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Bi-national gay couples lack immigration rights

Despite the fact that 10 states and Washington D.C. have legalized gay marriage, there is still a federal law on the books that defines marriage as between a man and a woman only. So long as that law stands, same-sex couples who are legally married in states that recognize it can still be denied important rights under federal law -- including spouse and fiancé immigration rights.

The Defense of Marriage Act was passed in 1996 and will soon be challenged in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. But until the law is changed, bi-national gay couples could be torn apart through deportation because DOMA does not allow the U.S. citizen spouse to sponsor the immigrant spouse for legal residency. Advocates say that more than 36,000 couples may face this threat.

One such couple resides in Washington D.C. and was married in 2011. One of the women in the same-sex marriage is a citizen of Peru and has been living in the United States for years on alternating work and student visas. Even though Washington D.C. recognizes the two women as married, the U.S. citizen spouse cannot petition for residency on behalf of her wife, who is deportable when her student visa expires next year.

Luckily, the couple has some strong advocates on their side. A lawmaker recently met with the couple and then sent an open letter to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano asking her to set aside the couple's green card application until the Supreme Court decides on DOMA. The letter describes the two women as hard-working -- one is a teacher and the other is a registered nurse -- and says the two have "contributed greatly to our community."

The letter also noted that the U.S. citizen spouse is pregnant with twins, so tearing the couple apart would be especially heart-wrenching on the family. Additionally, the non-U.S. citizen spouse suffers from multiple sclerosis and is receiving experimental treatment at Georgetown University, the letter said.

Hopefully, other couples in similar situations are successful at having their unique stories told as well.

Source: Washington Post, "Federal marriage law may force deportation of many immigrant gay spouses," Pamela Constable, Dec. 29, 2012

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