators such as Representative Jerrold Nadler have introduced such legislation repeatedly in an effort to provide some kind of relief to those same sex bi-national couples who continue to be denied equal access to family immigration benefits. As of the time of this writing, Mr. Nadler has gone so far as to openly call for a repeal of DOMA and the promulgation of the Respect for Marriage Act a piece of legislation which would restore Federal recognition of State licensed marriage and restore, at least in part, the rights of same sex married couples who merely seek equal protection under the law.

For related information please see: same sex immigration.

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21st March 2011

It recently came to this blogger’s attention that the Immigration Equality Action Fund Blog is reporting that Americans are calling upon the Department of Homeland Security to change its policy regarding Lawful Permanent Resident status for LGBT spouses of American Citizens and Lawful Permanent Residents. To quote directly from the Immigration Equality Action Fund Blog:

In an interview published last night, Immigration Equality executive director Rachel B. Tiven calls on the Department of Homeland Security to stop denying green card applications filed by spouses of LGBT Americans.

Those who are unaware of the issues surrounding the debate for equal immigration benefits for the LGBT community should note that pursuant to the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act” (DOMA) the United States Federal government is prohibited from granting immigration benefits to same sex bi-national couples even though such benefits are routinely granted to different-sex couples. Meanwhile, a number of sovereign American States have heeded the call of their citizenry and taken measures which would allow legal recognition for marriages between individuals of the same sex. Notwithstanding that a marriage may be legalized and solemnized by a sovereign US State, such as Massachusetts, for example; the Federal government still will not recognize said marriage pursuant to the provisions of DOMA. To quote further from the Immigration Equality Action Fund Blog:

“It is imperative that the administration stop breaking up families based on a law that it says is unconstitutional,” Tiven told reporter Andrew Harmon. “We’re calling on the Department of Homeland Security to stop denying green card applications for the spouses of American citizens.”

As noted above, the result of continued enforcement of DOMA in an immigration context is the constant and continued partition of bi-national families. It would appear as though proponents of equal LGBT rights are hoping that DHS can take some steps to alleviate what is, for some, an increasingly untenable situation. To quote further from the Immigration Equality Action Fund Blog:

Representatives Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) – both important leaders on LGBT and immigration issues in Congress – joined Immigration Equality’s call for a halt to deportations involving legally married spouses. New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand also weighed in, telling reporters that, ““The recent news of deportations involving legally married gay and lesbian binational couples is heartbreaking.”

This blogger highly encourages readers to click on the above links to learn more about the Immigration Equality Action Fund and the struggle for equal rights in the LGBT community. It should be noted that Representative Jerrold Nadler has been a strong proponent of legislation such as the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA), legislation designed to provide immigration benefits to same sex bi-national couples.

There have been many sovereign US States that have shown “true grit” in the struggle for equal LGBT rights, privileges, immunities, and protections. States such as Massachusetts, Iowa, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut as well as the District of Columbia have shown support for the struggle of equal rights for LGBT families. Meanwhile, continued enforcement of the provisions of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) keep bi-national same sex couples from attaining equal immigration benefits when compared to their different-sex counterparts.

The issue of same sex marriage and equal rights for same sex couples is something that some have suggested is a divisive issue, but in this blogger’s opinion it need not be. For example, this blogger comes from a State (the State of Kansas) that explicitly forbids same sex marriage (yes, notwithstanding the State of Kansas’s position on same sex marriage this blogger feels that the right to marry whom one chooses is a civil right guaranteed to individuals under the U.S. Constitution that should be granted to those in Kansas as well as everywhere else in the USA, but the following analysis is primarily concerned with the same sex marriage issue in an interstate context). There are some who argue that this means that the State Courts are barred from recognizing same sex marriages legalized in other States. This blogger would argue that a different interpretation of the Full Faith and Credit Clause would allow a State such as Kansas to acknowledge that a legal marriage between two people of the same sex exists in fact in another American jurisdiction (say, Massachusetts, for example). Concurrently, the provisions of a State Constitution may prohibit any further State recognition or execution of a same sex divorce, but such a scenario is certainly better than the current state of affairs where no same sex couples are granted any type of Federal or interstate marital recognition at all. That said, none of these issues has yet to be fully resolved so any analysis remains speculation.

For related information please see: same sex visas.

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8th March 2011

In what could possibly be one of the most convoluted political and legal issues currently in the American zeitgeist it has been reported by various sources that President Barack Obama is under pressure from many different groups regarding his recent decision not to enforce key provisions of the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act” (DOMA). To quote directly from an article posted on AfricaOnline.com:

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich suggested last week that President Obama overstepped his constitutional bounds when he announced he would no longer defend Defense of Marriage Act in court.

