champagne-popping.gifI wrote a few weeks ago that the French National Assembly voted to approve same-sex marriage. Today, the French Senate passed a bill approving same-sex marriage, also. In the coming weeks, the two bills will undergo a “second reading” to reconcile minor differences in language. It is expected that the final bill will pass and same-sex marriage could be a reality throughout France by mid-Summer.

Yesterday, I noted that the Legislature of Uruguay also passed a same-sex marriage bill, and early in February, the United Kingdom was moving in the same direction.

In my work as an immigration lawyer and advocate on gay and lesbian issues, clients always ask me whether a legal marriage in, say, Canada or Netherlands would qualify a foreigner to apply for US Legal Permanent Residence through a petition by a US citizen spouse. At the present time, even with so many countries of the world recognizing and approving same-sex marriages, the United States still labors under the effects of §3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which prohibits the US from granting any benefits, including green cards, based on a same-sex marriage.

uruguay-gay-flag-360x222.pngA large majority of the Uruguay Legislature today approved a bill legalizing same-sex marriage. The bill has the support of the country’s president, José Mujica, who has said that he will sign the bill in the next two weeks. Uruguay is the second country in Latin America (the other is Argentina) to legalize same-sex marriage, the third to do so in the Western Hemisphere (the other is Canada), and the twelfth nation to do so in the world. By some reports, marriages could begin as soon as July 2013.

Which brings us to the question: when will the USA take this step?

In our Federal system, states have determined individually the rules regarding the issuance of marriage licenses. Nine states, plus the District of Columbia, current permit same-sex marriage. The recently-argued case of Hollingsworth v. Perry places the question squarely before the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS). However, it is not clear to me that SCOTUS will make a broad ruling legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide. It seems more likely that SCOTUS will simply take the view the each state is entitled to determine the issue for itself. In other words, SCOTUS will probably not announce a broad, universal right to same-sex marriage throughout the USA. They could, but I view the prospect as unllikely. Finally, SCOTUS could avoid the question entirely by saying that the Hollingsworth case should not have been brought to the Supreme Court in the first place. A decision is expected before 30 June 2013.

This morning, the Immigration Judge granted a motion to terminate the removal proceedings against one of my clients. How did we pull it off? My client is a lawful permanent resident. At the time his family contacted me, he was in state custody with multiple criminal charges pending. I told his family to have his public defender contact me so that we could discuss a strategy.

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rainbow_flag.gifIn the past few days, my phones in both Los Angeles and Palm Springs have been ringing; everyone wants to know if it is now possible for gay or lesbian US Citizens to successfully petition a green card for their foreign spouses. As an advocate for nontraditional families for over 30 years, I am hopeful that the time is coming soon. BUT NOT YET.

The reason for the excitement is understandable. Recently, the French government has moved to legalize same-sex marriage very soon. Her Majesty’s government in the United Kingdom is likely to legalize very soon, also. Most important for us as Americans, comprehensive reform of the US immigration law may also have a provision that will allow recognition of same-sex couples for US immigration purposes. Right now, it is too early to know what Comprehensive Immigration Reform will look like.

There is NO PROCESS to get a green card for a same-sex married couple at this time. Applications will likely be held in abeyance; in the worst case, the foreigner may be thrown into deportation proceedings. In my view, it’s too risky right now, unless there are some exceptional circumstances.

Eiffel Rainbow.jpgClose on the heels of similar actions last week in the British Parliament, the French National Assembly yesterday approved a bill to legalize same-sex marriage throughout France. The initial vote was 329-229, in favor of legalization. The bill must still be approved by the French Senate, although most people believe that approval is likely in the Senate as well.

Because of my 30 years of advocacy here in Los Angeles and Palm Springs as an US immigration attorney on behalf of nontraditional families, I receive a lot of inquiries from gay and lesbian US citizens who wish to marry partners from the UK or France. These upcoming changes are good news for couples, but only to a point.

