IAN HEDGES, News Editor
Four days before Valentine’s Day 2012, a married gay couple, Tim Smulian and Edwin Blesch, received notice from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that action on Smulian’s deportation would be deferred for a year. Smulian is from South Africa, and Blesch is a U.S. citizen. For several years, they have only been able to see each other for six months at a time because Smulian continually renews a tourist visa. Usually, Smulian would receive a green card after marrying Blesch, except the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) prevents that from happening.
The Defense of Marriage Act was passed in 1996 and prevents the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages. Gay couples, even married ones, do not receive the same legal benefits as straight couple as a result. One of these benefits is for binational same-sex couples to apply for a green card. According to the Immigration Policy Center, 36,000 binational same-sex couples are affected by DOMA.
This discrepancy has sent the Obama administration’s views over immigration into a limbo. President Obama has called for the repeal of DOMA by Congress and has granted the Department of Justice permission to not defend the law in federal appellate courts. He has pursued this policy because of his continued belief that same-sex couples should have the same legal recognitions as straight couples, minus the title of “marriage.”
Last year, the Obama administration had detained the most immigrants of any previous administration. It was only in July 2011 that the Justice Department announced that deportation would no longer be focused on law-abiding undocumented residents in a memorandum. But in regards to gay couples, this enforcement has been on a case-by-case basis, and some binational gay couples have been deported.
In April 2011, the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate introduced the Uniting American Families Act, which included provisions to address binational couples. The bill sought to eliminate discrimination in immigration policy by amending the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 to include partnerships with a lifelong commitment that are eligible for green card applications. The bill has not yet passed and is still awaiting approval from the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee.
In a roundtable discussion in Puerto Rico, Obama addressed that he did not think that this issue could be solved through legislation, nor would the legislation be passed in a Republican-led Congress. President Obama stated, “Once that law is put down [by judges]–and I don’t know what the ruling would be-–addressing these bi-national issues could flow from that decision.”