Repeal of DOMA not going to happen soon

By Erwin de Leon
Integrity USA

A couple of days ago, I wrote a post for Integrity USA encouraging those of us who care about the plight of gay binational couples to curb our enthusiasm: At the end of last week, a couple of news items raised the hopes of gay binational couples, their families and allies. Again.

On May 5, Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. suspended the deportation of a gay Irishman, Paul Dorman, who is joined with an American in a civil union and instructed the courts to look into the possibility of Dorman staying based on his union. The following day, a federal immigration judge stopped the deportation of a Venezuelan man at the eleventh hour, apparently spurred by the Attorney General’s move. Henry Valandia, who is married to American, can remain in the country for now while the Obama administration and the Justice Department figure out what to do with legally married gay binational couples entangled in our dysfunctional immigration system.

While I am delighted for both couples, the fact remains that all they have been granted is a reprieve. As a matter of fact, the Justice Department cautioned on May 7 that it will continue to enforce the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which bars the U.S. government from recognizing gay marriages. There is no guarantee that the courts will rule in favor of Dorman and he may be sent back to Ireland. Valandia will have to appear in front of an immigration judge in December and he may also be separated from his husband and deported back to Venezuela.

The raw reality for thousands of married gay binational couples is that their families can easily be broken. They do not have the protections and privileges granted married straight couples. Their unions do not amount to much beyond the borders of the states and jurisdictions that have legalized or recognize marriage for all Americans. Bottom line is, gay citizens and permanent residents, unlike their straight counterparts, still cannot sponsor their loved ones for a green card because of DOMA. Immigration falls under the purview of the federal government and there is no more straightforward and simple solution as the repeal of DOMA. Only Congress or the Supreme Court can get rid of this unjust law and by the look of things, this is not going to happen anytime soon.

I am the foreign-born half of a binational couple myself and I could certainly use some good news. However, I have been wrestling with the broken immigration system and the inequity wrought on queer people in America for over 20 years that last week’s developments did not get me excited, much less hopeful for a resolution in the near future.

Rather, this got me concerned that some gay binational couples might think they’re out of the woods, apply for green cards, and thus expose themselves to the very real possibility of their families torn apart by the government. Likewise, our community and allies might think that this fight is over and stop pressuring our elected officials to end the unfair treatment of married couples that happen to be gay.

Our memories tend to be short. It was just a few weeks ago when many of us got all in a tizzy because the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced a hold on cases in which green cards petitioned by gay Americans for their spouses were denied because of DOMA. Then and now, well-meaning friends have come up to me saying, “This is great news, isn’t it? This solves your immigration issue!”

Well, it doesn’t. So we need to curb our enthusiasm, roll up our sleeves and get back to work. As Chris Geidner has pointed out that in an extensive speech on May 10 about comprehensive immigration reform earlier, President Obama had left out the issue of gay binational couples. This comes as no surprise. If any constituent were to be thrown under the bus, it would be the gays. In the unlikely event that immigration reform is actually tackled by Congress in the near future, guess which group will be first to be sacrificed by the Democrats? Yup, you guessed it. Gay binational couples.

So there. No need to get all excited folks.

Erwin de Leon is a research associate at the Center for Nonprofits & Philanthropy at The Urban Institute and a contributing writer at Feet in 2 Worlds.

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