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

Could Nemtsov Threaten Putin in Death as in Life?

Dynamic and debonair opposition leader had supported liberal economic reforms, criticized Russian president's aggression in Ukraine More

Oil Smuggling Highlights Challenges in Shutting Down IS Finances

Pentagon spokesman says Islamic State 'certainly continues to get revenue from the oil industry black market' but that airstrikes have made a dent More

India Focuses on Infrastructure, Investment to Propel Economy

Government expects economy to grow at 8 to 8.5 percent in next fiscal year 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.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

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