Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Immigration: Call for Immigration & Customs Enforcement to Broaden 'Discretion' Memo to Include Lesbian & Gay Families

Source: Immigration Equality

Immigration Equality, a legal aid and advocacy organization representing lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) and HIV-positive immigrants and their families, today called on U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to broaden and clarify the definition of 'family' and 'spouse' used in a June 17 memo to ICE field offices, special agents and counsel. The memo, which outlines cases in which ICE officials should exercise 'discretion' when prioritizing who should be targeted for removal from the United States, fails to specifically include lesbian and gay spouses or partners, despite earlier correspondence indicating those families would be given such considerations. While the recent memo specifies that those with "family relationships" in the United States, and individuals with a "U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse" may be considered for discretion, it does not indicate those terms to be inclusive of LGBT spouses and families.

"Our legal team works every day with LGBT families who are about to be separated," said Immigration Equality's executive director, Rachel B. Tiven. "While ICE has taken a significant step in recognizing that tearing families apart should not be a government priority, it must be explicit that lesbian and gay families are protected, too."

In a May letter to Members of Congress who had called on ICE to halt the deportation of LGBT spouses, the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice noted that both agencies would "continue, where appropriate, to exercise discretion in individual cases based on the unique factors presented by that particular case." Despite those assurances, and repeated calls by lawmakers and Immigration Equality to use such discretion, there is no specific mention of LGBT families among the 19 scenarios cited in Friday's memo. Though the memo noted that the "list is not exhaustive," Tiven expressed concern that the absence of any LGBT-specific example would lead field offices to believe those families are exempt from leniency in enforcing removal.

"Given the absence of any LGBT family recognition at the federal level, the decision not to explicitly include our spouses and partners in the ICE memo is striking," Tiven said. "If the Administration does support efforts to keep LGBT families together, it should tell its field offices as much. If it does not, it must explain why. In the interim, families are being torn apart and American citizens are being separated from their spouses. There is simply no government interest served in such draconian enforcement of our immigration laws."