In matters pertaining to United States Constitutional law the lines between the political and legal spheres begin to blur and for this reason the issues surrounding what may be the most interesting legal situation in recent history are difficult to sort out for those who have not kept up with the evolving posture of this issue. To provide a brief summation: the United States Federal government is currently barred from recognizing marriages between same-sex couples pursuant to the provisions of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Meanwhile, 7 jurisdictions in the United States, including 6 sovereign States, currently license same sex unions. Meanwhile, many sovereign American States have promulgated State Constitutional amendments forbidding recognition of marriage between same sex couples. Currently, there is a case that has been adjudicated by the Massachusetts Federal District Court which found that States have a fundamental right to marry those within their jurisdiction. Amongst advocates of States’ Rights, the significant issue in the DOMA cases is: FEDERAL recognition of same sex marriages legalized and solemnized within the States’ jurisdiction. To continue quoting Mr. Gingrich according to AfricaOnline.com:

“Imagine that Governor Palin had become president,” Gingrich said. “Imagine that she had announced that Roe versus Wade in her view was unconstitutional and therefore the United States government would no longer protect anyone’s right to have an abortion because she personally had decided it should be changed. The news media would have gone crazy. The New York Times would have demanded her impeachment.”

For those unfamiliar with the Roe versus Wade decision, this was the Supreme Court case which allowed women to receive abortions based upon an interpretation of the US Constitution. It is interesting that Mr. Gingrich noted the lack of “Mainstream Media” attention to this issue as there are those who could argue that the issue of equal rights for the LGBT community is an issue often overlooked by major media outlets. Clearly, the issue of same sex marriage is provoking strong reaction from various sectors of the American political spectrum, to quote directly from the website ThinkProgress.org:

Now, in the right’s furor over the administration’s announcement that it will not defend the constitutionality of Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) is calling for Obama to be impeached.

After the Arizona Republican advocated defunding the Department of Justice if it does not defend Section 3 of DOMA – “I would support that in a moment,” remarked Franks – he went on to say that he would “absolutely” favor impeaching President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder if such a move “could gain collective support”…

It would appear as though this issue is causing a great deal of political turmoil for Mr. Obama, but what is even more interesting are the underlying issues at stake for both the LGBT community and the sovereign States which comprise the United States of America.

To be clear, this blogger fully believes that the right to marry whomever one chooses to marry is a fundamental inalienable right and equal protection of that right should be accorded to members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) community. In this blogger’s personal opinion, if two people wish to consensually enter into a marital union, then their respective genders should not be relevant for purposes of government recognition of that union. However, there is an even stronger argument in favor of requiring Federal recognition of same sex marriage and this argument stems from the fact that 6 states have allowed some form of same sex union (civil union or marriage). Clearly, States have traditionally been vested with the power to solemnize and legalize marriages within their respective jurisdictions and the Federal government should be required to recognize such unions, but the provisions of DOMA preclude such recognition. For example, same sex bi-national couples who have legalized a marriage in, say, Massachusetts cannot be accorded the same immigration benefits as their different-sex counterparts pursuant to the provisions of DOMA. There has been some discussion of legislation such as the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA) which would rectify this problem in the context of United States immigration, but this still leaves a fundamental question unanswered: when did the Federal government get the right to dictate to the States what shall constitute a marriage?

As to the Obama Administration’s decision to not pursue cases in support of the Defense of Marriage Act: the sentiment is laudable, but ultimately this action may not be in the best interests of the LGBT community as such inaction results in fewer, if any, cases or controversies coming before the Supreme Court thereby removing the platform for the Supreme Court to make a broad binding decision regarding the Defense of Marriage Act itself (and possibly the overall issue of same sex marriage in general), the Full Faith and Credit Clause, and the other legal issues, such as discrimination against same sex bi-national couples, which come “part and parcel” with continued enforcement of the Defense of Marriage Act.

It is this blogger’s personal opinion that the United States Supreme Court will find in favor of recognition of same sex marriage, but in what could prove to be a sort of convoluted decision wherein Justices such as Scalia, Thomas, and Roberts find in favor of the right of the States to set policy regarding who can get married within their jurisdiction while the more “liberal” or “civil libertarian” wing of the Court finds in favor of granting same sex couples the right to Federal recognition of a legally solemnized State marriage based more upon a finding that the issue is one of civil rights.

For related information please see: LGBT Visa.

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7th February 2011

It recently came to this blogger’s attention that a State Judge in a Nebraska Court appears to have been unwilling to grant a divorce to a same-sex married couple on the grounds that the State of Nebraska does not recognize the existence of the underlying marriage. It would appear as though the parties in question were originally married in Vermont (a State which recognizes and solemnizes marriages between individuals of the same gender), but wished to have their marriage dissolved in Nebraska (a State which does not solemnize nor recognize same sex marriage). To quote directly from a posting on WCAX.com, a website dedicated to providing news pertaining to Vermont:

According to Judge Randall Rehmeier, the state can’t dissolve their marriage because gay marriage isn’t recognized by the Nebraska Constitution. That means their marriage doesn’t exist in the state’s eyes.

The administration of this blog highly recommends readers go to the website noted above to read the full posting. The Judge’s reasoning may go to the heart of the overall conundrum that arises from what some would consider to be the uncertain nature of the current legal status of same sex marriages in the United States. As noted previously on this blog, within the USA there are currently 5 sovereign American  States that recognize and perform same sex marriages. Meanwhile, there are many other States and jurisdictions which do not recognize such marital relationships. Furthermore, there are even some American States which have State constitutional amendments banning same sex marriage or defining marriage as exclusively to mean a marital union between two people of differing gender. Concurrently, the United States Federal Government does not recognize same sex marriages pursuant to the language of the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act” (DOMA). Under the provisions of the Defense of Marriage Act the Federal government is legally barred from recognizing marriages between two people of the same gender. This is a significant issue in the area of United States Immigration law as same sex bi-national couples are unable to obtain the same family based visa benefits as different-sex bi-national couples, regardless of the fact that the couple may have been lawfully married in one of the American States which recognizes same sex marriage.

