Victory for Josh & Henry: Judge Halts Deportation Proceedings, Citing Pending Marriage-Based Petition and Recent Decision by Attorney General
On Friday, May 6, an immigration judge in Newark, NJ, issued a ruling on the deportation of Henry Velandia, a Venezuelan citizen legally married in 2010 to Josh Vandiver, an American citizen. Immigration Judge Alberto Riefkohl ordered that deportation proceedings against Henry Velandia be put on hold, granting an adjournment until December, thereby temporarily stopping the process of his deportation to his native Venezuela. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Assistant Chief Counsel David Cheng, the attorney prosecuting the case on behalf of the Department of Homeland Security, agreed to the adjournment.
The Immigration Judge adjourned deportation proceedings against Henry Velandia on the grounds that the marriage-based green card petition filed by Joshua Vandiver was still pending and because of the potential implications of a move by Attorney General Eric Holder in a related case that may signal a shift in the Administration’s interpretation of the law as it concerns same-sex bi-national couples. Yesterday, the Attorney General intervened in the case of another gay bi-national couple in New Jersey who had sought recognition of their civil union for immigration purposes. That couple lost their case on appeal at Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) and had filed a lawsuit in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. In an extraordinary move, the Attorney General “vacated,” or set aside, the decision by the BIA and directed the BIA to issue a new opinion focusing on whether a same-sex partner could qualify as a spouse under the Immigration and Nationality Act. This is the first time an Attorney General has used the power of review of the Board of Immigration Appeals to intervene on behalf of a same-sex couples. The specific instructions given to the BIA suggest that the Attorney General is considering whether the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional when applied against same-sex couples in the immigration context.
Despite legally marrying in Connecticut in August 2010, Vandiver (a Ph.D. student at Princeton University) is currently prohibited from sponsoring Velandia (a salsa dancer, instructor, and founder of a Princeton-based dance studio) for a green card, unlike straight married couples in the same situation. Due to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the federal government does not recognize same-sex marriages, even if those marriages were performed in states that do legally recognize those unions.
Velandia’s husband, Josh Vandiver, had filed a marriage-based “alien relative” petition on his behalf in 2010 but it was denied in January on the sole grounds that their marriage, though legal in the state of Connecticut, was not recognized for immigration law purposes because of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). After the President announced in February that he would no longer defend DOMA in federal court challenges because he believed the law was unconstitutional, Vandiver re-filed the marriage-based petition on behalf of his husband. That petition remains pending with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and has not been denied.
Statement by Lavi Soloway, the couple’s lawyer, co-founder of StopTheDeportations.com, and co-founder of Immigration Equality:
“Today we have won an important victory by stopping the deportation of Henry Velandia. The Immigration Judge has demonstrated that it is appropriate to proceed with caution when a marriage-based green card petition is pending precisely because the law and policy impacting lesbian and gay bi-national couples is in a state of flux. The Immigration Judge has acted to protect Josh and Henry from being torn apart at a time when new developments suggest that potential solutions for bi-national same-sex couples may be on the horizon. However, the adjournment granted today only temporarily postpones removal proceedings. The Administration must act now to institute a moratorium on all deportations of spouses of gay and lesbian Americans to ensure that all same-sex bi-national couples are protected until the fate of DOMA is determined by Congress or the Supreme Court.”
Statement by Josh Vandiver:
“We thank the Immigration Judge for looking carefully at our case and seeing us for who we are: a loving, married couple that wants only to be allowed to build a future together like any other couple. The judge made the right decision, an important decision: he recognized our relationship and he protected us by postponing these proceedings today and stopping Henry’s deportation from happening.
This is only a temporary reprieve, however. We have to go back into this courtroom again a few months from now. Meanwhile, Henry’s deportation still looms over us. We are breathing a sigh of relief that we will be able to live in peace for a few more months, now that the immediate threat of deportation has been removed. We treasure every day we have together. But couples like us are still being torn apart every day. Every day, spouses of gay and lesbian Americans are facing deportation and denied access to green cards only because of the Defense of Marriage Act.
That’s why, after a deep breath, we are headed back to the trenches. With our allies, we will continue to urge the President to instruct Secretary Napolitano to issue a moratorium on the deportation of ALL spouses of gay and lesbian Americans. Until then, our marriage is still in danger.”
See also New York Times, “Judge Gives Immigrant in Same-Sex Marriage a Reprieve From Deportation,” May 6, 2011.