Latinos Salud hosted an informal panel discussion on LGBT immigration issues last month. Esther Pereira and Ana Silva of the Immigrant Assistance Center (IAC) along with Barry Butin of the ACLU made up the panel. Despite a relative lack of publicity, about 40 people attended this event.
Immigration assumes a special importance in South Florida, with its large immigrant population. According to the Williams Institute, Florida ranks third in the number of same-sex bi-national couples in the US. The Institute estimates that roughly 28,000 same-sex bi-national couples live in the US. Nine percent live in Florida. Like any other field, immigration has developed specialized terms for precise discussion. A U.S. citizen and a non-US citizen comprise a bi-national couple.
President Obama recently issued an executive order on immigration. The order minimized the threat of deportations. This order, however, only affects those people biologically or legally related to legal residents and U.S. citizens. Even for those people who could benefit from it, some potential pitfalls loom. According to Barry Butin, certain past arrests could become a major problem. Infractions, such as most traffic violations, would not adversely affect outcomes, but certain misdemeanors might, and all felonies would.
When the Supreme Court overturned the Defense of Marriage Act, it paved the way for progress for same-sex bi-national couples. According to the government website, same-sex bi-national marriages have the same legal status as mixed-sex bi-national marriages. Their website also clarifies the interpretation of immigration law for same-sex bi-national couples who married in one state but live in another. The immigration status of a marriage depends on its legal status where the marriage ceremony occurred, not on its legal status where the married couple resides. Once married, the U.S. citizen or legal U.S. resident can then sponsor their same-sex spouse for a family-based immigrant visa. Both documented and undocumented immigrants can obtain these visas in this manner. Visit www.uscis.gov/family/same-sex-marriages for more information. This policy interprets a Supreme Court decision. This interpretation, however, could change with the election of an administration hostile to LGBT communities.
Barry Butin, a criminal defense attorney, spoke about legal issues for immigrants. Given the complex legal issues and potentially dire consequences of an arrest of a non-U.S. citizen, immigrants should always get a criminal defense lawyer, if arrested.
A non-U.S. citizen who plea-bargains to a felony faces a legal threat of immediate deportation. Therefore, non-U.S. citizens should never plea-bargain to a felony charge. Instead, their lawyer should strive for a diversion program. Unfortunately, Palm Beach and Miami Dade are more open to diversion programs than Broward is. Butin also argued that if an immigrant with a pending felony charge in the U.S. visited their home country, that pending felony could bar their re-entry to the U.S.
The Williams Institute has gathered some interesting data on LGBT immigration. It estimates that sixty-nine percent of all same-sex bi-national couples are male.
According to the Institute, thirty-nine percent of the non-citizen partners in same-sex bi-national couples come from three countries (Mexico with twenty-five percent, Canada with eight percent, and the United Kingdom with six percent).
For more information, please visit Williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/Gates-Konnoth-Binational-Report-Nov-2011.pdf.
While LGBT immigrants face many challenges, low cost resources for immigrants exist in South Florida.
The Immigrant Assistance Center
Catholic Charities Legal Services of Miami (Broward Office)
Americans For Immigrant Justice