Victory for Doug and Alex! Government Drops Deportation Proceedings Against Married Gay California Couple
We learned today that deportation proceedings that threatened to tear apart Alex Benshimol and Douglas Gentry, a married gay binational couple in California, have been dropped by the government. This marks the second time in which Immigration and Customs Enforcement has agreed to close a deportation case involving a married same-sex couple, and the first such case to occur pursuant to the June 17 prosecutorial discretion guidelines issued by ICE Director John Morton.
Statement from Lavi Soloway:
|Alex & Doug protest outside
San Francisco Immigration Court on July 13
“For the second time this year, Immigration and Customs Enforcement has dropped deportation proceedings against a married gay binational couple who courageously fought a high profile campaign as part of the Stop The Deportations – The DOMA Project.
This demonstrates that an interim solution can be achieved for married lesbian and gay binational couples facing deportation when ICE fairly applies its own guidelines and decides not to pursue deportation. By halting this deportation, ICE prevents a marriage from being torn part by DOMA, a statute that the President and the Attorney General have determined to be unconstitutional.
On July 13, Alex Benshimol and Doug Gentry of Cathedral City, California, appeared before San Francisco Immigration Judge Marilyn Teeter for their deportation hearing. Judge Teeter instructed the government to respond within 60 days to our lengthy and detailed request for administrative closure. Judge Teeter scheduled the next hearing for September 2013, postponing deportation proceedings for more than two years in the event that the government did not agree to close the case. On August 11, the Judge received and granted the government’s Motion to Administratively Close deportation proceedings against Venezuelan Alex Benshimol. We received the decision today. This effectively ends the nightmare faced by Alex and his American husband, Doug Gentry.
On August 18, Secretary Janet Napolitano announced a case-by-case review of all current and future deportation cases.
Another DOMA deportation has been stopped, following a year-long campaign by the Stop The Deportations – The DOMA Project. While we have been successful at preventing DOMA from destroying marriages, one victory at a time, we still call on the Obama administration to institute a uniform policy in the form of a moratorium on all DOMA deportations that will make these case by case determinations unnecessary.
We are cautiously optimistic after the announcement this week by Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Homeland Security, that all 300,000 pending deportation cases will be reviewed for possible closure, including those impacting LGBT families. However, we do not yet know the mechanics of that process, nor how long it will take for the government working group to carry out its mission. In the meantime, we must continue to fight for each couple and for an end to DOMA deportations across the board.”
Statement from Doug Gentry and Alex Benshimol:
“Alex and I are tremendously happy with Judge Teeter’s ruling. It’s like waking up from a bad dream. We’ve spent so many sleepless nights and lived with fear and anxiety. For ICE to exercise discretion and agree to close the case is extremely encouraging. This should bring hope to so many couples in our situation. As happy as Alex is, he’s still uncertain. We will still have to fight for full equality because DOMA prevents me from petitioning for his green card. But the constant fear of exile or separation is over, and for that we’re very grateful. “
On July 13th 2011, Venezuelan native Alex Benshimol and U.S. citizen Doug Gentry stood hand-in-hand outside the federal building on Montgomery Street in San Francisco. The couple was surrounded by friends, family, advocates and supporters who came together in protest against a DOMA deportation that would destroy their marriage. Journalists and press took videos and pictures documenting the dedication of the chanting crowd, the face of 17,000 petition signers who urged the administration to take immediate action to ensure that married binational same-sex couples enjoy full equality and access to all the rights and priveleges afforded to opposite-sex binational couples under our immigration laws. The rally and petition in support of Doug & Alex was organized through the combined efforts of Stop the Deportations and Out4Immigation, GetEqual, Marriage Equality USA and many other organizations (see complete list at the bottom of this post).
Appearing before Immigration Marilyn Teeter, Soloway requested that the government exercise “prosecutorial discretion” to drop its case again Alex Benshimol. Specifically, Soloway asked that the government agree to “administrative closure,” which, if granted, would effectively end the deportation case against Alex. Soloway pointed to the June 17, 2011 memorandum from John Morton, the director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), to ICE officers, agents, and attorneys, which specifies the guidelines for exercising prosecutorial discretion in cases that are not enforcement priorities. Soloway asked the Judge not to proceed with the deportation case until the government responded to the request.
Soloway argued that multiple guidelines in the memo applied in Alex’s case (original memo text italicized):
● Particular attention should be paid to plaintiffs in non-frivolous lawsuits involving civil rights.
Soloway argued that Alex and Doug were part of an advocacy campaign, namely, Stop the Deportations, that had filed I-130 marriage-based “green card” petitions in order to challenge the Defense of Marriage Act in pursuit of (equal) civil rights.
● Whether the person has a U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse, child, or parent.
Soloway argued that Alex has a U.S. citizen spouse, Doug, who lawfully married Alex in Connecticut in 2010. They have been together ever since. Alex is also the stepfather to Doug’s two children who are both U.S. citizens.
● The person’s ties and contributions to the community, including family relationships.
Soloway argued that Alex has strong community ties: he has a successful dog grooming business, is a well-respected member of his community, and many organizations have publicly supported his pursuit to stay in the country with his husband, Doug.
● The person’s criminal history, including arrests, prior convictions, or outstanding arrest
Soloway noted that Alex has no criminal history, no arrests, convictions, outstanding arrests or charges.
● The person’s ties to the home country and conditions in the country.
Soloway argued that Alex has no ties to his home country of Venezuela and has not lived there for 12 years. Venezuelan law makes not provision for the immigration of a same-sex spouse of a Venezuelan citizen, so if Alex were deported Doug would have no way of living in Venezuela with him. Furthermore, Soloway noted, Venezuela is not safe for LGBT people or Americans.
