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Thursday, October 27, 2016

ICE officials in Newark have cancelled the deportation of Henry Velandia, an undocumented Venezuelan immigrant married to an American graduate, in a case that has drawn national attention for its possible ramifications for undocumented immigrants and same-sex couples.

Mr. Velandia and his husband, Josh Vandiver, were married in Connecticut—one of five states, along with the district of Washington, D.C., that recognize same-sex marriage. (New York will become the sixth state on July 30.) Under the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), however, the spouses of undocumented immigrants cannot petition for legal residency for their same-sex partners—a right long afforded to heterosexual couples.

Even though the administration has said it will not defend DOMA in court, the Justice Department has stated it will continue to enforce the law, including in immigration cases. The cancellation of Mr. Velandia’s deportation, therefore, represents a significant development in terms of federal treatment of married same-sex couples. The New York Times reports:

On June 9, [the couple’s attorney Lavi] Soloway received a call from Jane H. Minichiello, the chief counsel at the Newark office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement [ICE], an arm of the Homeland Security Department, informing him that the agency had agreed to his request to close the deportation proceedings. According to Mr. Soloway, Ms. Minichiello said pursuing Mr. Velandia’s deportation “is not an enforcement priority at this time.” [NYT]

The decision to cancel Mr. Velandia’s deportations follows recently issued policy guidelines from ICE, expanding the criteria federal attorneys and agents can consider in choosing whether to deport undocumented immigrants. In particular, the memo encourages ICE officials to focus on those convicted of violent crimes or repeated immigration violations.

In addition, the memo suggests leniency for immigrants who meet certain qualifications, including college students and military personnel¬¬. As the International Business Times notes, the memo also lists “ties and contributions to the community, including family relationships,” as positive factors in weighing deportation [IBT]. ICE has not stated that it will halt deportation for other undocumented immigrants married to American citizens. But the case may well represent a long-term shift in federal treatment of same-sex couples, as well as undocumented immigrants more broadly.

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