In the midst of all of these conflicting policies and laws there are currently cases pending in the United States Federal Courts which address the issues associated with same sex marriage and government recognition thereof. At the time of this writing, Federal District Courts in Massachusetts and California have ruled that Federal failure to recognize State sanctioned same sex marriage is unconstitutional. However, those decisions have been stayed pending appeal. Those appeals could very possibly go all the way to the United States Supreme Court.

At the time of this writing, the issue of same sex marriage is far from settled, but one thing is clear: it is unlikely that a solution will be easy to find. It is this blogger’s opinion that the issues associated with same sex marriage touch most particularly upon legal notions inherent in the Constitutional doctrine of Full Faith and Credit pursuant to the Full Faith and Credit Clause. However, analysis under the Full Faith and Credit Clause may not lead to uniform State acceptance of same sex marriage. In this blogger’s opinion, the Defense of Marriage Act was rendered unconstitutional the moment that a sovereign American State began recognizing and performing marriages for people of the same sex. This opinion is based upon the belief that the right to solemnize marriages between parties within the jurisdiction of a given State is a right reserved to said State under the 10th Amendment to the United States Constitution. Under certain circumstances, States have cited their power to promote “public health and safety” as a basis for issuing marriage licenses.

In this blogger’s opinion, if a State has duly legalized a same sex marriage within their jurisdiction pursuant to the laws and procedures of said State, then the Federal government must recognize that marriage pursuant to what this blogger would describe as Vertical Full Faith and Credit (i.e. Federal recognition of certain State prerogatives regarding intrastate matters pursuant to the Full Faith and Credit Clause). However, the law dealing with what this blogger would describe as Horizontal Full Faith and Credit (State to State recognition of State adjudicated matters) can be opaque especially with regard to issues which one state has deemed to be in violation of State public policy. If a sovereign American State has a Constitutional Amendment which specifically defines marriage as a marital union between a man and a woman, then there is a strong argument in favor of denying divorces to same sex couples within that State since it would violate State public policy to recognize the existence of the marriage in order to dissolve it.

As more and more same sex couples legalize marriages in the United States, it stands to reason that more such couples may one day seek divorce. The issues associated with Full Faith and Credit and LGBT rights have yet to be fully resolved, but it seems likely that this issue will remain controversial both from a political perspective as well as a legal perspective.

Those reading this posting should take note of the fact that there are myriad legal and political opinions on this subject and until such time as a binding decision is made in the US Courts or Federal legislature this issue will probably continue to remain unresolved.

For information about legislation designed to deal with the immigration restrictions placed upon same sex bi-national couples please see: Uniting American Families Act or UAFA.

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31st January 2011

The issue of Federal recognition of same sex marriage is one which remains stuck in this bloggers mind like a splinter. The issue is vexing because the United States Federal government has clearly usurped sovereign State prerogatives on the issue while simultaneously trampling upon individual civil rights to equal protection under the laws of the United States as well as the fundamental Constitutional right to freely and peaceably associate with whomever one wishes to associate with. That said, the issue is, in this blogger’s opinion, best analyzed pursuant to the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the Constitution of the USA.

The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) currently prohibits the United States Federal government from recognizing a marriage or civil union between two individuals of the same sex. Most legal scholars approach the issue of same sex marriage and the preclusion of Federal recognition from a civil rights perspective. Although this blogger wholeheartedly agrees that LGBT rights issues do generally fall under the umbrella of civil liberties, the ramifications of DOMA upon the sovereign American States is the most unfortunate aspect of the current state of affairs.

To quote directly from Wikipedia.com:

In Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Washington, D.C., marriages for same-sex couples are legal and currently performed.

This is important to note as there are American States which explicitly prohibit the recognition of marriages between two people of the the same sex. Conversely, as noted above, there are currently five (5) states which allow same sex marriage. This has lead to a situation in which there is little interstate uniformity regarding this issue. As their site puts things so succinctly it may be best to quote Wikipedia.com’s entry on this issue further:

There has been much speculation on the clause’s possible application to same-sex marriage, civil union, and domestic partnership laws and cases, as well as the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and the proposed Federal Marriage Amendment. Between 1996 and 2004, 39 states passed their own laws and constitutional amendments, sometimes called “mini DOMAs,” which define marriage as consisting solely of opposite-sex couples. Most of these “mini DOMAs” explicitly prohibit the state from honoring same-sex marriages performed in other states and countries. Conversely, several states have legalized same-sex marriage, either legislatively or by state supreme court judgment.

The United States Supreme Court has not ruled on how (if at all) these laws are affected by the Full Faith and Credit Clause. However, in August 2007, a federal appeals court held that the clause did require Oklahoma to recognize adoptions by same-sex couples which were finalized in other states.[18]

If the Full Faith and Credit clause is given its traditional interpretation, it has no application to same-sex marriage, and the DOMA legislation is superfluous and even dangerous, as it may lead to a misconstruction of the Full Faith and Credit clause. If a state is required to recognize a same sex marriage, it will be pursuant to the Equal Protection Clause, as was the case with respect to interracial marriages.

