Tag Archives: immigration

Immigration Services defers action on deportation proceedings in Vermont case

A married lesbian couple living in Vermont who were threatened with being separated by federal immigration authorities have been granted a reprieve.

Japanese immigrant Takako Ueda and her American spouse, Frances Herbert, got word this week that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services decided to defer action on deportation proceedings against Ueda, whose visa had expired.

The decision ended months of uncertainty that was heightened in December when Ueda received a letter ordering her to leave the country by Dec. 31. She did not comply. Herbert said in a phone interview from the couple’s home in Dummerston that they had been told Ueda’s case would be reviewed in two years.

“Now at least we can exhale,” Herbert said.

“Yes, yes, it’s a great feeling,” Ueda added.

Ueda and Herbert are one of an estimated 36,000 binational, same-sex couples living in the United States, said Steve Ralls, a Washington-based spokesman for Immigration Equality, a group that advocates for such couples. They’re also among five couples who sued the federal government in April seeking green cards – or permanent resident status – for foreign-born same-sex spouses.

“This does not impact their lawsuit in any way,” Ralls said of the decision by USCIS. He said Herbert and Ueda had received “good news for the next two years, but they continue to move forward in their quest to receive a green card for Takako, which is what they deserve.”

The binational couple has been together for more than a decade and were legally married in Vermont last year. But because the federal government does not recognize same-sex marriage, they didn’t have spousal status for immigration purposes.

The letter from USCIS, a division of the Department of Homeland Security, allows Ueda to seek authorization to work and apply for a Vermont driver’s license. She and Herbert said Ueda had been able to drive while covered by a now-expired student visa and, given that they live in rural southern Vermont, that privilege had been difficult to live without since the visa expired.

The letter came about two weeks after President Barack Obama stated publicly for the first time that he supports same-sex marriage.

“It can’t hurt,” Herbert said. “I’m sure having the leader of the country come out and support same-sex marriage gives permission to other groups that maybe have been on the fence to say OK, we can do the same.”

A USCIS spokesman, Christopher Bentley, said the agency’s position had not changed.

“Pursuant to the Attorney General’s guidance, the Defense of Marriage Act remains in effect and the Executive Branch, including DHS and USCIS, will continue to enforce it unless and until Congress repeals it or there a final judicial determination that it is unconstitutional,” he said in an email.

Another USCIS official said, “Deferred action is granted on a case-by-case basis for humanitarian reasons and is based on evidence provided in each case.”

Among the evidence Ueda and Herbert presented were letters of support from Vermont’s congressional delegation and Gov. Peter Shumlin, as well as a resolution passed by Dummerston voters on Town Meeting Day in March urging that Ueda be allowed to stay in the country.

The delegation released a joint statement this week from the two senators, Democrat Patrick Leahy and independent Bernie Sanders, as well as Vermont’s lone U.S. House member, Democratic Rep. Peter Welch.

“We welcome this remedy that for now will offer a measure of common sense and compassion for this Vermont couple,” the statement said. “All three of our offices have worked hard to support this loving and committed couple who have been unfairly prevented by DOMA from enjoying the rights and benefits that all lawfully married couples deserve.”

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Arizona governor signs anti-Planned Parenthood bill

Gov. Jan Brewer has signed into law a bill to cut off Planned Parenthood’s access to taxpayer money funneled through the state for non-abortion services.

Arizona already bars use of public money for abortions except to save the life of the mother. But anti-abortion legislators and other supporters of the bill say the broader prohibition is needed to ensure no public money indirectly supports abortion services.

Planned Parenthood Arizona says a funding ban will interrupt its preventive health care and family planning services for nearly 20,000 women served by the organization’s clinics. The organization says it will consider a legal challenge to the new law, which is called the “Whole Woman’s Health Funding Priority Act.”

The measure targeting funding for Planned Parenthood for non-abortion services was one of several approved by Arizona’s Republican-led Legislature related to contentious reproductive health care issues this session.

Brewer, who signed another anti-abortion bill in April, said, the new measure “is a common sense law that tightens existing state regulations and closes loopholes in order to ensure that taxpayer dollars are not used to fund abortions, whether directly or indirectly. By signing this measure into law, I stand with the majority of Americans who oppose the use of taxpayer funds for abortion.”

The ultra-conservative Republican governor also signed the state’s controversial anti-immigrant bill into law in 2010. The U.S. Supreme Court recently held a hearing on the constitutionality of the measure.

Brewer is the author a book called “Scorpions for Breakfast: My Fight Against Special Interests, Liberal Media and Cynical Politicos to Secure the Border.”

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May Day actions taking place coast to coast

May Day protests may disrupt the morning commute in major U.S. cities today as labor, immigration and Occupy activists rally support on the international workers’ holiday.

Demonstrations, strikes and acts of civil disobedience are planned around the country, including the most visible organizing effort by anti-Wall Street groups since Occupy encampments came down in the fall.

