As an experienced immigration attorney, I am often confronted with a variety reasons for my clients desiring to stay in the United States and receive legal status. One of the most troubling is that of same sex couples who are seeking legal status. The federal government has long ignored these relationships based on the Defense of Marriage Act, which allows the federal government to only recognize relationships between opposite genders.
This is poised to change, however. In recent months, the Obama administration has shown a willingness to include language regarding same sex couples in its upcoming immigration reform proposal. Partly in response to requests by national gay and lesbian advocacy groups, the Obama administration has displayed signs that it will include legislation recognizing the familial status of same sex couples.
Last October, the Department of Homeland Security directed its immigration officers to grant consideration to long-term same sex couples as families. These new guidelines have compelled a number of U.S. Senators to ask DHS to take no action on green card applications for same sex couples until the immigration reform package receives a vote.
While many groups have taken heart in the President’s recent words and actions, like his inaugural speech reference to Stonewall–a watershed moment for the gay community–there remains considerable doubt whether it is a political maneuver or a sincere provision in the immigration proposal. Many Senators in the Republican Party are unwilling to support such a provision and, therefore, any Senate bill is unlikely to include it.
The battle for passing a comprehensive immigration reform law is likely to be a difficult one. Although there is a recognition on the political left and right that gaining support from Latino voters requires a pathway to legal status for the 11 million undocumented immigrants now residing in the country, many politicians who would face enormous criticism for their support of immigration reform are unlikely to vote for such a bill.
This leads many experts to believe that the President may include a provision for gay couples without serious belief that it will survive the political wrangling the bill will engender. This has led some Congressional members to sponsor the Uniting American Families Act, which would provide same sex couples similar privileges to heterosexual couples.
Another factor is the Supreme Court’s consideration of the Defense of Marriage Act in the case Windsor v. United States. If the Supreme Court strikes down DOMA, then the UAFA may become obviated, paving the way for the federal government to recognize long term gay relationships.
Although none of this is assured, there is considerable hope that same sex couples will begin to receive the recognition necessary to remain in this country. As an immigration attorney in Texas, I am eager to see how the new Congress responds to this and other immigration issues.
If you or someone you know has concerns or questions about immigration matters, please contact my office at (512) 215-5225 to schedule a private consultation.