A couple of days ago gay rights groups and immigration advocates applauded an announcement by USCIS that it would suspend decisions on marriage based immigration petitions filed by gay Americans on behalf of their foreign national partners. That was good news for gay and lesbian Americans who have been waiting for the day when their same sex partnerships would be treated with the same respect as those of heterosexual couples who routinely sponsor their spouses for green cards.
But the celebration was premature.
The Administration announced yesterday that it was all a big misunderstanding. Christopher S. Bentley, Chief Spokesman for the USCIS said the government “has not implemented any change in policy and intends to follow the president’s directive to continue enforcing the law.” Translated that means gay and lesbian Americans will continue to suffer unequal treatment under the federal immigration law and their families will continue to be split apart by an outdated and archaic policy. Despite its admirable refusal not to defend DOMA, the Administration will, effectively, continue to keep same sex couples apart if one partner happens to be a foreign national.
It’s clear to everyone that the immigration law is broken. It doesn’t work to the benefit of U.S. families or business and must be fixed. And we are all frustrated by Congressional inaction. But, in the meantime, the Administration should use its broad power to administer the law in a manner that is legal and fair and in a way which will ameliorate the harsh results of an outdated and unworkable immigration statute. One obvious way is to stop deporting the life partners of gay and lesbian Americans: Keep their applications on hold, and agree to administrative closure of their proceedings (in essence, stopping removal of a same-sex partner until an outside factor is resolved) while the issue makes its way through the courts. It could be done with the stroke of a DHS pen and would represent a major step forward in American policy.