While protesters are backing away from a call to block San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, bridge district ferry workers said they’ll strike to shut down ferry service, which brings commuters from Marin County to the city. Ferry workers have been in contract negotiations for a year and have been working without a contract since July 2011 in a dispute over health care coverage, the Inlandboatmen’s Union said.

A coalition of bridge and bus workers said they will honor the picket line, which may target an area near the bridge’s toll plaza. Occupy activists from San Francisco and Oakland are expected to join the rally.

“We ask supporters to stand with us at strike picket lines on May Day and to keep the bridge open,” said Alex Tonisson, an organizer and co-chair of the Golden Gate Bridge Labor Coalition.

In anticipation of the strike, the agency that operates the Golden Gate Bridge and related public transportation systems canceled the morning ferries from Marin County to San Francisco and urged regular riders to make alternate travel plans.

Police say they are working with other area law enforcement agencies and have a plan in place for potential disruptions. They would not discuss specifics.

Across the bay in Oakland, where police and Occupy protesters have often clashed, officers are preparing for a long day as hundreds of “General Strike” signs have sprouted across town.

In New York City, where the first Occupy camp was set up and where large protests brought some of the earliest attention – and mass arrests – to the movement, leaders plan a variety of events, including picketing, a march through Manhattan and other “creative disruptions against the corporations who rule our city.”

Organizers have called for protesters to block one or more bridges or tunnels connecting Manhattan, the city’s economic engine, to New Jersey and other parts of the city.

The Occupy movement began in September with a small camp in a lower Manhattan plaza that quickly grew to include hundreds of protesters using the tent city as their home base. More than 700 people were arrested Oct. 1 as they tried to cross the Brooklyn Bridge.

The city broke the camp up in November, citing sanitary and other concerns, but the movement has held smaller events and protests periodically since then.

Elsewhere on the West Coast, Occupy Seattle has called for people to rally at a park near downtown. Mayor Mike McGinn has warned residents there could be traffic delays and has said city officials have evidence – including graffiti and posters – that some groups plan to “commit violence, damage property and disrupt peaceful free speech activity.”

In Los Angeles, Occupy is organizing a daylong “people’s power and bike caravan” that will start from the four cardinal directions around the city in the morning, converging on downtown LA’s financial district in the mid afternoon for an approximately 90-minute protest. The themes of the marches are foreclosures and police brutality.

In a website statement, Occupy LA promised the event will be “city-paralyzing” and “carnivalesque” with en route actions including a food giveaway in a South Los Angeles park, and mini-rallies outside the Veterans’ Affairs and Bank of America buildings in West Los Angeles.

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LGBT group asks Court to uphold ruling against Arizona immigration law

More than 100 organizations have filed a friend-of-the-court brief asking that the U.S. Supreme Court uphold a decision blocking key elements of Arizona’s controversial anti-immigrant statute.

The list of organizations signed on to the amicus brief includes Lambda Legal, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and League of United Latin American Citizens.

The case is Arizona v. United States and the focus is a federal court decision, along with an appeals court’s affirmation, enjoining key sections of SB1070. The state wants the U.S. Supreme Court to review an injunction against provisions of SB 1070 granted by the U.S. District Court of Arizona and affirmed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

The most significant provision barred from being enforced requires law enforcement personnel to determine an individual’s immigrant status during any lawful stop, detention or arrest when there is reason to suspect the person is in the country illegally.

The amicus filers argue that SB 1070 will lead to racial profiling, discrimination and anti-immigrant extremism.

“SB 1070, and the copycat laws it has spawned in other states, forces people into the shadows and will exacerbate the fear and distrust that dissuade many LGBT immigrants and people of color from seeking protection from – or offering to assist – law-enforcement officials,” said Lambda attorney Iván Espinoza-Madrigal.

He continued, “LGBT immigrants and people of color are particularly vulnerable because SB 1070 criminalizes people based on their appearance. The LGBT community knows all too well how easily people who are perceived to ‘look different’ or ‘act different’ can be singled out for harassment and persecution. SB 1070 will also deter people from seeking medical care and lifesaving treatment for HIV/AIDS.”

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Feds stay deportation of same-sex spouse in SF

A man caring for his same-sex partner in San Francisco will not face the threat of deportation for at least the next two years.

The Department of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services told Anthony John Makk this week that it was deferring action on his deportation case for two years. The deferral is renewable after that.

The 49-year-old Makk is a citizen of Australia. He is the primary caregiver for his partner, 56-year-old Bradford Wells, who suffers from severe AIDS-related illnesses.

Wells is a U.S. citizen, and he and Makk are married. But federal law prevents Makk from being considered for a green card.

Makk told the San Francisco Chronicle he and Wells were elated.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi had intervened in their case with the help of Sen. Dianne Feinstein and state Sen. Mark Leno.

Source: AP

U.S. resumes denying visas for same-sex couples

After a brief reprieve, U.S. immigration authorities are once again denying applications for immigration benefits for same-sex couples following a legal review.

Chris Bentley, a spokesman for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency, said that after a review by lawyers from the Homeland Security Department, it was concluded that a law prohibiting the government from recognizing same sex marriages must be followed, despite the Obama administration’s decision to stop defending the constitutionality of the law in court.

