Case of gay couple facing deportation gets two-year delay

A federal immigration judge on Wednesday gave a gay couple two more years to build a case for why Venezuelan pet groomer Alex Benshimol should be allowed to remain in the U.S. with his partner. It’s not the final result the couple is seeking, but they said they’ll take it, especially in lieu of deportation.

Cases like that of 47-year-old Benshimol and U.S. citizen Doug Gentry, 53, are seeing more delays as President Barack Obama and Congress wrangle over the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act. As it stands now, Obama doesn’t want the Department of Justice to argue cases that hinge on the law’s Section 3, which limits marriage to unions between one man and one woman.

A rally preceded the hearing outside the federal courthouse on Montgomery Street, where speakers called for equal immigration rights for same-sex couples. They said if Gentry and Benshimol were a heterosexual couple, they would not be facing the same adversity.

“We just want to be married like anyone else,” Gentry said. “We don’t want anything special, just to be the same, to be equal.”

Benshimol came to the U.S. in 1999 on a visitor visa that expired in 2009. In 2005, the couple got married in Connecticut, where gay marriage is legal. However, because no federal law recognizes gay marriage, their relationship won’t weigh as heavily in immigration hearings.

The couple fears that if Benshimol returns to the gay-unfriendly culture of Venezuela, Gentry would have problems entering the country, and in either case, they’ll lose the lives and businesses they built in California. The couple lives near Palm Springs, but Benshimol is facing court proceedings in San Francisco because he had been in the process of starting a pet grooming business here.

Judge Marilyn Teeter ruled that U.S. Department of Homeland Security prosecutors have 60 days to decide whether to press the case, and if they do, Benshimol would face another hearing in September 2013. Lavi Soloway, the couple’s attorney, said even if prosecutors move forward with the case, things could be different by then.

“Hopefully we’ll revisit this case in a different time, a different climate,” Soloway said.

dschreiber@sfexaminer.com

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