Colorado lesbian couple Violeta and Sujey Pando are hoping for the best but preparing for the worst this week as they await a judge’s upcoming ruling on Sujey’s request for asylum. Although the couple was legally married earlier this year in Iowa, Violeta is still unable under current U.S. law to sponsor her partner, an immigrant from Chihuahua, Mexico, for citizenship in this country. Today, Sujey’s only hope to remain in the U.S. is that a judge will recognize the intense hardship she has experienced in Mexico due to her sexual identity and grant her request for asylum.
Currently, six states and the District of Columbia recognize same sex marriage, and two others recognize same sex civil unions that grant the same rights of marriage. However, legally married individuals in these states still have no recourse when it comes to sponsoring immigrant same sex partners for legal residency in this country. This is due to the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage at the federal level as the union between one man and one woman, therefore effectively barring the recognition of the rights of same sex couples in regards to all federally legislated issues, such as immigration.
The one ray of hope for gay and lesbian couples in situations similar to the Pandos is that neither DOMA nor official U.S. immigration policy officially dictates that immigrants in same sex partnerships are automatically ineligible for citizenship. Rather, the law is largely mute on the issue, leaving decisions on individual cases up to the courts. In June, a judge in New Jersey halted the deportation of a Mexican man who was legally married to a U.S. citizen in the state, potentially providing a precedent in future cases. However, this case has not resulted in any official statement of policy on the issue by the Department of Homeland Security.
In Arizona, state recognition of same sex unions was constitutionally banned in 2008 after voters decided against gay marriage in a state-wide election. Whereas gay couples in states like New Jersey have a legal foothold to challenge the immigration system, due to the state’s recognition of their relationship, same sex partners in Arizona and other states that have officially banned gay marriage are in a much more tenuous position. Until federal immigration policy becomes clearer in regard to the rights of gay individuals to petition for the citizenship of their partners, many LGBT immigrants to this state will be forced to remain in the shadows.