The final paragraph of this citation is most notable to this blogger as it is the section in which he is in disagreement. To understand the reasoning behind this blogger’s disbelief in the assertions stated in this Wikipedia.com posting one must first read the actual text of the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the US Constitution:

Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State. And the Congress may by general Laws prescribe the Manner in which such Acts, Records and Proceedings shall be proved, and the Effect thereof.

It is virtually self-evident, in this author’s opinion, that the plain language of the Full Faith and Credit Clause will compel broad recognition of same sex marriage in the USA. Rather than looking at the issue from a civil rights perspective (which requires lengthy analysis into what are, in this author’s opinion, superfluous issues such as personal or religious feeling regarding same sex marriage which have no place in a reasoned legal analysis of the issue) simply examine the plain language of the Clause itself. The clause explicitly states that Full Faith and Credit SHALL be given to the public RECORDS of every other State.

What does this mean from a practical perspective? To use a hypothetical: two people of the same sex go to the State of Iowa (a jurisdiction which, according to a citation above, both recognizes and solemnizes same sex marriage) and get married. To quote the official Iowa County, Iowa website:

Iowa Vital Records are official registrations of births, deaths and marriages. Certified copies of Vital Records can be obtained from a County Recorder’s office or the Iowa Department of Public Health.

Once an official record is made of a registered same sex marriage does not the Full Faith and Credit Clause operate to compel interstate recognition of such a record? One would think, but there are exceptions to this kind of broad application of the Full Faith and Credit Clause as States which have clear public policies in conflict with foreign State Judgments, Acts, or Records may be permitted to ignore such Judgments, Acts, or Records (foreign judgments always seem to be accorded more preference from an interstate enforcement standpoint).

InterState recognition of same sex marriage, or as this blogger prefers to refer to it: Horizontal Full Faith and Credit of same sex marriage; is not really the main thrust of this post as the more pressing concern for the purposes of this article is Federal recognition of same sex marriage notwithstanding the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). The interstate implications of some states fully recognizing same sex marriage while other states fail to recognize such unions are interesting topics, but the main issue of this posting is what this blogger refers to as Vertical Full Faith and Credit. Namely, Federal recognition of same sex marriage lawfully solemnized in a sovereign State. Since when was the United States Federal government able to pick and choose which State laws it was willing to recognize? To quote directly from USLegal.com:

The full faith and credit doctrine as applicable to the federal courts in recognizing the records and judicial proceedings of state courts is contained in 28 U.S.C. § 1738.  The full faith and credit rule pertains to recognition by state courts of the records and judicial proceedings of courts of sister States; this includes every court within the United States.  This provision also includes recognition of the records and proceedings of the courts of any territory or any country subject to the jurisdiction of the United States.  By this provision, the federal courts are also bound to give to the judgments of the state courts the same faith and credit that the courts of one State are bound to give to the judgments of the courts of their sister States…

Pursuant to a plain language analysis of the Constitution it is this author’s opinion that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional as it requires the Federal government to disregard the Acts, Records, and Judgments creating same sex marital relationships within the jurisdiction of Sovereign States in direct violation of the plain language of the Full Faith and Credit Clause itself. Although there is a Civil Rights perspective to this issue, the major point that should not be overlooked is that fact that the US Congress is attempting, through enforcement of the Defense of Marriage Act, to dictate to the States what shall constitute a valid marriage. In the past, legalization and solemnization of marriage was within the exclusive bailiwick of the State especially as such matters tend to pertain to public health and safety issues.

This has very large practical implications especially for same sex bi-national couples as the Federal government, pursuant to DOMA, cannot grant American family visa benefits to the same sex partner of a US Citizen (notwithstanding the fact that the couple may have solemnized a legally binding marriage within one of the sovereign American States that allows same sex marriages). Hopefully this injustice will be dealt with soon as it is unfortunate that the rights of the States and the people are being disregarded as a result of DOMA’s continued enforcement.

In recent months, efforts have been made to pass legislation such as the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA). Bills such as this would mitigate some of the discrimination which is routinely deployed against same sex bi-national families as the language of the proposed bill (and that of those similar to it) would allow for the “permanent partners” of American Citizens and lawful permanent residents to apply for US visa benefits in much the same manner as foreign fiancees and spouses of US Citizens and lawful permanent residents. This legislation, and that like it, is a good step in the right direction, but it does not address the myriad legal rights and privileges routinely deprived to same sex couples under the current Federal regime.

For related information please see: Same Sex Partner Visa.

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30th December 2010

In an interesting recent turn of events LGBT Equal Rights advocates have seen many political victories in recent weeks. This blogger came across and interesting article on the website Wikinews.org, to quote directly from Wikinews:

Friday, December 24, 2010

In an interview on the United States television show Good Morning America today, U.S. vice president Joe Biden said that a positive consensus on same-sex marriage is “inevitable” as the country “evolves.”