Gay and lesbian Americans who may wish to marry a French or UK citizen must remember that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is still the law in the USA. Even though French government may allow same-sex marriages sometime soon, the US does not currently provide any immigration benefits based on a same-sex marriage. We must wait to see whether any upcoming changes in US immigration law will provide benefits to same-sex couples.

UK SSM.pngThe UK parliament yesterday approved a bill legalizing same-sex marriage. The legislative process is not yet complete, but the 400-175 vote in favor of the bill is a strong indication that the next vote in the Commons, and a vote in the House of Lords, will be a favorable one for gay men and lesbians who wish to marry in the UK.

Gay and lesbian Americans who may wish to marry a UK citizen must remember that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is still the law in the USA. This means that even though Her Majesty’s government may soon allow same-sex marriages, the US does not provide any benefits or recognition under US law based on a same-sex marriage. And that includes immigration benefits. As an immigration lawyer who has counseled members of the gay and lesbian community for many years, I wish I could say that our families are recognized by the US government, but for the moment, we must wait to see whether any upcoming changes in US immigration law will provide benefits to same-sex couples.

If you or your partner or spouse would like to discuss immigration options, I look forward to talking with you. –jcf

rainbow rings.jpgIn my 30 years as an immigration lawyer in the gay and lesbian community, the question I am asked most is, “why can’t I bring my foreign partner to the USA? Straight people can get married and bring their spouses! We should have the same rights!” This question has resonated here in my offices in Los Angeles and in Palm Springs. I have been asked the question when I practiced in San Francisco and Chicago. I even get asked the question in Paris and London. The over-simplified answer is the word “marriage.”

Under the US Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), the US gives US citizens a “benefit,” allowing the spouse of a US citizen to apply for a legal permanent resident card (LPR — otherwise called “the green card”). Until recently, same-sex marriage (SSM) was quite rare, so the US could hide behind the idea that LPR is only extended to someone married to a US citizen.

Then some enlightened countries began letting same-sex couples get married, and the US was faced with a dilemma: do we apply the law equally and allow these same-sex couples the same rights as other Americans, or do we try to stop them. The result was the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

NVC ltr.JPGIn January 2013, the US Department of State’s National Visa Center (NVC) began sending letters to many prospective immigrants about the “I-601A PROVISIONAL WAIVER OF UNLAWFUL PRESENCE.” This letter is scaring the living daylights out of thousands of immigrants. At Fong & Aquino in Los Angeles and Palm Springs, I have fielded about one hundred inquiries about this letter.

The first and most important thing to remember is: this letter and the I-601A Provisional Waiver ONLY — repeat ONLY — apply to a future immigrant if s/he is currently in the USA unlawfully, or has been unlawfully present in the USA in the past. Someone is illegally present if s/he enters the USA without inspection at a border post or airport, or if the person enters legally and then overstays the time granted on their landing permit.

If the future immigrant has never — ever — been in the USA, this letter and the I-601A waiver does not apply to him/her.

Last summer, President Obama created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program which would allow some young people who were brought to the United States at a very young age to obtain an Employment Authorization Document (EAD – a work permit). With all the discussion of amnesty and Comprehensive Immigration Reform, I still get people asking me here at Fong & Aquino whether this DACA program still exists.

It does.

To qualify for the program, a successful applicant must show that s/he:

Nation of Imm.jpgFor over 10 years, immigrants and their families have come to Fong & Aquino and asked me about any possible changes to the immigration law that will help them. I hear, from clients in Los Angeles, Palm Springs, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, and many other places that they need some change in the immigration law to allow them to stay in this country and pursue their dreams, work productively, be free from persecution, and most importantly, to be united with their families.

For the first time since 1990, a major change in the immigration law may be coming.

You probably already know that the US Congress has been deadlocked for over 4 years, with the members (mostly) of one political party refusing to cooperate with the White House. As a result, a Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) bill has never been seriously discussed. With the results of the recent re-election of President Barack Obama, and (many) members of the Republican party realizing that it is in their best interest to help immigrants, CIR may be on its way. What will it do?