Lesbian couple files suit to halt deportations

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A lesbian couple and their son have filed a class-action suit seeking to halt the break-up of same-sex households and deportations under the Defense of Marriage Act.

The Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law in Los Angeles filed the federal challenge in mid-July on behalf of Jane DeLeon, her wife Irma Rodriguez and her son Martin Arenas.

The suit challenges DOMA, which defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman for federal purposes. Under DOMA, federal benefits based on marriage, including immigration, are denied to same-sex couples.

DeLeon, an immigrant from the Philippines, has been living in California with Rodriguez, a U.S. citizen, for 20 years. The women married in 2008.

“For over 20 years I have loved and been in a committed relationship with Jane DeLeon, and in 2008 we were lawfully married,” said Rodriguez. “We have accepted all of the obligations and responsibilities that come with the blessing of marriage. It deeply saddens me that despite President (Barack) Obama’s support of the rights of gay married couples, after living here for 20 years, my spouse has been told by immigration authorities that her presence here is unlawful and she must leave the country.”

To get lawful resident status to remain in the United States, DeLeon received sponsorship for a green card from her employer. But she also needs a waiver from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service. Such waivers are commonly available to immigrants whose deportation would cause extreme hardship to a U.S. citizen spouse, but the federal government doesn’t recognize DeLeon’s same-sex marriage. Her application was denied in September 2011.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which does not comment on individual cases, said it will enforce DOMA “unless and until Congress repeals it or there a final judicial determination that it is unconstitutional.”

Immigration told DeLeon that her temporary lawful status would be revoked and, if she did not leave the United States within 12 months, she would be barred from reentry for at least 10 years.

Her son’s status also is in jeopardy.

“I have been living in this country since I was nine years old. ... After many years of having temporary legal status, I now face ‘illegal’ status only because my mother is in a same-sex marriage,” he said. “I hope and pray that President Obama will allow me and the hundreds or thousands of children of gay married couples to continue living here with some legal protection until the courts decide whether denying our parents immigration benefits is constitutional.”

In February 2011, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder notified congressional leadership that the Obama administration had determined that DOMA is unconstitutional as applied to legally married same-sex couples.

At the time, Holder said that while the Justice Department would not defend DOMA in court, it would enforce the law. Immigration cases, he said, would be reviewed on a case- by-case basis.

In contrast, the class-action suit argues that the administration should implement a national program placing a hold on immigration cases that involve same-sex marriages.

“Irma and I have committed to each other for the rest of our lives,” DeLeon said. “We now face being forced to move to the Philippines or breaking up our family only because we are legally married women. We would face persecution in the Philippines because we are a same-sex couple, not to mention dire poverty, separation from our extended families who live here and lack of access to medical treatment Irma needs.”