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DOMA repeal gives same-sex couples green light to green cards

Last month, the United States Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as between one man and one woman only for purposes of federal laws and benefits. This included immigration laws, which meant that bi-national same-sex couples who were legally married in states that recognized it were not entitled to the same immigration rights as opposite-sex couples.

However, with the repeal of DOMA, gay spouses of U.S. citizens can now begin applying for green cards. The law change could reunite bi-national couples who have been separated for years because they were unprotected by immigration laws. Under DOMA, many non-citizen partners were threatened with deportation even though they were legally married to U.S. citizens.

But now, U.S. citizens will be able to apply for fiancé and marriage visas on behalf of their same-sex non-citizen fiancés and spouses, a group called Immigration Equality says. In fact, it is estimated that there are roughly 26,000 same-sex couples in the United States with one partner who is not a citizen of the United States that could potentially benefit from the immigration laws.

After the DOMA ruling, Janet Napolitano, the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, said that the federal government is now working to make sure that bi-national couples who qualify will be able to apply for the green cards as soon as possible. Napolitano said the government will ensure that "all married couples will be treated equally and fairly in the administration of our immigration laws."

Already, hundreds of same-sex spouses have begun the green card application process. One important note to make is that green cards will not be available to spouses or fiancés who entered the country illegally before getting married or engaged. However, that rule is the same for opposite-sex couples.

Source: Los Angeles Times, "Same-sex couples flood immigration offices for green cards," Alana Semuels, June 29, 2013

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