Gay partners win rights in deportations

courtesy imageAttorney General Eric Holder and President Obama called DOMA unconstitutional last year

The Obama administration has directed immigration officials to recognize same-sex partners as family members in deportation cases, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told Pelosi in a letter that she had ordered U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to notify its field offices “that the interpretation of the phrase ‘family relationships’ includes long-term, same-sex partners.”

Pelosi welcomed the federal recognition of gay and lesbian couples. At the same time, she called for more to be done to protect undocumented immigrants in long-term relationships with American citizens.

Napolitano’s directive “will provide a measure of clarity and confidence to families dealing with separation in immigration cases,” Pelosi said in a written statement. “Our nation is served when loving families are kept together.”

But, she added, “We need to … relegate DOMA to the dustbin of history.” The 1996 Defense of Marriage Act bars the federal government from extending federal benefits, such as Social Security, to married gay and lesbian couples.

DOMA restricts the Obama administration from outright ordering that gay and lesbian couples be treated the same as heterosexual couples. Last year, Attorney General Eric Holder and President Barack Obama called DOMA unconstitutional and said they would no longer defend the measure in court.

Meanwhile, married couples such as Brian Willingham, 38, and Alfonso Garcia, 35, of Orinda have been fighting for the right to be considered related in the eyes of immigration authorities. After a traffic stop, officials began deportation proceedings against Garcia, who came to the U.S. from Mexico when he was 14.

“We’re definitely happy that the Obama administration took this good first step,” Willingham told Reuters. “But it’s just a Band-Aid. It helps us because we are faced with deportation. But it leaves thousands of couples in exile.”

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