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

Video Egyptian Journalists Call for Press Freedom

Despite release of al-Jazeera journalists and others, Egyptian Journalist Syndicate says some remain imprisoned More

Turkey Survey Indicates Traditional Distrusts, Shift to the West

Comprehensive public opinion survey also found a large majority of those interviewed distrust all countries other than country’s neighbor, Azerbaijan More

Pakistan Court Upholds Death Sentence in Blasphemy Killing

Highest court upholds sentence of Mumtaz Qadri convicted of 2011 killing a provincial governor for criticizing country’s controversial blasphemy law More

This forum has been closed.
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.
Making a Minti
October 07, 2015 4:17 AM
While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video Self-Driving Cars Getting Closer

We are at the dawn of the robotic car age and should start getting used to seeing self-driving cars, at least on highways. Car and truck manufacturers are now running a tight race to see who will be the first to hit the street, while some taxicab companies are already planning to upgrade their fleets. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Clinton Seeks to Boost Image Before Upcoming Debate

The five announced Democratic party presidential contenders meet in their first debate next Tuesday in Las Vegas, Nevada. Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton continues to lead the Democratic field, but she is getting a stronger-than-expected challenge from Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

Video South Carolina Reels Under Worst-ever Flooding

South Carolina is reeling from the worst flooding in recorded history that forced residents from their homes and left thousands without drinking water and electricity. Parts of the state, including the capital, Columbia, received about 60 centimeters of rain in just a couple of days. Authorities warn that the end of rain does not mean the end of danger, as it will take days for the water to recede. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

VOA Blogs