Binational Spouse Obtains Deportation Reprieve from San Francisco Immigration Judge

July 13, 2011, Posted by Melanie Nathan,

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – This morning in San Francisco, Doug Gentry and Alex Benshimol — a married binational same-sex couple — appeared before Immigration Judge Marilyn Teeter for a deportation hearing and were permitted to remain in the country despite the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the law that prohibits the recognition of same-sex marriages by the federal government. This is the latest in a series of recent court rulings that have demonstrated the inequality that DOMA forces same-sex couples to live under.

Specifically, the judge laid out two options. She gave the government 60 days to decide whether it will agree to drop deportation proceedings against Alex — a Venezuelan citizen — altogether. If the government elects not to drop proceedings, the same judge will revisit the case again in September 2013, ensuring that Doug and Alex are protected from deportation for at least two more years allowing them to return to building a life together with their family, including Alex’s two step-children.

“Today the Immigration Judge demonstrated compassion and understanding for Doug and Alex as a married binational couple, granting them a reprieve from deportation by postponing further proceedings to September 2013,” said Lavi Soloway, lawyer for Doug and Alex, and founder of Stop the Deportations. “The Judge also gave the government 60 days to inform the court whether it will agree with our request to terminate these proceedings pursuant to prosecutorial discretion guidelines issued June 17 by Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton. We will continue to advocate for termination of these proceedings and a moratorium on all deportations of spouses of lesbian and gay Americans.”

“We are elated by this good news for Doug and Alex, and grateful their family is able to stay together for now. The judge’s ruling is also a reminder that during the two years before their next hearing, we have work to do — only by overturning the so-called Defense of Marriage Act can loving couples like Doug and Alex be assured of their happily ever after,” stated Stuart Gaffney, Media Director of Marriage Equality USA.

“Marriage equality, and immigration policy, are all about keeping families together. The mood at this morning’s rally before the hearing was upbeat, and now we are simply overjoyed by such a quick, positive result — one more happily married couple is now able continue building their family,” added John Lewis, Legal Analyst for Marriage Equality USA.

“Today’s hearing was one more step in the march toward full federal equality for LGBT Americans and those they love,” said Robin McGehee, executive director of GetEQUAL.

Alex came into the U.S. 12 years ago from Venezuela and overstayed a tourist visa, an immigration violation that straight binational couples can easily remedy once married; as a gay married couple, Doug and Alex do not have that option. Many binational couples are legally married like Alex and Doug, but they are still treated as legal strangers in the eyes of the federal government. There is only one reason Doug and Alex faced deportation proceedings at all — the Defense of Marriage Act, a law that the President and the Attorney General have both determined to be indefensible and unconstitutional.

To support the couple and to show widespread public support for their right to remain together, legally, in the United States, many organizations working for full federal equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Americans held a rally outside the courthouse in San Francisco where the hearing was scheduled to take place. Organizations leading the rally efforts included Out4Immigration, Stop the Deportations, GetEQUAL, and Marriage Equality USA, .

These organizations launched a petition drive last week to show public support for Doug and Alex, garnering close to 17,000 signatures of individuals who are supportive of assigning all the same rights and responsibilities to binational same-sex couples as to binational heterosexual couples.

Organizations supportive of the couple and the rally included API Equality, API Legal Outreach, Asian Law Caucus. Asian Pacific American Legal Center, Central American Resource Center, Chinese For Affirmative Action, Equality California,  Love Honor Cherish, National Center For Lesbian Rights, National Immigration Justice Center, San Francisco Immigrant Legal And Education Network, and the San Francisco LGBT Center.

Representatives Mike Honda (D-CA) and Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) have also been actively supportive of the couple, and provided written statements that were read at the rally. Rep. Lofgren’s statement included a passionate plea for binational families, including the excerpt below:

“Legally-married couples are being torn apart today in America because our laws unconstitutionally discriminate against same-sex marriages. Each and every day, American spouses are being forced to make unacceptable choices: live their lives separated from one another by thousands of miles, abandon their lives in this country and move someplace else, or break the law and go into hiding. This is a heartbreaking situation all across the United States. I believe the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional and that the government should respect legally-married same-sex couples. I am confident that DOMA one day will not be law. The whole country will look back and understand it was simply discrimination.”

Speakers at the rally included Bevan Dufty (Supervisor), Phil Ting (Assessor/Recorder), Vincent Pan (CFAA), Ross Mirkarimi (Supervisor), Lavi Soloway (Attorney for Doug & Alex), Heidi Li (APILO), Ming Wong (NCLR), Ana Perez (CARECEN), Annette Wong (SFILEN), Dusty Araujo (NIJC), and Judy Rickard (Author, “Torn Apart: United By Love Divided By Law”).

Founded in 2000, Marriage Equality USA is a national grassroots organization whose mission is to secure legally-recognized civil marriage equality for all, at the federal and state level, without regard to gender identity or sexual orientation. For more information go to www.marriageequality.org. Follow us on Twitter @meusa. Find us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/marriageequalityusa

Melanie Nathan is MEUSA’a Ambassador to Africa.



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