DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano to Issue Written Guidance: ‘Family Relationships’ Include Same-Sex Partners

The Obama administration is following up on a commitment it made in 2011 to provide greater protections for gays in immigration deportation cases, Immigration Equality reports:

NapolitanoIn the June 2011 memo from Director Morton, the Department of Homeland
Security spelled out factors ICE officers should consider when deciding
which immigration cases are classified as “low priority” for removal.
Those guidelines included family ties to a U.S. citizen. DHS stated
verbally in August of last year that it intended for the “family”
guidelines to be LGBT-inclusive, but it had not previously distributed
written guidance codifying that intent to field offices.  In a letter
yesterday to the 84 Members of Congress who demanded written guidelines,
the Administration said it intends to do so.

Wrote Homeland Security Secretary
Janet Napolitano in a new memo: “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."

Immigration Equality adds:

The new written directive, which was announced in response to a Congressional letter spearheaded by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), marks one of the very first times LGBT families have been recognized within federal immigration policies. The guidelines, which are expected to be distributed soon to field offices across the country, will instruct officers and field agents to recognize LGBT families for purposes of relief as defined by a June 2011 memo from Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton.

Said Rachel B. Tiven, executive director of Immigration Equality: “This is a huge step forward. Until now, LGBT families and their lawyers had nothing to rely on but an oral promise that prosecutorial discretion would include all families. 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.”

Washington Blade has posted a copy of the letter.

Chris Johnson has more, and reports on a statement in response from Rep. Mike Honda, one of those who signed the Congressional letter referenced above:

In a statement, Honda called the announcement from Napolitano “promising news” that came about as a result of collaboration between LGBT activists and lawmakers.

“After many conversations with President Obama’s administration, a strong push by the LGBT community, and with the help of my colleagues, Secretary Napolitano has announced that she will disseminate written guidance to immigration authorities that confirms the interpretation of the phrase ‘family relationships’ to include LGBT relationships — specifically the relationships of immigrants in same-sex marriages and partnerships with U.S. citizens,” Honda said.

But Honda added advocates should continue pressing for immigration reform because “current immigration laws are tearing families apart and separating American citizens from their loves ones.” In the case of same-sex couples, gay Americans are still unable to sponsor their foreign same-sex partners for residency in the United States — regardless of whether these couples are married or otherwise.


  1. Southernmost says

    This is a very big step forward for my Canadian partner and for me personally. We are deeply grateful to the 84 Congressmen, the administration, Secy. Napolitano, and so many LGBT advocacy groups who made this happen. Our next real challenge comes with the SCOTUS reviewing the Bush era debacle called DOMA. For now, we are happy to savor this bit of progress with genuine gratitude.

  2. Daniel says

    Too late for me. I’m leaving 2 months from today to join my husband in Hong Kong, where I’ll be able to stay legally. China has more enlightened immigration than the US, how degrading is that?

    We may be back when the laws change. Maybe.

  3. Albert says

    I’ve volunteered on these issues for a long time, and I’m glad to see this step forward. We have to get rid of DOMA to be able make more progress. Also another reason why voting for our allies is very important.

  4. Brad says

    We’ve got a long way to go. Every time my husband and I return to the US after traveling, we’re told “one at a time” when approaching passport control, while heterosexual couples can approach together married or not. When doing the same thing going into the Netherlands for example, nobody even blinks. It’s still the case that we have more rights in foreign countries than we do in the good ol’ USA.

  5. George F says

    As part of a binational US gay couple I count the days until we get the same rights to enter/stay the US with the same ease that heterosexual couples do…

  6. Richie says

    I’m part of a Brit couple who live and work in New York. We have to file for separate visas each year and have been through a world of inconvenience and cost in order to stay in the country (and we’re luckier than most).

    If I was straight I would be able to get a Green Card which would also cover my partner – but currently I can’t do this since my partner’s visa needs to be ‘attached’ to mine.

    People really don’t realize the full consequences of DOMA in so many aspects of people’s lives

  7. Mac says

    I’m 65, own a home in Toronto and have a very good pension income. In trying to enter the US to visit my same-sex partner, twice now I have been threatened with refused entry! My frequent viaits make it look like I am spending more time in the US than Canada even though the numbers show otherwise. Our long trem plan is to live in Toronto once my partner retires. I have no intent to move to the US permanently and pose absolutely no risk to the American taxpayer. Yet I am treated like an illegal alien at the boarder! Very frustrating indeed! Here’s hoping this initiative will eventually make things easier.

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