Married bi-national same sex couples scored a victory Monday when the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that it would no longer deny their green card applications.
"USCIS has issued guidance to the field asking that related cases be held in abeyance while awaiting final guidance related to distinct legal issues," Christopher Bentley, a USCIS spokesman, told Metro Weekly's Chris Geidner.
The new guidance means that LGBT couples with spouses from abroad will be able to apply for citizenship while the courts decide on the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
The Obama administration announced last month that it would no longer defend DOMA in court. The law, however, will still be enforced until Congress decides to repeal or modify it.
Steve Ralls, director of communications for Immigration Equality, told Raw Story that the USCIS decision was an important step forward.
"The announcement from USCIS means that bi-national lesbian and gay couples who have a recognized marriages will be able to file a green card application for the immigrant spouse and those applications will no longer be denied by the Department of Homeland Security," he explained. "DHS will hold those applications until DOMA's constitutionality is settled. That will allow couples remain together in the United States until DOMA is resolved by the courts."
This doesn't mean green card applications will be approved. Instead, they will be held in a pending status.
Ralls expects many more married same sex couples to come forward and file applications.
"Our phones have been ringing off the hook since USCIS made its announcement yesterday," he said. "We are strongly advising couples who are considering this option to contact an immigration attorney."
Immigration attorneys at Rall's organization, Immigration Equality, which works to end discrimination in U.S. immigration policy, have been fielding those calls free of charge.
"Today's statement is first domino to fall for LGBT Americans with foreign nations spouses," Rachel B. Tiven, the group's executive director, said in a statement. "Immigration Equality has been fighting for LGBT immigrant families since 1994. In that time we have counseled more than 10,000 families -- and for them, today’s news is a sign that relief is finally on the way."
News of the USCIS decision comes only days after Immigration Judge Terry A. Bain halted deportation proceedings against Monica Alcota, a citizen of Argentina, while her wife, Cristina Ojeda, moves forward with a green card petition on her behalf.