August 2, 2012
By Jacob Combs
Over at Buzzfeed, Chris Geidner reports that Nancy Pelosi and more than 80 other House Democrats sent a letter to the Obama administration asking for written clarification of an announcement from August 2011 that the federal government would begin considering gay and lesbian couples as families under a new doctrine of focusing immigration resources on the “highest priorities” of violent criminals and lawbreakers.
Because of the Defense of Marriage Act, gay and lesbian couples face forced separation when one partner is a foreign citizen, since their relationship can be afforded no recognition by the federal government. In August 2011, Obama administration officials said that its new advisements would allow prosecutors discretion to keep from splitting up gay and lesbian couples. But as Pelosi’s letter points out, little progress has been made since then. From Geidner’s article:
Two months [after the August 2011 announcement], however, and as today’s letter pointed out, a response from DHS to members of Congress asking about the specifics of the new policy stated only that “LGBT individuals’ ties and contributions to the community are taken into account” — with no mention of the family ties that officials had said would be included in the considerations.
In today’s letter, Pelosi — along with Reps. Jerrold Nadler and Mike Honda, the lead sponsors of two bills aimed at addressing LGBT inequalities in the immigration system, and 81 other Democrats — called on Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to “issue a written field guidance or a memorandum to explicitly state the policy of your August 18, 2011 announcement which would direct DHS personnel to consider LGBT family ties as a positive factor for the exercise of prosecutorial discretion.”
The House members — including out gay Reps. Barney Frank, Jared Polis and David Cicilline — go on to say that “[a] written policy is the best way to ensure that the decision by President Obama and DHS to recognize LGBT family ties for immigration purposes will be implemented so that families will remain together.”
The lack of clarity on the immigration issue puts LGBT families in jeopardy of continuing to face separation while simultaneously holding out some hope that the Obama administration has moved to protect them. Of course, immigration discrimination is just another reason that DOMA must be undone. But Rep. Pelosi’s letter is an important move in pressuring President Obama to use his power as the executive to improve the lives of binational gay and lesbian couples in the United States.