Asked today to explain the difference between a 2009 moratorium on deporting certain widows and widowers of U.S. citizens and the White House's failure to take up advocates' request that a similar moratorium be issued to stop the deportation of the foreign same-sex partner of U.S. citizens, White House press secretary Jay Carney provided no direct answer -- only reiterating the president's support for comprehensive immigration reform and belief it can happen "in the future."
In June 2009, the Department of Homeland Security issued the moratorium on deporting certain widows and widowers of U.S. citizens. At the time, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said, "Smart immigration policy balances strong enforcement practices with common-sense, practical solutions to complicated issues."
Advocacy groups, including Immigration Equality and Stop the Deportations, have been pushing the administration to take a similar step as to same-sex bi-national couples. Because of the Defense of Marriage Act, the U.S. citizen in such a relationship has been unable to sponsor his or her partner -- even when legally married -- for immigration purposes.
Asked in May about the issue, Carney dismissed the possibility of a moratorium, saying, "The President I think made the point in his speech yesterday that he believes we have to take comprehensive action on immigration reform and that he can't just wave a wand and change the law."
Asked today by Metro Weekly how the circumstances for same-sex bi-national couples differed from the 2009 decision that a moratorium was both possible and appropriate, Carney only would say, "The President has called for comprehensive immigration reform for a reason -- because he thinks we have to move in a comprehensive way to get there.
"Because that kind of comprehensive approach has in the past enjoyed bipartisan support, he believes that if we talk about it in the right way and we push for it and folks out in the country push for it, that we can return to a situation where there will be bipartisan support for it in the future."
Lavi Soloway, who launched Stop the Deportations in 2010 and was a co-founder of Immigration Equality, told Metro Weekly that Carney's comments were insufficient and did not address the underlying issue.
"It is true that comprehensive reform is desperately needed to fix our broken immigration system, but achieving bipartisan support in the foreseeable future is extremely unlikely and, frankly, irrelevant at this point to the thousands of lesbian and gay binational couples who are threatened with deportation, separation and exile," Soloway wrote. "By repeatedly returning to its comprehensive immigration reform talking points, the administration side-steps what is at the core of this issue: Equality."
Just this past week, the Obama administration appeared to acknowledge that, writing in a fact sheet about "winning the future for the LGBT community" that "President Obama believes ... Americans with partners from other countries should not be faced with a painful choice between staying with their partner or staying in their country."
Soloway sees a disconnect between the fact sheet and Carney's answer today.
"With all due respect, this is not about achieving comprehensive reform, bipartisan or otherwise. It is about treating all Americans with foreign spouses equally under the law," he wrote. "The executive branch has the power to ensure that our families are at least protected from deportation today while we continue the fight for full equality."
The possibility of a moratorium had been discussed by advocates for some time now but was breathed new life when Attorney General Eric Holder announced in a letter sent to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Feb. 23 that he and President Barack Obama reached the conclusion that Section 3 of DOMA is unconstitutional and, accordingly, would no longer be defending it in court.
One of the many consequences of that decision, a DHS official told Metro Weekly in March, was that DHS examined whether the decision would have any impact on married, same-sex bi-national couples’ green card applications. A few days later, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced that it had received its guidance. The agency will continue to “enforce the law,” USCIS spokesman Christopher Bentley said, which he said meant that DOMA would continue to prevent those green card applications from being approved.
[UPDATE @ 6:20 PM: The White House transcript:
Q Yes. I’m just wondering, in June 2009 the Department of Homeland Security issued a memorandum on deporting certain widows and widowers of U.S. citizens. At the time, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said that, “smart immigration policy balances strong enforcement practices with the common-sense practical solutions to complicated issues.” Yet, in May, asked about requests by advocates for a moratorium on deportation of foreign partners and same-sex binational relationships, similar to the 2009 moratorium, you said the President can’t just wave a wand and change the law. Can you explain the difference there?
MR. CARNEY: I mean -- the President can’t just wave a wand and then change the law. I think that was in response to a broader set of issues that some folks are understandably advocating for --
Q No, it was specifically about the issue of --
MR. CARNEY: And the President has called for comprehensive immigration reform for a reason, because he thinks that we need to move in a comprehensive way to get there, and -- because that kind of comprehensive approach has in the past enjoyed bipartisan support, and he believes that if we talk about it in the right way and we push for it, and folks out in the country push for it, that we can return to a situation where there will be bipartisan support for it again in the future.]