|Alex and Doug attend rally this morning on Montgomery Street |
across from San Francisco Immigration Court
Media contact: Justin Page/Lavi Soloway at StopTheDeportations@gmail.com or 925-408-0662
Immigration Judge Postpones DOMA Deportation Proceedings For Two Years, Allowing Married Gay Binational Couple to Remain in U.S.; Directs Government Attorneys To Act on Request for Termination of Deportation Proceedings Within Sixty Days
SAN FRANCISCO, CA – This morning in San Francisco, Doug Gentry and Alex Benshimol -- a married binational same-sex couple -- appeared before Immigration Judge Marilyn Teeter for a deportation hearing and were permitted to remain in the country despite the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the law that prohibits the recognition of same-sex marriages by the federal government. This is the latest in a series of recent court rulings that have demonstrated the inequality that DOMA forces same-sex couples to live under.
Specifically, the judge laid out two options. She gave the government 60 days to decide whether it will agree to drop deportation proceedings against Alex -- a Venezuelan citizen -- altogether. If the government elects not to drop proceedings, the same judge will revisit the case again in September 2013, ensuring that Doug and Alex are protected from deportation for at least two more years allowing them to return to building a life together with their family, including Alex's two step-children.
"Today the Immigration Judge demonstrated compassion and understanding for Doug and Alex as a married binational couple, granting them a reprieve from deportation by postponing further proceedings to September 2013," said Lavi Soloway, lawyer for Doug and Alex, and founder of Stop the Deportations. "The Judge also gave the government 60 days to inform the court whether it will agree with our request to terminate these proceedings pursuant to prosecutorial discretion guidelines issued June 17 by Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton. We will continue to advocate for termination of these proceedings and a moratorium on all deportations of spouses of lesbian and gay Americans."
"Today's victory is yet another sign that when we engage the system and demand full equality we encourage those in power to find reasonable interim solutions that protect LGBT families, even as we fight to bring about an end to DOMA. Doug and Alex showed tremendous courage standing up for all binational couples as they insisted on fighting for an end to the government's deportation proceedings against Alex. After the hearing the couple went for a celebratory lunch. The couple looked forward to spending time with their extended family including Doug's two children who have always considered Alex to be their step-father, even before he and Doug married last year. They are very relieved to have been given a two year reprieve and they will continue to fight for an end to DOMA deportations, Soloway said."
Alex came into the U.S. 12 years ago from Venezuela and overstayed a tourist visa, an immigration violation that straight binational couples can easily remedy once married; as a gay married couple, Doug and Alex do not have that option. Many binational couples are legally married like Alex and Doug, but they are still treated as legal strangers in the eyes of the federal government. There is only one reason Doug and Alex faced deportation proceedings at all — the Defense of Marriage Act, a law that the President and the Attorney General have both determined to be indefensible and unconstitutional.
To support the couple and to show widespread public support for their right to remain together, legally, in the United States, many organizations working for full federal equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Americans will hold a rally outside the courthouse in San Francisco where the hearing is scheduled to take place. Organizations leading the rally efforts include GetEQUAL, Marriage Equality USA, Out4Immigration, and Stop the Deportations.
These organizations launched a petition drive last week to show public support for Doug and Alex, garnering close to 17,000 signatures of individuals who are supportive of assigning all the same rights and responsibilities to binational same-sex couples as to binational heterosexual couples.
Organizations supportive of the couple and the rally include API Equality, API Legal Outreach, Asian Law Caucus. Asian Pacific American Legal Center, Central American Resource Center, Chinese For Affirmative Action, Equality California, Immigration Equality, Love Honor Cherish, National Center For Lesbian Rights, National Immigration Justice Center, San Francisco Immigrant Legal And Education Network, and the San Francisco LGBT Center.
Representatives Mike Honda (D-CA) and Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) have also been actively supportive of the couple, and provided written statements that were read at the rally. Rep. Lofgren's statement included a passionate plea for binational families, including the excerpt below:
"Legally-married couples are being torn apart today in America because our laws unconstitutionally discriminate against same-sex marriages. Each and every day, American spouses are being forced to make unacceptable choices: live their lives separated from one another by thousands of miles, abandon their lives in this country and move someplace else, or break the law and go into hiding. This is a heartbreaking situation all across the United States. I believe the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional and that the government should respect legally-married same-sex couples. I am confident that DOMA one day will not be law. The whole country will look back and understand it was simply discrimination."
Speakers at the rally included Bevan Dufty (Supervisor), Phil Ting (Assessor/Recorder), Vincent Pan (CFAA), Ross Mirkarimi (Supervisor), Lavi Soloway (Attorney for Doug & Alex), Heidi Li (APILO), Ming Wong (NCLR), Ana Perez (CARECEN), Annette Wong (SFILEN), Dusty Araujo (NIJC), and Judy Rickard (Author, “Torn Apart: United By Love Divided By Law”).