DHS: In Immigration Cases, ‘Family Relationships’ Now Include Long-Term, Same-Sex Partners

By Penny Starr | October 11, 2012 | 4:40 PM EDT

Zach Wahls, right, joins Minneapolis area families at a Vote No picnic Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2012 to discuss how the proposed Minnesota constitutional marriage amendment would have a negative impact on Minnesota families and limit the freedom to marry for same-sex couples. Wahls, an Iowan who was raised by a lesbian couple, stands alongside a lesbian couple, Mary Gustafson, left, and Jenny Simonds and sons Charlie, left, and Carter Gustafson. Wahls is scheduled to address the Democratic National Convention. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

(CNSNews.com) – Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano confirmed last month that the agency has added to its prosecutorial discretion guidance consideration of same-sex couples as “family” when deciding illegal immigration cases.

A Sept. 27, 2012 letter from Napolitano to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) confirmed the policy after the congresswoman and dozens of other Democrats sent two letters to the secretary decrying the fact that LGBT couples were not specifically included in the original guidelines issued by DHS in June 2011.

“As you are aware, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director John Morton's June 2011 memorandum, ‘Exercising Prosecutorial Discretion Consistent with the Civil Immigration Enforcement Priorities of the Agency for the Apprehension, Detention, and Removal of Aliens,’ requires ICE personnel, when considering whether an exercise of prosecutorial discretion is appropriate, to consider the totality of the circumstances presented in individual cases, including whether an individual has close family ties to the United States, when making enforcement decisions,” Napolitano’s letter states.

“In an effort to make clear the definition of the phrase ‘family relationships,’ I have directed ICE to disseminate written guidance to the field that the interpretation of the phrase ‘family relationships’ includes long-term, same-sex partners,” the letter states.

“As with every other factor identified in Director Morton's June 11 memorandum, the applicability of the ‘family relationships’ factor is weighed on an individualized basis in the consideration of whether prosecutorial discretion is appropriate in a given case,” Napolitano’s letter states.

After Morton’s memorandum was released, Pelosi and dozens of other Democrats sent a letter on Sept. 27, 2011 to Napolitano expressing concern that LBGT individuals had not been included. The Democrats sent another letter to Napolitano on Aug. 1 and Napolitano sent a letter last month confirming DHS will add language about same-sex couples being “families.”

“Keeping loving families together, particularly in cases in which one partner or spouse is a U.S. citizen, should be a priority for immigration enforcement,” Pelosi said in a press release announcing the second letter.

“The Department of Homeland Security has stated that their policy will positively factor in family ties, including those of LGBT couples, but we have now asked them to put this in writing to provide a measure of clarity to those enforcing our laws and confidence to families facing separation,” she added.

“Our public policy should have as a clear goal to keep all American families – LGBT or straight – together,” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), who also signed the letter. “It serves absolutely no one and is gratuitously cruel to separate committed families.

“These LGBT families are critical parts of their communities, neighborhoods, and workforces,” Nadler said. “To keep them intact, it is critical that the Administration put in writing its policy of providing prosecutorial discretion with deference to family ties among LGBT persons, and we again urge it to do so as quickly as possible.”

The first letter from Pelosi and fellow Democrats requested that an LGBT policy on immigration enforcement be put in writing.

“President Obama reiterated this year that it is the policy of his Administration, with respect to immigration enforcement, that family ties include LGBT families,” the letter states. “In a statement to the Advocate on March 7, 2012, President Obama said that DHS has put ‘a lower priority on the cases of undocumented immigrants with family members, including same-sex partners, in the United States.

“Unfortunately, this recognition that family ties include LGBT relationships has never been put in writing,” the letter states.