On August 18, Janet Napolitano and the Obama administration announced that they would be reviewing all deportation cases on a case-by-case basis according to a set of guidelines that made sure the deportations actually made sense — for instance, prioritizing deportations of convicted felons and not wasting valuable time and resources tearing apart families like those of binational gay couples, which are frequently actively contributing to the country’s economy and culture. At the time, it seemed like good news, but not the kind to throw a celebration party about. After all, in theory the government was already supposed to be following these guidelines, and given how long it will take to review each deportation case one by one, for many people, including binational gay couples, it might have come too late. Today, all of those contradictory conclusions seem like they’re being borne out: the immigration picture for gay binational couples is just as confusing than ever, if not more.
For Alex Benshimol and Douglas Gentry, it’s got to feel like very good news. Today it was announced in a press release from GetEQUAL that immigration judge Marilyn Teeter had instructed Immigration and Customs Enforcement to close the deportation case against Benshimol, who is married to Gentry in California, and deportation proceedings have now been “administratively closed.” The dismissal of Benshimol’s deportation isn’t a direct result of the new guidelines for proceeding; this is in fact the second time that the ICE has closed a deportation case around a married same-sex couple. But given the explicit directives that immigration officials now have around deportation prioritization, it seems like it would have been harder than ever to oppose Teeter’s ruling. It’s been a long road for the couple, and back on July 13 when Teeter initially made her recommendation, the picture looked a lot less reassuring. From the press release:
On July 13, Venezuelan citizen Benshimol and U.S. citizen Gentry stood hand-in-hand outside the federal building on Montgomery Street in San Francisco. The couple was surrounded by friends, family, advocates, and supporters who came together in protest against a DOMA deportation that would destroy their marriage. The chanting crowd — representing over 17,000 petition signers from across the country — urged the Obama Administration to take immediate action to ensure that married, binational same-sex couples enjoy full equality and access to all the rights and privileges afforded to opposite-sex, binational couples under this country’s immigration laws.
It looks like Benshimol and Gentry have won their battle. But not every couple has been so lucky — and looking at the hugely inconsistent range of experiences that are being reported with deportation cases, one almost assumes that it’s about luck. Last week we mentioned that it looked like Anthony John Makk’s August 25 deportation date was looming too close to be halted by a “case-by-case review.” And now it seems like that’s tragically true: Makk, who is the sole caregiver of his partner and late-state AIDS sufferer Bradford Wells, will be deported this week. From Matthew Mackey’s petition to the Obama administration in a last-ditch effort to keep this couple together:
Some days after leaving their home, Bradford is suddenly wracked with pain so severe that he can’t walk. Anthony is the one who picks Bradford up wherever he is, takes him home, and nurses him. Bradford says he has no one else to care for him. If Anthony is deported, Bradford will have to choose: Either he loses his health insurance and leaves the doctors prolonging his life — or he lives his last days without Anthony.
These two cases seem to have been decided in different legal systems, or even different countries. What possible consistent rule of law would allow the first couple to stay together and tear the other apart? Well, that brings us to the case of Sujey and Violeta Pando. Sujey’s deportation was also halted this week, and she will be able to stay with Violeta, whom she married in 2010. But it’s not as clear-cut a victory as Benshimol’s. Sujey Pando’s case wasn’t closed, and she wasn’t given a reprieve because her case was deemed a low priority — the judge was too confused to feel capable of making a decision.
“In the end, the Judge set aside the intended purpose of the hearing, citing developments including the Attorney General’s intervention in a similar case in May — Matter of Dorman — and noted that the issues involved in this case existed in a context that was ‘fluid’ and ‘in a state of flux,’” [Lavi Soloway, founder of Stop the Deportations and Sujey’s attorney] said. …Soloway also said the immigration judge cited events as recent as this week as “having an impact on how to proceed.”
In short, even someone who has made this their career can’t figure out based on the current legal landscape for this issue what course of action makes sense. It’s good news for the Pandos — at least for now. But it’s not so good for the rest of us that no one, not even judges, knows what’s going on right now. It means that decisions about binational families could just as easily go the other way, and that the light at the end of the tunnel that’s implied by the Obama administration’s new initiative may not be as close as we hoped.
For Makk and Wells, it seems very far indeed.