The Department of Homeland Security intends to spell out in written guidance that immigration officers should consider “long-term, same-sex partners” as families when considering whether to exercise prosecutorial discretion in the potential deportation of an undocumented immigrant.
In a letter dated Sept. 27, to Congress, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano affirms U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement intends to disseminate this guidance to personnel in the field.
“In an effort to make clear the definition of the phrase ‘family relationships,’ I have directed ICE to disseminate written guidance to the field that the interpretation of the phrase ‘family relationships’ includes long-term, same-sex partners,” Napolitano writes.
Napolitano adds the applicability of family relationships should be “weighed on a individual basis” for each immigrant in a potential deportation case.
The new guidance follows up on a 2011 memorandum informing ICE personnel they should consider consider the totality of circumstances for an undocumented immigrant when making enforcement decisions in immigration law. Circumstances that were under consideration — in addition to “ties and contributions to the community” — included an undocumented immigrant’s age, military service and cooperation with authorities.
Advocates had been calling for on DHS to broaden the memo to include explicit protections for bi-national same-sex couples. Later, when DHS announced last year it would go through the deportation pipeline and take out low priority individuals on a case-by-case basis, it had informed the media that “LGBT families” would be among the factors considered, an assertion that was made on the record for the first time last month.
Still, advocates continued to seek more explicit protections. The upcoming guidance will mark the first time DHS has explicitly spelled out this policy in guidance to immigration officers.
Rachel Tiven, executive director of Immigration Equality, called the DHS announcement “a huge step forward” in the organization’s effort to ensure bi-national same-sex couples can stay together within the United States.
“Until now, LGBT families and their lawyers had nothing to rely on but an oral promise that prosecutorial discretion would include all families,” Tiven said. “Today, DHS has responded to Congress and made that promise real. The administration’s written guidance will help families facing separation and the field officers who are reviewing their cases.”