News / USA

US Immigration Judge Suspends Deportation of Gay Spouse

Michael Bowman

For the first time, a U.S. judge has suspended the deportation of the foreign-born same-sex spouse of an American citizen.  Last week’s action by an immigration judge in New York comes amid ongoing challenges to the constitutionality of a law banning the federal government from recognizing marriages between homosexuals.

Last year, Cristina Ojeda of Queens, New York, married her partner of three years, Argentine-born Monica Alcota, in nearby Connecticut, one of only a handful of states that allow civil marriage for gay people.  But Alcota has been living under the threat of deportation for years, having overstayed a tourist visa that expired 10 years ago.

Last week (3/22/11), Alcota stood before an immigration judge fearing deportation to Argentina.  But the judge halted deportation proceedings to give her and Ojeda time to petition for federal recognition of their marriage.

Ojeda spoke with VOA a day later, saying, "We were happy.  It gives us more hope."

Among the more common ways for non-citizens to gain legal residency in the United States is by marrying a U.S. citizen.  But that avenue is blocked for tens of thousands of bi-national gay couples.  Most states refuse to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples, and federal law bans recognition of same-sex marriage.

Ojeda recalls the pain of seeing her spouse taken into federal custody and placed in detention for three months prior to the deportation hearing. "Oh God, it has been horrible.  I have never gone through anything this painful, having Monica being taken away from me on the bus.  I had to hug her, and they took her," she said.

Attorney Lavi Soloway represents Alcota and Ojeda. "Monica and Cristina represent the ultimate consequence of discrimination against lesbian and gay couples who, although they are legally married, are denied recognition of their marriage by the federal government for all purposes, including immigration.  Cristina is no different than any other U.S. citizen.  She is in a loving, committed relationship with her spouse," he said.

Enacted in 1996, the Defense of Marriage Act stipulates that only opposite-sex marriages are valid under federal law.   During the past year, federal courts have ruled core elements of the Act unconstitutional.  Those cases are being appealed and could ultimately be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Weeks ago, the Obama administration announced it would no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act’s constitutionality, leaving it to congressionally-appointed attorneys to argue for its retention.  Earlier this month, bills to repeal the law were introduced in both houses of Congress.

California Western Law School Professor Ari Waldman has written extensively on the legal battles surrounding the Defense of Marriage Act.  He says suspending deportation is well within an immigration judge’s power, as Judge Terry Bain did for Monica Alcota.  "That the constitutionality of DOMA is, at best, uncertain, must have suggested to Judge Bain that a law that is of dubious constitutionality should not be the basis for splitting up a committed couple," he said.

VOA contacted several pro-DOMA advocacy groups.  None were willing to comment on the Alcota-Ojeda case, but all are steadfast in their conviction the institution of marriage should be reserved for heterosexuals, and that allowing gays to marry will weaken the institution and corrode the family unit, what they call the building block of civilization.

Attorney Lavi Soloway sees the issue differently. "It really is a question of discrimination.  And I have not yet heard a cogent argument for justifying discrimination against couples like Cristina and Monica.  The United States has a long history of battling to perfect the ideal that all people have equality under the law.  And what Monica and Cristina achieved is one small incremental step towards further perfecting that ideal," he said.

Law Professor Waldman says Judge Bain’s decision sets no binding precedent for other immigration cases involving bi-national married gay couples.  But he expects other judges will take note of the Alcota-Ojeda case and concur that similar deportations should be suspended until the Defense of Marriage Act’s constitutionality is definitively determined, or until the law is repealed, as President Barack Obama has advocated.

You May Like

Multimedia Obama, Modi Break Nuclear Deal Deadlock

Impasse over liability issues had been stalling bilateral civilian nuclear cooperation; deal reached at start of US president's three-day visit to India More

WHO's Late Efforts in Tackling Ebola Highlight Need for Reform

Health experts debate measures to reform agency’s response to global public health emergencies in special one-day session on deadly outbreak More

One Tumultuous Year in Power for CAR's President

As sectarian violence raged across Central African Republic, interim President Catherine Samba-Panza has Herculean task: to end civil war and put country back on right track More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youthi
X
Julie Taboh
January 23, 2015 11:08 PM
Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youth

Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video US, Japan Offer Lessons as Eurozone Launches Huge Stimulus

The Euro currency has fallen sharply after the European Central Bank announced a bigger-than-expected $67 billion-a-month quantitative easing program Thursday - commonly seen as a form of printing new money. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London on whether the move might rescue the eurozone economy -- and what lessons have been learned from similar programs around the world.
Video

Video Nigerian Elections Pose Concern of Potential Conflict in 'Middle Belt'

Nigeria’s north-central state of Kaduna has long been the site of fighting between Muslims and Christians as well as between people of different ethnic groups. As the February elections approach, community and religious leaders are making plans they hope will keep the streets calm after results are announced. Chris Stein reports from the state capital, Kaduna.
Video

Video As Viewership Drops, Obama Puts His Message on YouTube

Ratings reports show President Obama’s State of the Union address this week drew the lowest number of viewers for this annual speech in 15 years. White House officials anticipated this, and the president has decided to take a non-traditional approach to getting his message out. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video S. Korean Businesses Want to End Trade Restrictions With North

Business leaders in South Korea are calling for President Park Geun-hye to ease trade restrictions with North Korea that were put in place in 2010 after the sinking of a South Korean warship.Pro-business groups argue that expanding trade and investment is not only good for business, it is also good for long-term regional peace and security. VOA’s Brian Padden reports.
Video

Video US Marching Bands Grow Into a Show of Their Own

The 2014 Super Bowl halftime show was the most-watched in history - attracting an estimated 115 million viewers. That event featured pop star Bruno Mars. But the halftime show tradition started with marching bands, which still dominate the entertainment at U.S. high school and college American football games. But as Enming Liu reports in this story narrated by Adrianna Zhang, marching bands have grown into a show of their own.
Video

Video Secular, Religious Kurds Face Off in Southeast Turkey

Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast has been rocked by violence between religious and secular Kurds. Dorian Jones reports on the reasons behind the stand-off from the region's main city of Diyarbakir, which suffered the bloodiest fighting.
Video

Video Kenya: Misuse of Antibiotics Leading to Resistance by Immune System

In Kenya, the rise of drug resistant bacteria could reverse the gains made by medical science over diseases that were once treatable. Kenyans could be at risk of fatalities as a result if the power in antibiotics is not preserved. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story from Nairobi.
Video

Video Solar-Powered Plane Getting Ready to Circumnavigate Globe

Pilots of the solar plane that already set records flying without a drop of fuel are close to making their first attempt to fly the craft around the globe. They plan to do it in 25 flying days over a five month period. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video How Experts Decide Ethiopia Has the Best Coffee

Ethiopia’s coffee has been ranked as the best in the world by an international group of coffee connoisseurs. Not surprisingly, coffee is a top export for the country. But at home it is a source of pride. Marthe van der Wolf in Addis Ababa decided to find out what makes the bean and brew so special and how experts make their determinations.
Video

Video Yazidi Refugees at Center of Political Fight Between Turkey, Kurds

The treatment of thousands of Yazidis refugees who fled to Turkey to escape attacks by Islamic State militants has become the center of a dispute between the Turkish government and the country's pro-Kurdish movement. VOA's Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video World’s Richest 1% Forecast to Own More Than Half of Global Wealth

The combined wealth of the world's richest 1 percent will overtake that of the remaining 99 percent at some point in 2016, according to the anti-poverty charity Oxfam. Campaigners are demanding that policymakers take action to address the widening gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’, as Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid