By Mike Lillis - 09/28/12 05:57 PM EDT
In a victory for gay rights advocates, the Obama administration announced this week that it will take additional steps to protect same-sex relationships when considering deportations.
In the past, DHS has given verbal vows that such relationships will be considered by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials during deportation proceedings. But many Democrats and gay rights advocates have pressed for more concrete assurances that same-sex ties be included among the "family relationships" that agents are expected to consider as they exercise their "prosecutorial discretion" to decide which cases to pursue.
On Thursday, Napolitano met those requests.
"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," Napolitano wrote in the Sept. 27 letter. Napolitano was quick to note that same-sex ties — or any ties — are no guarantee that an individual would not be deported, but assured those partnerships will be considered along with other factors.
"[T]he 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," she added. Democrats who've been pushing for a written guidance cheered the decision. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said the change "will provide a measure of clarity and confidence to families dealing with separation."
"Our nation is served when loving families are kept together," she said in a statement.
Launched in the summer of 2011, DHS's "prosecutorial discretion" policy is designed to streamline the enforcement system by authorizing agents to perform case-by-case reviews of illegal immigrants in line for deportation, weeding out violent criminals and other high-priority cases while closing the books on those considered no threat to public safety or national security. Among other factors, agents are asked to be mindful of an individual's family ties within the United States.
Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.), who was among the many Democrats pushing for the written guidance, applauded Napolitano's decision Friday, but emphasized that more immigration reforms are needed to protect families at risk of being torn apart by deportation.
"In the wake of this important victory, we must take a step forward and continue the fight for immigration reform," Honda said in an email. "Current immigration laws are tearing families apart and separating American citizens from their loves ones.
"No one should have to choose between their spouse and their country, and no family should be left out of the immigration system," Honda added. "Our country deserves an immigration system that honors that legacy and keeps ALL families intact."