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Defense of Marriage Act Hampers International Marriages

By Charlie Deitz


Massachusetts – What looked like a small victory for gay rights and immigration advocates, has been turned on its head due to a federal policy reversal Tuesday afternoon. WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief Charlie Deitz reports the Defense of Marriage Act will be enforced, but to what extent is still up in the air.

The best way to set up the issue is to use the example of a heterosexual couple being married in Belgium, the wife a Belgian and the husband an American. When the couple wants to move back to the United States, she comes along on his residency status, and is made legal. But, if that couple is same sex, the Belgian could be deported from the country because the states don't recognize same sex marriages following the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA. Steve Ralls is a spokesperson for Immigration Equality, a Washington DC based group that specializes in just this type of dilemma, he says the fed last month announced that they were freezing enforcement for this specific scenario.

The move was seen as a leap forward for same sex couples and immigration workers, Brooke Meade is the program coordinator at the Berkshire Immigrant Center.

"At first there was a lot of excitement, you could live and be safe in a protected gray area."

The federal action didn't come as a surprise to Joseph Best, an immigration attorney who works in western Massachusetts.

"It's not anything special that the federal govt will prioritize certain actions."

Then Tuesday afternoon, the fed reversed the order, and reaffirmed that these international same sex married couples could be summoned and put into deportation proceedings. So the gray area that Brooke Meade just mentioned was once again made black and white. Joseph Best says that even though Massachusetts and a handful of other states as well as the District of Columbia recognize same sex marriage, in this case the federal law trumps state law, and the law of other countries.

"The federal government controls who comes into the country"

Immigration Equality and other groups in that camp worry that the policy flip flop creates too much confusion for people wanting to submit their papers, and they are urging the White House to suspend processing deportations.

"The administration should give the courts the opportunity to do their job."

Brook Meade will be keeping her eye on how the courts handle the realignment.

"It would be interesting to see if judges will use a little more discretion."

Immigration equality is warning people not to rush into filing green card paperwork without thorough review by an immigration attorney.