Dems: DHS didn't go far enough in protecting LGBT relationships

A new Obama administration vow to protect same-sex relationships when considering deportations is a welcome step but doesn't go far enough, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other House Democrats charged this week.

The Democrats want more than a verbal promise, they want a written guidance.

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"I greatly appreciate the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) explicit verbal statement recognizing the value of same-sex relationships in immigration proceedings," Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) said in an email. "However, for the sake of those LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] families, who — today or tomorrow — may face a tragic and senseless separation, … an indubitable and unequivocal written policy and implementation guideline remain the best assurance for protection."

Behind Honda, Pelosi and Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), scores of House Democrats wrote to DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano on Tuesday expressing concerns that the agency has no written policy instructing agents to consider LGBT "family ties" when deciding whether to pursue deportations.

In response, DHS issued a brief statement saying it "has and continues" to take same-sex relationships into account during enforcement proceedings.

"When exercising prosecutorial discretion in enforcement matters, DHS has and continues to look at the totality of the circumstances presented in individual cases, including whether an individual has close family ties to the United States as demonstrated by his or her longstanding same-sex relationship to a United States citizen," DHS spokeswoman Marsha Catron said in an email.

Catron noted that the DHS continues to abide by the the Defense of Marriage Act — "unless and until Congress repeals it" — but the prosecutorial discretion policy also allows agents to consider LGBT couples as part of their decision-making.

Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said it's "a welcome development" that the agency "is explicitly and publicly acknowledging that DHS’s consideration of family ties includes same-sex couples and spouses."

But Pelosi also wants the agency to go a step further.

"We look forward to the written guidance that we expect would be a logical next step,” Hammill said in an email.

Last August, DHS issued new rules designed to streamline the enforcement system by authorizing agents to perform case-by-case reviews, weeding out violent criminals and other high priority cases while closing the books on those considered no threat to public safety or national security.

Initially, the administration said LGBT family ties would be considered among the deterrents as agents sifted through the files of those in line for deportation. But when Pelosi, Honda and more than 60 other Democrats wrote in September asking for explicit protections for same-sex couples, the agency excluded any mention of family ties, writing that "LGBT individuals’ ties and contributions to the community are taken into account."

The Democrats' letter this week characterized that response as "a major retreat from your announced policy that the family ties of immigrants to their U.S. citizen same-sex spouses and partners would be a factor for prosecutorial discretion."