How does the government shutdown affect immigrants, the courts and our border?

United States Government Shutdown 2013

Although the federal government has been shutdown, the effects upon my immigration clients have been varied.

U.S. CITIZENSHIP AND IMMIGRATION SERVICES

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is the primary agency that handles petitions and applications related to immigration. For most filings, USCIS charges a filing fee. According to USCIS spokesperson Christopher Bentley, USCIS can continue to operate during the shutdown because these fees cover 95% of their budget. I have filed applications and received the processing receipts. Interviews for naturalization and adjustment of status applications are going forward.
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Rainbow yes.pngOn Tuesday, 26 June 2013, the Supreme Court of the United States overturned the constitutionally discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). A US citizen or Legal Permanent Resident may now submit an immigration petition for a same-sex spouse.  This is historic news and a true change in the way immigration law will be applied to the community of immigrants. The telephone has not stopped ringing at either the Palm Springs office or the Los Angeles.

Even as we consider moving forward for the paperwork to unite our families, some things to keep in mind.

Among the key requirements is MARRIAGE. Civil unions, domestic partnerships, civil registrations, PACS, and other forms of “marriage lite” are NOT recognized. Only marriage: plain, old-fashioned, garden-variety marriage. The list of jurisdictions where same-sex marriages are currently permitted includes New York, Washington state, Massachusetts, and nine other jurisdictions plus the District of Columbia; and Argentina, France, Canada, South Afrika, and a significant number of other nations. A good list can be found here.

Kiwi-300x300.jpgAs an immigrant advocate for gay and lesbian couples, I regularly receive calls at my Los Angeles and Palm Springs offices about whether same-sex marriage is available in x, y, or z country of the world. The legislature of New Zealand yesterday approved same-sex marriage. The measure must be given royal assent by the Queen’s representative, the Governor-General. This assent is typically automatic, a formality.

The number of countries which now or are on the verge of legalizing same-sex marriage is growing week by week. Pretty soon, it will cease to be news for me to post on this blog. However, please keep in mind that the United States’ Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) STILL denies recognition of same-sex marriages for any US government benefits.

It is NOT YET the time to file a green card application (immigrant visa application) for your same-sex spouse.

dogs-hearing-by-Muffet.jpgYes, yes, yes. Some information about the proposed Comprehensive Immigration Reform was released today.

As an immigration lawyer with over 30 years of experience, my phones here in Los Angeles and in the Palm Springs office have been ringing off the hook. I already have over 100 emails from France and the UK. The message is always the same, “J Craig Fong, is there anything for me in the new immigration law?” Everyone wants to know the recently-released details for the proposed Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR). Enough! Assez! ¡Basta!

FIRST: I am studying and thinking about the proposal now.

If you are a United States citizen with overseas siblings that want to immigrate, file those petitions NOW!

Members of Congress are contemplating some major immigration reform.  According to the New York Times, one of the things that a bipartisan group of Senators is proposing to eliminate are visas available to brothers and sisters of United States citizens.
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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.