The law, the Defense of Marriage Act, defines marriage as being between a man and a woman.

Earlier this week, USCIS announced that applications from foreigners married to a U.S. citizen of the same sex would be held in “abeyance” while the legal review proceeded. Bentley said Tuesday that the temporary hold on application decisions was not a change in policy.

In February, Attorney General Eric Holder announcement that the government would no longer defend the law, which gay rights activists have said is discriminatory.

Bob Deasy, of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said the latest ruling is a “disappointment.”

“The administration has the authority to put these cases on hold” while the fate of the marriage law is decided in court, he said.

Holder’s announcement appears to have already had an impact on at least one immigration case.

Earlier this month a New York-based immigration judge decided to postpone a deportation order against an Argentine lesbian married to a U.S. citizen.

Following the ruling to adjourn the case until December, Monica Alcota’s lawyer, Noemi Masliah, praised the judge’s decision.

“The right thing to do, and this judge did do the right thing, is to adjourn this case and see what happens down the road,” Masliah said. “Given that the law is so up in the air … it’s hard to enforce at this point in a negative way.”

The announcement did not have any immediate impact on Alcota’s case.

Gov’t puts hold on immigration benefits for gay couples

The government will no longer automatically deny applications for immigration benefits for same-sex couples. Instead the applications will be put on hold pending legal advice on the Obama administration’s decision to stop defending the law banning gay marriage.

The decision does not mark a change in policy, Chris Bentley, a spokesman for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, told the Associated Press.

But until USCIS announced the temporary change, applications for immigration benefits for foreign nationals married to a U.S. citizen of the same gender were automatically denied due to the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as only between a man and a woman.

In February, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Justice Department would no longer defend the constitutionality of the law. Now, USCIS is awaiting legal direction from the Department of Homeland Security on how to handle applications for benefits from gay couples.

It wasn’t immediately clear how many gay U.S. citizens have applied to bring their foreign spouses to the United States.

Bob Deasy, of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said the halt on automatic rejection is “a step in the right direction.”

The decision not to defend the law has already affected at least one immigration case. Earlier this month an immigration judge in New York postponed a deportation order against an Argentine lesbian married to a U.S. citizen.

Noemi Masliah, an immigration lawyer for 35-year-old Monica Alcota, said the judge’s decision to adjourn her client’s deportation case until December gives the government a chance to fully review her petition for legal residency based on her marriage.

“The right thing to do, and this judge did do the right thing, is to adjourn this case and see what happens down the road,” Masliah said. “Given that the law is so up in the air … it’s hard to enforce at this point in a negative way.”

Masliah, who is part of a group trying to push the government to stop denying immigration benefits to same sex couples, said she hopes that all such applications will be put on hold indefinitely until the future of the Defense of Marriage Act is settled in court.

 From the Associated Press

Gutierrez backs gay measure in immigration reform

U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez on May 24 endorsed the inclusion of a provision protecting same-sex couples and their families in any comprehensive immigration reform package.

Gutierrez, a Democrat from Chicago, is considered the House leader on immigration reform efforts and is the sponsor of the only comprehensive immigration bill pending. So, his endorsement is significant to LGBT equality advocates.

On May 24, Gutierrez held a press conference in Chicago with U.S. Reps. Mike Quigley, D-Chicago, and Jared Polis, D-Colo. All three pledged unwavering support for including the provisions of the Uniting American Families Act in any major immigration bill.

The Uniting American Families Act, sponsored for the past eight years by U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., would allow Americans in same-sex relationships to sponsor their “permanent partners” for immigration purposes.

Existing immigration law allows for a U.S. citizen to sponsor his or her spouse for immigration, a coveted “green card.” However, the provision does not apply to same-sex spouses or partners.

“We need to recognize that one of the main problems facing the U.S. when it comes to immigration is that our legal immigration system is so dysfunctional and restrictive that we have created incentives for people to go around our system rather than going through it,” Gutierrez said in a statement. “Nowhere is this more true than for committed same-sex couples who have to make a painful choice between their family and the immigration laws of the U.S. that do not recognize these family units for the purposes of immigration. By disallowing legal immigration and family unity for these couples and families, our immigration laws are separating families and preventing the reunification of families separated by borders because of immigration bureaucracy and restrictions.”

U.S. law essentially can force same-sex couples into divorces, extended separations or major relocations away from good friends and close relatives. U.S. policy affords no recognition of these relationships and guarantees no rights.

“LGBT people and people living with HIV are disproportionately affected by our country’s discriminatory immigration system,” said Francisco Duenas of Lambda Legal, a national LGBT civil liberties group. “Many inhabit a double closet, afraid of disclosing their sexual orientation and/or gender identity and afraid of disclosing that they are undocumented.”

Duenas said reform must include “at a minimum, an end to unequal treatment of same-sex bi-national couples.”

A number of other countries already allow their citizens to sponsor permanent partners or same-sex spouses for immigration. Those countries include Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Israel, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.