Bi-National Couple Fights DOMA Deportation Threat
Jon Evans and Nedo Stankovic are fighting against time. One year ago, the couple was married in a ceremony in New York City’s Central Park. Now they are anxiously hurtling toward February 2013 when Stankovic’s student visa will expire, putting him in danger of being deported to his native Croatia.
Evans and Stankovic plan to make a last-ditch effort to remain together as a married gay bi-national couple in the U.S. by applying for a green card this fall. Their only hope is that President Barack Obama orders all decisions on green card petitions to be put on hold until the Supreme Court rules on the Defense of Marriage Act.
"All he has to do is put the green card applications in abeyance," Evans said in an interview. "It’s not accepting them. It’s not denying them. It’s just putting them on hold. This is something he could so easily do. We need him to act now. We need him to be responsive to our community."
At issue for Evans and Stankovic, as well as tens of thousands of other couples in the same situation, is DOMA. Obama has declared the anti-gay law unconstitutional, and federal courts have overturned it seven times in the last two years; however, DOMA remains in effect and the Department of Homeland Security, through U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, continues to enforce it. Under DOMA, the federal government does not recognize same-sex relationships.
But earlier this month, the department provided some relief. DHS spokesman Peter Boogaard said in a statement to BuzzFeed that, while DHS will continue to uphold DOMA "unless and until Congress repeals it," the Obama administration will consider an applicant’s entire story when adjudicating green card petitions.
"When exercising prosecutorial discretion in enforcement matters, DHS looks at the totality of the circumstances presented in individual cases, including whether an individual has close family ties to the United States as demonstrated by his or her same-sex marriage or other longstanding relationship to a United States citizen," Boogaard said in the statement.
Immigration attorney Lavi Soloway, who is also a co-founder of Stop the Deportations: The DOMA Project, welcomed the DHS announcement, but said he wants more from the administration.
"It is entirely appropriate at this time for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to institute an abeyance policy for green card cases filed by gay and lesbian couples," Soloway said in a phone interview. "Gay Americans should expect policies from the administration that bring us as close to full equality as possible by mitigating the discriminatory impact of DOMA. The Obama administration has the opportunity to do that right now."
Soloway’s advocacy efforts with Stop the Deportations: The DOMA Project have had a positive impact. He cites preventing several "DOMA deportations" and getting the administration to "articulate policy that specifically protects same-sex marriages of bi-national couples in a deportation context" as examples of their success thus far. Evans and Stankovic shared their story on the project’s website.