SANTA ANA, Calif. – A lesbian couple filed a federal lawsuit in California on Thursday seeking to solve their immigration woes and put a stop to the deportation of same-sex spouses.
The suit — which seeks class-action status — was filed on behalf of Philippines citizen Jane DeLeon, who was sponsored for a green card by her employer but can't get a waiver she needs to obtain residency here because the U.S. government doesn't recognize her three-year marriage to her American spouse.
The case is one of a number of challenges brought by same-sex couples — some of them facing immigration troubles — over the federal Defense of Marriage Act, a 1996 law that prohibits the U.S. government from recognizing same-sex marriages.
"It's clearly the kind of case where typically the waiver would have been granted, but it was simply denied based on DOMA," said Peter Schey, president of the Los Angeles-based Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law, which filed the suit on behalf of the couple and DeLeon's 26-year-old son.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services declined to comment on individual cases. The agency said it will continue to enforce the Act "unless and until Congress repeals it or there a final judicial determination that it is unconstitutional."
In addition to solving DeLeon's immigration problems, the couple is seeking an injunction to halt the deportation of immigrants in same-sex marriages who would qualify for legal status, were it not for the Act.
According to a copy of the lawsuit, DeLeon, an accounting clerk from Irvine, is eligible for a green card but needs a waiver because she entered the country more than two decades ago as if she were married when she was actually in a common law relationship with Joseph Armas.
A waiver application must show that a foreign citizen's absence from the country could cause extreme hardship to an American citizen spouse or parent.
But federal immigration authorities last year denied her application for a waiver on the basis of her 2008 marriage in California to 49-year-old American Irma Rodriguez, even though Rodriguez suffers from a medical condition that could make moving to the Philippines devastating to her health.
The government told DeLeon that Rodriguez did not qualify as a relative because of the Act, according to the lawsuit.
In April, immigration advocates sued in New York on behalf of several married gay couples, alleging the law violated their constitutional rights by preventing them from sponsoring their spouses for green cards.