“[There is] inevitability for a national consensus on gay marriage. I think the country’s evolving. And I think you’re going to see, you know, the next effort is probably going to be to deal with so-called DOMA,” said Biden.

For those who are unfamiliar with the issues surrounding the struggle for LGBT Equal Rights the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) currently bars the United States Federal government from recognizing same sex marriage (or any other sort of same sex civil union). The Federal government, pursuant to the provisions of DOMA, is not even permitted to recognize those same sex marriages which are legalized and solemnized pursuant to an American State’s law. Currently, 5 US States allow some form of same sex marriage or civil union. For Immigration purposes, DOMA is a significant piece of legislation as it forces the American Federal government to restrict family immigration benefits to different sex couples. The product of these circumstances as they sit now is a situation in which many bi-national couples are separated from each other by borders, and sometimes oceans. Wikinews.org went on:

Biden’s remarks come just days after U.S. president Barack Obama signed into law, the repeal of Don’t ask, don’t tell (DADT). The repeal, which was signed by Obama on Thursday, will now allow gay and lesbian service members to serve openly in the country’s military, without fear that they will be discharged form service. A report by The Pentagon earlier this month concluded most U.S. service personnel do not believe reform of the rules on gays and lesbians serving in the military would affect morale, unit cohesion or military effectiveness. The report found only 30% believed that changing the law would have a negative effect. DADT, in effect for 17 years, was repealed by the United States Senate on Saturday. The military will cease enforcement of the policy in 60 days time, after the Pentagon has certified to Congress that it, and the military are ready to implement the new law.[sic]

The repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was a significant step forward for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered (LGBT) individuals, but full equality under the law has yet to materialize especially as DOMA remains in place thereby precluding family immigration benefits for LGBT couples. Some lawmakers have attempted to draft legislation to deal directly with the issue of discrimination of bi-national same sex couples for immigration purposes. In recent years, legislation such as the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA) has been introduced to allow “permanent partners” of American Citizens or Lawful Permanent Residents to obtain immigration benefits similar to those granted to different-sex spouses of US Citizens and Lawful Permanent Residents. This blogger recently came upon an interesting webpage pertaining to this issue on the website logcabin.org, the official website of the Log Cabin Republicans, to quote directly from said webpage:

The Uniting American Families Act (UAFA), pending in Congress, would end the discrimination against gays and lesbians in immigration laws by allowing U.S. citizens and permanent residents to sponsor their same-sex partners for immigration benefits. The version of the bill introduced in the House last February (H.R.1024) currently has 116 cosponsors, while the Senate version (S. 424) has 22 cosponsors. In addition, the Reuniting Families Act (H.R.2709) also includes UAFA as a provision of the larger immigration bill.

While some groups hostile to immigration fear that the UAFA would open the floodgates to massive immigration, such fears are unfounded. It would grant residency only to those foreign nationals involved in a financially interdependent permanent partnership with a U.S. citizen. Many of these individuals have already been living in the U.S. for years on special work or student visas and have been contributing to American society. In any event, the administrative checks that ensure that heterosexual couples applying for residency are not involved in a “sham” relationship will do the same for gay and lesbian couples. The measure is simply not a conduit for unfettered immigration.

There would seem to have been some speculation that passage of an UAFA-like piece of legislation would result in an explosion of fraudulent visa applications submitted by those wishing to take advantage of what appears, at first glance, to be a new avenue for seeking immigration benefits through use of a “sham” relationship. In this authors opinion, it is highly unlikely that passage of UAFA-like legislation would result in a significant increase in immigration fraud as the United States government currently has a very sophisticated system in place which is designed to root out immigration fraud at multiple levels of the immigration system and at multiple phases of the overall United States immigration process.

Hopefully, as Vice President Biden noted above, a “positive consensus” on this issue can be reached with the end result being the unification of bi-national families in America.

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5th November 2010

As the recent mid-term elections dealt something of a blow to the Democrats in the United States Senate and a significant setback for said party in the United States House of Representatives many are pondering the future of legislation such as UAFA (Uniting American Families Act). Those unfamiliar with LGBT Immigration issues should note that under the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), same-sex bi-national couples are not permitted equal access to US family visa benefits even in cases where the same sex couple has legally solemnized a marriage within a jurisdiction of the USA. Due to the fact that bi-national LGBT couples still cannot receive equal immigration rights compared to their different-sex counterparts many couples are left separated from their loved one(s), sometimes by great distances. Other websites are noticeably vocal about their opinions regarding the future of UAFA, the past strategies utilized by LGBT Immigration Rights activists, and the future tactics that may be employed in the quest to see bi-national same-sex couples receive the same immigration benefits as different-sex couples. To quote directly from the website lezgetreal.com:

The Uniting American Families Act was introduced into Congress during January of 2009, by Rep. Jerold Nadler, D, NY.  Since that time there have been more co-sponsors than any other LGBT equality legislation on record.  Yet instead of pursuing UAFA as a stand alone Bill – with the fervor and impetus provided by the June 03, 2009 hearings in the Senate Judiciary Committee, Rachel Tiven, of Immigration Equality turned its limited resources to Immigration Reform and has spent the past 18 months chasing Comprehensive Immigration Reform for the longest time when it did not even exist. Now we have been included in the Menendez Senate version – but so what? Who in heavens name imagines Immigration Reform with Amnesty in it passing through the new Congress? And it is way to complicated and far behind to get through during the lame duck. I assure you of that!

