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

Philippines, Muslim Rebels Try to Salvage Peace Pact

Peace process faces major setback after botched military operation to find terrorists results in bloody gunbattle between government forces, Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters More

Republicans Expect Long, Expensive Presidential Battle

Political strategist says eventual winner will be one who can put together strongest coalition of various conservative groups that make up Republican Party More

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Engineers have come up with a lever-operated design that makes use of easily accessible bicycle technology 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.
Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regreti
X
Zana Omer
March 28, 2015 1:19 AM
Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.
Video

Video Hi-tech Motorbike Helmet's Goal: Improve Road Safety

In cities with heavily congested traffic, people can get around much faster on a motorcycle than in a car. But a rider who is not sure of his route may have to stop to look at the map or consult a GPS. A Russian start-up company is working to make navigation easier for motorcyclists. Designers at Moscow-based LiveMap are developing a smart helmet with a built-in navigation system, head-mounted display and voice recognition. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Traditional push-rim wheelchairs create a lot of stress for arm, shoulder and neck muscles and joints. A redesigned chair, based on readily available bicycle technology, radically increases mobility while reducing the physical effort. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Virginia Tavern Takes Patrons Back to Medieval Times

European martial arts are not widely practiced and are unknown by most people. A tavern in Old Town Alexandria, outside Washington, wants to change this by promoting these fighting techniques from medieval times. Through combining visual arts, martial arts and culinary arts, this tavern brings medieval history back to life. VOA's Yang Lin and Helen Wu report.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.

VOA Blogs

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