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Married bi-national lesbian couple escape deportation threat

Thursday, May 24, 2012
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DUMMERSTON, Vt. — A Japanese national living in the U.S. on an expired visa with her American wife, was informed Tuesday by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service that agency officials had decided to defer action on deportation proceedings against her.

Takako Ueda had been ordered to leave the country in a USCIS letter received last December.

Frances Herbert (left) and Takako Ueda

The deportation letter, addressed to her wife, Frances Herbert — who had applied to be Ueda’s sponsor — said that under the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), they could not be considered spouses, as DOMA defines marriage as “only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife.”

“Your spouse is not a person of the opposite sex,” wrote CIS official Robert Cowan, last December. “Therefore, under the DOMA, your petition must be denied.”

But earlier this week, a letter granting the couple a reprieve from the deportation threat arrived — just two weeks after President Barack Obama stated publicly for the first time that he supports same sex marriage.

A source at the USCIS said the agency’s position had not changed, and noted that DOMA remains in effect and for the purposes of immigration laws. The source did say that “Deferred action is granted on a case-by-case basis for humanitarian reasons and is based on evidence provided in each case.”

A spokesperson for the agency confirmed to LGBTQNation late Thursday that Ueda’s case would be reviewed in two years.

Steve Ralls, a Washington-based spokesman for Immigration Equality, a group that advocates for such couples said that Ueda and Herbert are one of an estimated 36,000 bi-national, same sex couples living in the United States.

The women are among the five bi-national same sex couples who sued USCIS last month seeking permanent resident status for the foreign-born spouses.

“This does not impact their lawsuit in any way,” Ralls said of the decision by USCIS officials. But he added that while Takako and Frances had “received good news for this next two years, they will continue to move forward in their quest to receive a green card for Takako, which is what they deserve.”

Herbert, 51, a home care provider, and Ueda, 56, a graphic designer, were legally married in Vermont last year and have been together for more than a decade.

Because the couple’s union is not recognized at the federal level due to DOMA, they didn’t have spousal status for immigration purposes, and in addition to the threat of deportation back to Japan, Ueda was unable to legally work or obtain a drivers license.

“We welcome this remedy that for now will offer a measure of common sense and compassion for this Vermont couple,” said U.S. Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.), the state sole U.S. House representative.

“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,” Welch said.

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