The aforementioned website is often quite vocal in its support for LGBT Immigration rights. It would seem that some feel as though UAFA should not necessarily be pursued within the context of a broader Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill. This is likely due to the fact that Immigration reform remains a very controversial issue and some LGBT-rights advocates feel that pursuing a unilateral strategy of seeking equal equal rights for same-sex bi-national couples outside of Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) would be more effective than trying to pass CIR with UAFA-like language included since CIR may not pass at all. Bearing this in mind the reader should note that the website ImmigrationEquality.org made a clarification regarding their overall strategy for securing equal rights for same sex bi-national couples:

Our philosophy has always been the same. We will pursue every available option for ending discrimination against our families. When we opened our Washington, D.C., office last year, we were clear: When it comes to passing UAFA, we mean business. Since then, our policy team has been working around the clock on a strategy that builds support for UAFA either as a stand-alone bill, or as part of comprehensive immigration reform. If Congress tackles comprehensive legislation – and it offers the first opportunity to win – we want to be part of that bill. And if the political reality becomes one that presents an opportunity to pass UAFA on its own, we want to be prepared to seize that opportunity as well.

It will be interesting to see what will happen to UAFA in the upcoming “lame duck” legislative session. There are some who would argue that a “lame duck” Democratic Congressional session is the perfect environment for pursuing UAFA as a stand alone piece of legislation since there are presumably still many supporters of such a policy on Capitol Hill who may have little to lose politically by supporting such legislation. As the future of UAFA has yet to be determined, but the plight of many same-sex bi-national couples remains untenable under the current circumstances.

It should also be noted that the US Congress is not the only forum in which this issue may ultimately be decided as the US Courts, and possibly the United States Supreme Court may be the body that ends up adjudicating this issue since the lower Courts’ hearing of cases challenging the Constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

For related information please see: Same Sex Visa or K1 visa.

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11th October 2010

The issue of Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) is frequently discussed on this blog as it could be one of the most significant issues of the forthcoming legislative sessions as so many individuals could be impacted by changes to the laws upon which the American Immigration system is based. With that in mind, this author discovered an interesting question and answer session between members of the American press and President Barack Obama. The following is a direct quotation from the transcript of this Q & A session as posted upon the American Immigration Lawyers Association website. To quote the transcript and the President directly:

I have consistently, even before I was a presidential candidate, but when I was a U.S. senator and when I was running for U.S. senator, said that we have to move forward on comprehensive immigration reform.

Bill Richardson and I have had a lot of conversations about this. This is a nation of immigrants. It was built on immigrants — immigrants from every corner of the globe who brought their talent and their drive and their energy to these shores because this was the land of opportunity. Now, we’re also a nation of laws so we’ve got to make sure that our immigration system is orderly and fair. And so I think Americans have a legitimate concern if the way we’ve set up our immigration system and the way we are securing our borders is such where people just kind of come and go as they please, well, that means that folks who are waiting, whether it’s in Mexico City or in Nairobi, Kenya, or in Warsaw, Poland — if they’re waiting there filling out their forms and doing everything legally and properly and it takes them five years or six years or 10 years before they’re finally here and made legal, well, it’s not fair to them if folks can just come and ignore those laws.

So what we — I think is so important to do is for us to both be a nation of laws and affirm our immigrant traditions. And I think we can do that. So what I’ve said is, look, yes, let’s secure our borders; yes, let’s make sure that the legal immigration system is more fair and efficient than it is right now because if the waiting times were lessened then a lot of people would be more prone to go through a legal route than through an illegal route; let’s make sure that we’re cracking down on employers who are taking advantage of undocumented workers to not pay them overtime or not pay them minimum wage or not give them bathroom breaks; let’s make sure that we’re cracking down on employers to treat all workers fairly. And let’s provide a pathway to citizenship for those who are already here, understanding that they broke the law, so they’re going to have to pay a fine and pay back taxes and I think learn English, make sure that they don’t have a criminal record. There are some hoops that they’re going to have to jump through, but giving them a pathway is the right thing to do.

Now, unfortunately, right now this is getting demagogued. A lot of folks think it’s an easy way to score political points is by trying to act as if there’s a “them” and an “us,” instead of just an “us.” And I’m always suspicious of politics that is dividing people instead of bringing them together. I think now is the time for us to come together. And I think that economically, immigrants can actually be a huge source of strength to the country. It’s one of our big advantages is we’ve got a younger population than Europe, for example, or Japan, because we welcome immigrants and they generally don’t. And that means that our economy is more vital and we’ve got more people in the workforce who are going to be out there working and starting businesses and supporting us when we’re retired, and making sure Social Security is solvent. All those things are important.

So this is a priority that I continue to have. Frankly, the problem I’ve had right now is that — and I don’t want to get into sort of inside baseball by Washington. But basically the rules in the United States Senate have evolved so that if you don’t have 60 votes, you can’t get anything through the United States Senate right now. And several years ago, we had 11 Republican senators who were willing to vote for comprehensive immigration reform, including John McCain. They’ve all reversed themselves. I can’t get any of them to cooperate. And I don’t have 60 Democrats in the Senate.

