Under the Obama administration, immigration officials overseeing deportation have been directed to accept same-sex partners as family members. According to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, USCIS field offices will now be asked to redefine “family relationships” to include same-sex marriages and long-term partnerships.
While House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi believes that the change is a positive step forward, she feels that more can be done to ensure that undocumented immigrants who are married to or in long-term relationships with US citizens are protected. For example, she would like to see the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) eliminated in order to allow families to remain together. Under DOMA, federal benefits, including Social Security, are not permitted for married same-sex couples. According to many experts, that legislation does not permit the federal government to treat same-sex couples in the same way as other married couples. President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder have both spoken out against DOMA, calling the legislation unconstitutional. The U.S. House of Representatives, with its large base of Republican supporters, however, have worked to uphold DOMA. Next month, the U.S. Supreme Court will likely determine whether to review a number of DOMA-related cases questioning the validity of that legislation.
Same-sex married couples in recent years have been fighting legal battles to be considered families to the USCIS. While many welcome the new measure that defines same-sex relationships as family relationships in deportation cases, many immigration advocates say that the measure falls short of helping same-sex couples. Couples who have already been deported after their same-sex partnership was not recognized, for example, still face legal problems. As well, Jerrold Nadler of New York as well as 82 other members of Congress have asked for written statements of the new family definition, saying that the new definition may not be being applied evenly. In addition, many note that while same-sex couples may be recognized as family for deportation issues, same sex couples still face an uphill battle claiming federal benefits, including immigration benefits.