With Two Days Left in Denver Pilot Program, Married Lesbian Couple Facing Deportation Waits Anxiously. Will Their Case Be Administratively Closed?
A lesbian couple is sitting on the edge of their seats at home in Denver waiting for the telephone to ring. Right now, a call from federal immigration attorneys could bring to an end the nightmare Sujey and Violeta Pando have been living ever since Immigration and Customs Enforcement came into their lives in 2008. There are only two days left in the government’s ambitious plan to review all pending cases in the Denver Immigration Court for possible closure. Denver was chosen to be a Pilot Program city for the application of new humanitarian guidelines for closure of low-priority deportation cases. It is believed that the review of all pending cases is all but complete. And still this couple waits, hoping for good news.
Sujey, a citizen of Mexico, has been in a committed relationship with her U.S. citizen wife, Violeta, for more than six years. They married in 2010 in Iowa. Violeta cannot sponsor Sujey for a green card because the federal Defense of Marriage Act prevents recognition of their valid marriage for any federal purpose.
Sujey and Violeta Pando made headlines last August when they won a temporary reprieve from deportation. Denver Immigration Judge Mimi Tsankov postponed Sujey’s deportation hearing to January 2012. In November, the Department of Homeland Security announced that Denver would be one of two cities chose for a pilot program in which the DHS would review all pending deportation cases to close all low-priority cases and conserve agency resources by focusing on deporting those individuals who are a threat to public safety or have extensive criminal records. When the pilot program was announced Sujey Pando’s case was temporary rescheduled to a date in 2014, pending review by the DHS-DOJ working group and local ICE attorneys.
For the last month, Sujey and Violeta have anxiously awaited word from ICE that their case had been reviewed. By the beginning of January they were getting very nervous. They are very aware that pilot program is due to end its review on January 13. “The date is marked on our calendar. It is a day that we dread, because we are afraid that if we do not hear from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement prosecutors by then, it means that they have decided to deport Sujey. We pray that they are just taking great care to read Sujey’s entire file and make the right decision, but we are losing sleep over it and our whole family asks every day whether there has been news.”
Determined to take a more proactive approach, the Pandos worked closely with their attorney, Lavi Soloway, who compiled a large submission of evidence and made a formal request for “prosecutorial discretion” to the Office of Chief Counsel in Denver on January 7. The 76-page submission details why Ms. Pando, who has lived in the United States since she was forced to flee Mexico as a teenager 17 years ago, should be granted humanitarian relief and have her deportation case closed under new guidelines issued by the Obama administration that are meant to protect all families, including lesbian and gay couples, who are under threat of being torn apart by deportation. The Pandos and their attorney have also reached out to elected officials in Colorado to bring the case to the attention of the working group’s LGBT liaison in Washington, DC.
Under the June 17, 2011 memorandum from ICE Director John Morton, individuals in deportation proceedings would have their cases reviewed and closed if they were deemed to be “low priority” to permit the federal government to focus resource on immigrants that pose national security risks and public safety threats. Sujey Pando clearly meets many of the criteria set forth in those guidelines:
- Length of Presence in the United States – Sujey has lived in the U.S. over 17 years, almost all that time in the Denver metropolitan area.
- Circumstance of her Arrival – Sujey was brought to the U.S. as a minor to escape a lifetime of abuse in Mexico. Her flight from danger and young age both clearly weigh in her favor for the exercise of prosecutorial discretion.
- Marriage to a U.S. Citizen – Sujey & Violeta have been in a loving relationship for over 6 years, and made a life-long commitment to one another when they married in 2010 in Iowa. (Since June when this memorandum was issued, the Obama Administration has clarified that prosecutorial discretion will take into account gay and lesbian binational couples, even if they federal government cannot legally recognize their marriages, due to the Defense of Marriage Act.)
- Caretaker of an Individual with Serious Disabilities – Since 2005, Sujey has helped care for her long-time friend, who currently lives with Sujey and her wife. This friend was seriously injured in a workplace accident, and requires help in her day to day life. The care, support, assistance that Sujey provides to this U.S. citizen is a basis for the government recognizing that this case is a low priority and that Sujey should be permitted to remain in the U.S.
- Ties to the Community – In addition to her wife and her friend Diane, Sujey has strong ties to her home of the last 17 years. Her in-laws, neighbors, friends and her landlord submitted affidavits attesting to her good moral character and the importance of having her in their lives. In addition, Sujey has volunteered and contributed to charities in her area. These facts all go to show that her true home is here with her wife, not anywhere else.
- Participation in Civil Rights Advocacy: Additionally, Sujey’s participation in LGBT civil rights advocacy also weighs in her favor for cause to close her removal proceedings according to related departmental policy against deporting those involved in the fight for civil rights and civil liberties. It is not in the interest of justice for the United States to deport individuals who are involved in changing unjust and unconstitutional laws, especially for couples like Sujey & Violeta who would otherwise be permitted to pursue a marriage-based green card petition.
The Obama administration announced with great fan fare that it would implement a kinder, gentler deportation policy that would aim to keep families together, including LGBT families. The Department of Homeland Security noted that an LGBT liaison, Executive Secretary Philip A. McNamara, was made a member of the DHS-DOJ prosecutorial discretion working group to ensure that guidelines are applied in an inclusive and consistent manner. Sujey Pando’s case is a test of this administration’s promise to protect all families from being torn apart by deportation.
- Read Sujey and Violeta’s original post and see photos of their wedding ceremony
- News of Sujey’s deportation postponement in November of 2011 was printed in the Denver Post