House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi met Wednesday with a gay bi-national couple seeking to remain together in the country. The meeting was to call attention to a Democratic push for specific guidance for LGBT families in the White House-order reprioritization of immigration cases facing deportation.
Pelosi welcomed Bradford Wells and Anthony John Makk to her Washington office Wednesday morning. The San Francisco couple has advocated for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered couples that are navigating U.S. Immigration laws in order to keep an international partner from being deported.
Pelosi is one of 69 lawmakers urging Attorney General Eric Holder and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to add considerations for gay immigration equality, as it reviews the nearly 300,000 cases currently pending deportation in immigration court.
In August, the White House announced that the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice would partner to develop guidelines that would reprioritize deportation cases to expel illegal immigrants who have been convicted of serious crimes and/or are national security risks. The cases of low-risk illegal immigrants, by contrast, would be shuffled so that they will be kept "out of the deportation pipeline," according to the White House.
The American Immigration Lawyers Association praised the announcement. Conservative groups such as the Federation for American Immigration Reform have denounced the decision as "administrative amnesty" for people who, despite their peaceful ways, are in the country illegally.
Last week lawmakers issued a statement demanding that the new guidelines also consider bi-national LGBT couples who have been joined in a same-sex marriage or civil union.
"The vulnerability of LGBT immigrants – the historical stigmatization of whom both within and outside the U.S. is well-documented – makes knowledgeable review a necessity," the group wrote.
Wells is an America citizen, while Makk is a citizen of Australia. Makk is joined to Wells in a same-sex marriage. Makk said he has attempted to maintain a lawful presence in the country through tourist and worker visas. His visas expired Aug. 25, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, and he is currently appealing for green card status.
A foreign national joined to a member of the opposite sex in a heterosexual marriage is permitted to lawfully reside in the United States. However, the Defense of Marriage Act prohibits federal agencies from assigning the same benefits to same-sex couples in order to promote stable families that can foster children.
President Barack Obama, however, has been vocal in his support for gay equality. In February he issued an executive order to the Department of Justice to cease defending the 1996 law signed by former President Bill Clinton.
The administration has also made allowances for some same-sex couples.
In March, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services issued a temporary suspension on deportation cases of gay foreigners joined in same-sex marriages to American citizens.
In May, Holder suspended the deportation of Irishman Paul Wilson Dorman and sent his case back to the immigration appeals court, asking it to consider several possible grounds on which the Irishman, who is joined to a U.S. citizen through a civil union, might qualify for legal residency.
President Obama also promised in August that bi-national gay couples will also be considered low priority in the reprioritized immigration system according to news site Advocate.com.
Matthew Staver, chairman of conservative legal firm Liberty Counsel, has also denounced the administration's attempts to bypass DOMA.
While the DOJ cannot defend the constitutionality of DOMA in court, he says the justice department still must obey the federal law.
"[DOMA] governs the definition of marriage from a federal standpoint under the federal laws for every federal agency including the immigration services. They must abide by that federal law," he insisted. "No federal agency can act contrary to that law."