Immigration Officials Reinstate Exclusion of Benefits to Same Sex Couples
Immigration authorities have resumed denying benefits for immigrants in same sex unions, after a temporary hold on making decisions on such cases.
Chris Bentley, a spokesman for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency, says that after a review by lawyers from the Homeland Security Department, it was concluded that a law prohibiting the government from recognizing same sex marriages must be followed, despite the Obama administration's decision to stop defending the constitutionality of the law in court.
The law, the Defense of Marriage Act, defines marriage as being between a man and a woman.
Earlier this week, USCIS announced that applications from foreigners married to a U.S. citizen of the same sex would be held in "abeyance" while the legal review proceeded. Bentley said Tuesday that the temporary hold on application decisions was not a change in policy.
In February, Attorney General Eric Holder announcement that the government would no longer defend the law, which gay rights activists have said is discriminatory.
Bob Deasy, of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said the latest ruling is a "disappointment."
"The administration has the authority to put these cases on hold" while the fate of the marriage law is decided in court, he said.
Some conservative Latino religious groups that oppose gay marriage but advocate for undocumented immigrants expressed support for the granting of immigration benefits to gay immigrants.
Rev. Miguel Rivera, chairman of the conservative National Coalition of Latino Clergy & Christian Leaders, known as CONLAMIC, stressed that his group's position is that "Marriage should be only between a man and a woman."
But given that civil unions between gay people is "perfectly legal," he said, "they should be able to proceed with their immigration applications like other people."
"Immigration laws are so deficient," he said, "that without sanctioning the moral aspects of these unions, I do believe that the more undocumented people can legalize their status, whether they're gay or not, the better."
Holder's announcement appears to have already had an impact on at least one immigration case.
Earlier this month a New York-based immigration judge decided to postpone a deportation order against an Argentine lesbian married to a U.S. citizen.
Following the ruling to adjourn the case until December, Monica Alcota's lawyer, Noemi Masliah, praised the judge's decision.
"The right thing to do, and this judge did do the right thing, is to adjourn this case and see what happens down the road," Masliah said. "Given that the law is so up in the air ... it's hard to enforce at this point in a negative way."
Wednesday's announcement did not have any immediate impact on Alcota's case.
Masliah noted: "In a lot of countries, you don't have to be married to be recognized for immigration benefits. I'd like to think the United States can be among those countries."
The United States government does give benefits to gay immigrants in certain situations, such as those who seek political asylum based on fears of persecution back in their homeland because of their sexual orientation.
Masliah said that without the Defense of Marriage Act, cases involving immigrants trying to obtain permanent legal residency in the United States based on a petition by a gay spouse "would stand a very good chance of having positive results."
Since the Defense of Marriage Act's constitutionality is debatable, she said, "It would be cruel to remove people from the United States based on such a law."
This story contains material from The Associated Press.
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