And so we’re going to have to do this on a bipartisan basis. And my hope is, is that the Republicans who have said no and have seen their party I think use some unfortunate rhetoric around this issue, my hope is, is that they come back and say, you know, this is something that we can work on together to solve a problem instead of trying to score political points. Okay?

One major concern voiced by those making visa petitions and applications outside of the United States is that of the seeming inequities posed by the possibility of some sort of an amnesty for undocumented aliens currently in the United States. Many prospective immigrants feel that it is somewhat unjust to allow those who broke immigration rules at the outset to be granted a benefit while those waiting for their visa petition or application to process through various agencies and Departments are not accorded any special treatment while they assiduously obey relevant American Immigration laws. When one ponders this situation it would seem rather obvious that the current system is in need of reform, but as the President’s remarks imply, the problem is multi-faceted and cannot be solved quickly or easily as so many individuals and organizations have considerable interests which could be effected by a change to current US Immigration laws, regulations, and policies. Hopefully, some sort of framework can be devised which will deal with the plight of undocumented aliens while maintaining some sort of equitable position for those who chose not to travel to the USA without proper documentation.

Meanwhile, there are many who hope that any Comprehensive Immigration Reform legislation will address the issues associated with same-sex bi-national couples who wish to enjoy immigration benefits equal to those of their different-sex counterparts. In the past, legislation such as the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA) was introduced in an effort to remedy the current restrictions imposed by provisions of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), but such legislation has yet to be passed by the American Congress. It was recently announced that a bill proposed in the US Senate would address CIR issues and includes language designed to redress the discrimination imposed upon LGBT couples by DOMA. Although it remains to be seen how this issue will be resolved many are hopeful that Comprehensive Immigration Reform will redress many of the inequities arising from the current state of US law pertaining to immigration.

For related information please see: Comprehensive Immigration Reform or Same Sex Bi-National Visa.

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1st October 2010

Those who follow this blog frequently may take note of the fact that the administration carefully follows the issues associated with LGBT Immigration rights in the United States of America. In a recent posting by Melanie Nathan on the website LezGetReal.com it was noted that LGBT immigration legislation may be introduced in the US Congress quite soon:

Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey is expected to introduce comprehensive immigration legislation before the Senate adjourns this week for the midterm recess, according to Politico, and a source tells The Advocate that the legislation will be LGBT-inclusive.

In the past, there have been other attempts by Federal legislators to rectify the current legal restrictions placed on LGBT bi-national couples when it comes to the issue of obtaining US Immigration benefits. To continue to quote directly from LezGetReal.com:

There are an estimated 36,000 (minimum the number since the determination in the year 2000 – also not taking account of social media and current increase in internet meeting) Gays and Lesbians who are either American citizens or residents (all referred to as Americans for the purpose of this article,) who are in love and relationship with a foreigner. Gay and lesbians are denied equality under the Federal Immigration laws of this Country, to sponsor same-sex partners or  State recognized spouses for immigration (greencards) to the USA.

LGBT couples (and the appellation LGBT includes Bi-sexual and Transgender couples and individuals as well as Lesbian or Gay couples and individuals) are currently barred from receiving the same family based immigration benefits as different-sex couples. This restriction is imposed pursuant to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). DOMA prevents same sex couples (even those lawfully married under state law) from receiving recognition of their marriage in the eyes of the Federal government (and the benefits which may arise therefrom, including immigration benefits such as the K3 visa, CR1 visa, or IR1 visa or in cases where a couple intends to enter into a marriage in the USA: a K1 visa). There are those who argue that application of DOMA violates the doctrine of States’ Rights. At the same time, others point to the violation of the civil rights of the American Citizen (or Lawful Permanent Resident) petitioners whose Constitutional rights may be being violated through continued enforcement of DOMA. That said, the issue remains a highly charged political matter, to quote further from the aforementioned website:

So here we are – a Congress that may well go into lame duck, a Congress that failed to repeal DADT, that showed no compassion for the children of the immigrant DREAM ACT – and a UAFA barely in the conscience of leadership, unknown to mainstream America and also barely in the minds of our lesbian and gay sisters and brothers. The question is are we going to be in the Menendez Bill as a pawn, a promise or yet another wedge that will render Immigration Reform impossible in this political climate.

Remember it IS the American who lacks the Equality – and is being discriminated against.  ALL Americans in committed relationships, except gays and lesbians,  have the right to remain in the USA with the person whom they love.

It is not the immigrant per se, who has the right, as immigration is a privilege afforded a foreigner; it is the American who has the right and it is indeed a Civil Right and a Human Rights issue.

