Holder issues surprise order to stop deportation

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder Thursday (May 5) vacated a deportation ruling against a gay man, suggesting that his relationship with a New Jersey man might qualify him to be considered as a “spouse” under immigration laws.

“This development could be a sign that the Obama administration is looking for a way to protect gay and lesbian bi-national couples who are currently barred from the regular marriage-based immigration process by the Defense of Marriage Act,” said Lavi Soloway, co-founder of Stop the Deportations and Immigration Equality.

The brief, two-paragraph decision directs that the Bureau of Immigration Appeals (BIA) to revisit the case involving Paul Wilson Dorman to determine whether, “absent the requirements of DOMA,” Dorman’s same-sex partnership or civil union would qualify him to be considered a “spouse” under the Immigration and Nationality Act.

Section 3 of DOMA stipulates that, for the federal government, “the word ‘marriage’ means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word ‘spouse’ refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.”

Holder asks the BIA to consider “the timing” of Dorman’s civil union on his request to stay in this country with his partner and whether Dorman would be able to qualify for discretionary relief based on “exceptional and unusual hardship,” if he had a relative in this country.

Holder’s intervention may come as a surprise to some. Just last March, the Department of Justice advised the U.S. Citizens and Immigration Service (USCIS), which processes applications for green cards, that it should continue to recognize DOMA in  processing applications for same-sex spouses.

New York University Law School Professor Arthur Leonard, an expert in LGBT-related law, said Holder’s decision seems “unusual,” but he had not yet had a chance to assess the details of the case.

Soloway said the development illustrates the importance of lobbying the executive branch “implement administrative remedies to keep couples from being torn apart.”

“The heart-breaking stories of couples facing deportation have raised the profile of this issue, but we must keep the pressure on,” said Soloway.

Soloway said he was representing another New Jersey couple at a final deportation hearing in Newark May 6 and that they would be asking the judge “to adjourn proceedings in light of today’s action by the Attorney General.”

In issuing his decision to vacate the BIA ruling in the Dorman case, Holder noted his authority, under the Code of Federal Regulations, to review “all cases” that he chooses to review.

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