The UAFA noted above is an acronym for the Uniting American Families Act, a bill that has, in different forms, been floating around the US Congress for some time. One of the major proponents of this legislation is Representative Jerrold Nadler who has repeatedly supported and introduced legislation which would give equal immigration rights to LGBT couples. It is interesting that the above cited piece brings up the issue of the American Citizen’s rights with regard to US Immigration matters. Although foreign nationals do not necessarily have the same rights under the US Constitution as Citizens there is no doubt that Americans are protected by the provisions of the Constitution. It is this authors opinion that this situation may very well be ultimately decided by the US Courts rather than the US legislature as there are currently two cases pending in two different circuits which could result in the full or partial repeal of DOMA. With regard to immigration, DOMA compels the US Federal government to restrict US family immigration benefits to different-sex couples. Notwithstanding that jurisdictions such as Massachusetts allow same sex marriage. Therefore, the Federal government may be in violation of the “Full Faith and Credit” Clause of the US Constitution by failing to provide equal immigration benefits to same sex couples married in a jurisdiction in the US where such unions are lawful.

Whether the issue of LGBT immigration rights will ultimately be resolved in the US Courts or the US Congress remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure: the issue has many implications from both a legal and political perspective.

For related information please see: Same Sex Visa.

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16th September 2010

The issue of LGBT Immigration rights for the loved ones of American citizens is an often discussed topic on this blog. This is mostly due to the fact that this issue is a pressing concern for many bi-national families and it is also an interesting and important legal issue that will likely be resolved by the Federal judicial branch of the United States of America. The provisions of the Defense of Marriage Act currently bar family visa applications for LGBT couples, even those lawfully married in a US jurisdiction which recognizes same sex marriage. There are other areas of American immigration law which touch upon this important issue. The following quote comes from Mr. Matthew J. Bajko writing on the Bay Area Reporter website:

LGBT immigrants in the United States face many hurdles to seeing their applications for asylum be granted. The first of which is a ticking clock.

Under U.S. immigration law, a person seeking asylum has one year from the first day they step foot on American soil to file their paperwork. The deadline presents quite an obstacle for many LGBT people, who either are unaware of the time limit or often have yet to grapple with or come to terms with their own sexual orientation or gender identity.

Even if an asylum seeker does get their paperwork in on time, then they face another series of challenges. Foremost is proving that they are indeed gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender, and if sent back to their home country, that they are likely to face persecution for being an LGBT person.

Many lack the resources to hire an immigration lawyer to represent and guide them through the process. And language barriers can further complicate matters.

Although this issue is somewhat novel in an immigration context, there are many who feel that LGBT issues will be at the forefront of certain aspects of the overall debate on Comprehensive Immigration Reform as current restrictions imposed by the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) have a tremendously negative impact upon bi-national same sex couples.  This author is of the opinion that the immigration restrictions imposed by DOMA are unconstitutional because they violate the doctrine of States’ Rights which is embodied in the Constitution of the United States. It would appear, that some US Courts are currently in agreement with this assertion although the issue is likely to remain unresolved until the matter is brought to appeal and the question of Federal and interstate recognition of same sex unions is answered.

In the context of asylum, the Constitutionality of DOMA and issues surrounding immigration benefits for the partners of American Citizens are less prevalent. As the aforementioned publication went on to note:

But advocates and lawyers who handle immigration cases say the issue will only grow as more people around the world come out and flee anti-gay persecution.

“There is a lot of work out there,” said Ann Lewis, an attorney in the New York office of Ropes and Gray, which was the recipient of the 2010 Safe Haven Award from Immigration Equality for its pro bono work assisting LGBT asylum seekers.

In 2009 the firm won asylum for 10 clients referred to it by Immigration Equality, more than any other law firm in the country. The asylum seekers included a lesbian from India; a gay HIV-positive Jamaican and his son; a gay HIV-positive Ghanaian; a gay Ukrainian; and a gay man from the Dominican Republic.

Lewis told the Bay Area Reporter that a key first step in a successful asylum case is to meet the one-year filing deadline. By doing so the process is friendlier than fighting a deportation, she said, and moves rather quickly. Most applicants will wait up to five weeks to be interviewed by immigration officials, and most receive an answer within two weeks, said Lewis.

“People should be aware if you file an affirmative application you are not in immigration proceedings,” said Lewis. “It is a lot less scary and adversarial than federal removal proceedings.”

This is a significant issue that warrants further explanation. Expedited removal or general removal proceedings can be a daunting experience for foreign nationals in the United States. These types of adjudications differ substantially from asylum proceedings and should not be viewed as the same type of adjudication. The article went on:

Just as important is for the asylum seeker to be as truthful as possible during their interview about the anti-gay treatment they have faced. At times, Lewis acknowledged, it is not easy for an LGBT person to recall past ill-treatment or to understand what sorts of experiences would apply to their asylum case.

“It is very painful. To make a case like this it is difficult; these people often have been closeted since early adolescence or learned to keep their feelings to themselves,” said Lewis. “We were just talking about a specific case I am working on where the young man didn’t actually think he suffered past persecution. But he had been sexually abused because he was effeminate.”

Truth is a critical factor in any immigration proceeding. Although the facts surrounding an asylum claim can be difficult for some individuals to relive as persecution of LGBT communities can be truly terrifying in some locales. That said, it is admirable and reassuring to see American attorneys, such as Ann Lewis mentioned above, taking the initiative to pursue US LGBT immigration benefits on behalf of others in an effort to provide assistance to those seeking asylum and forestall possible further persecution by governments, individuals, communities, and regimes abroad.

For further related information please see: LGBT Immigration or US Visa Thailand.

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