In response to Soloway’s request to administratively close the case, Judge Teeter laid out two options. Either the government could move to close the case within 60 days, or, Judge Teeter would revisit the case again in 27 months to settle the matter until the political landscape surrounding the Defense of Marriage Act had settled. On July 13 Doug and Alex left the courtroom relieved that the judge had given them a 26 month reprieve and optimistic that the government would drop the case altogether before September 12.
Only 16 days later, ICE notified the Immigration Judge that they would agree to close the case. The Judge received the goverment’s motion on August 11 and ruled on the Motion immediately ordering the proceedings administratively closed. Soloway received notice of the decision today.
For Doug and Alex this long ordeal is over. While they still fight for full equality, and a green card for Alex, they are safe in the knowledge that the government will not longer seek to deport Alex and destroy their marriage and the life they have built together for past six years.
Just two days ago, Janet Napolitano released a letter to Senator Harry Reid (NV-D), explaining that “the June 17th, 2011 prosecutorial discretion memorandum is being implemented to ensure that resources are uniformly focused on our highest priorities.” Secretary Napolitano specified by noting that these high priority cases are “those involving convicted felons.”
Secretary Napolitano’s letter explained that an inter-agency group had been established between the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security in order to do a case-by-case review of “all individuals currently in removal proceedings, to ensure that they constitute our highest priorities.” She notes that all future cases will be viewed in the same fashion, in order to be consistent with the priorities of the two departments. Perhaps most importantly, DHS clarified that the family unification considerations outlined in the June 17 memo did include LGBT families.
What does this mean?
Secretary Napolitano’s historic announcement takes us one step closer to a uniform policy that will end deportations of all spouses of lesbian and gay Americans. It puts the full power of the administration behind the enforcement of prosecutorial discretion rather than simply allowing each ICE attorney or deportation officer to decide whether and how that discretion should be exercised. By undertaking a review of all pending deportation cases at the highest level and clarifying that existing prosecutorial discretion guidelines include LGBT families, Secretary Napolitano will now have the opportunity to stop every deportation involving a lesbian or gay binational couple.
There is no question that DOMA is the sole obstacle to a green card for Alex and Doug. Alex came into the U.S. 12 years ago from Venezuela and overstayed a tourist visa, an immigration violation that straight binational couples can remedy once married. As a same-sex married couple, Doug and Alex do not have that option. Thousands of married binational couples, like Doug and Alex, are treated as legal strangers in the eyes of the federal government. Doug and Alex faced deportation proceedings for one reason only: the Defense of Marriage Act, a law President Obama has determined to be indefensible and unconstitutional and has called on the public to help repeal.
Tens of thousands of binational same-sex couples will celebrate this historic second victory following on that of Josh Vandiver & Henry Velandia in June. Again the administration has demonstrated it can prevent a married same-sex couple from being torn apart by a “DOMA deportation.” Secretary Napolitano’s announcement opens the path to further exercise of prosecutorial discretion in deportation cases, enabling same-sex married couples to stay together. However, we must continue to fight for each and every couple to ensure that no couple is separated by DOMA.
STOP THE DEPORTATIONS – THE DOMA PROJECT, a campaign co-founded by attorney, Lavi Soloway in July 2010 along with his law partner, Noemi Masliah, has contributed to the trend of recent victories. For nearly two decades, Soloway has been the most prominent attorney and advocate on LGBT immigration law and policy in the United States. He has worked exclusively in this field since co-founding the non-profit organization, Immigration Equality, in 1993.
Our July 13, 2010 rally to stop the deportation of Alex Benshimol was also supported by Asian Pacific American Legal Center (APALC), Asian Pacific Islander Equality, Asian Pacific Islander Legal Outreach, Asian Law Caucus, Central American Resource Center (CARECEN), Chinese for Affirmative Action, Equality California, Immigration Equality, Love Honor Cherish, National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC), and San Francisco Immigrant Legal and Education Network (SFILEN).
Read the full article here.
Thanks to Sean Chapin for putting together this video montage of our July 13 rally. The result was a big victoryfor Doug and Alex.
Victory for Doug & Alex! San Francisco Immigration Judge Postpones Deportation Hearing for More Than Two Years
|Alex and Doug attend rally this morning on Montgomery Street
across from San Francisco Immigration Court
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: July 13, 2011
Immigration Judge Postpones DOMA Deportation Proceedings For Two Years, Allowing Married Gay Binational Couple to Remain in U.S.; Directs Government Attorneys To Act on Request for Termination of Deportation Proceedings Within Sixty Days
SAN FRANCISCO, CA – This morning in San Francisco, Doug Gentry and Alex Benshimol — a married binational same-sex couple — appeared before Immigration Judge Marilyn Teeter for a deportation hearing and were permitted to remain in the country despite the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the law that prohibits the recognition of same-sex marriages by the federal government. This is the latest in a series of recent court rulings that have demonstrated the inequality that DOMA forces same-sex couples to live under.
Specifically, the judge laid out two options. She gave the government 60 days to decide whether it will agree to drop deportation proceedings against Alex — a Venezuelan citizen — altogether. If the government elects not to drop proceedings, the same judge will revisit the case again in September 2013, ensuring that Doug and Alex are protected from deportation for at least two more years allowing them to return to building a life together with their family, including Alex’s two step-children.
“Today the Immigration Judge demonstrated compassion and understanding for Doug and Alex as a married binational couple, granting them a reprieve from deportation by postponing further proceedings to September 2013,” said Lavi Soloway, lawyer for Doug and Alex, and founder of Stop the Deportations. “The Judge also gave the government 60 days to inform the court whether it will agree with our request to terminate these proceedings pursuant to prosecutorial discretion guidelines issued June 17 by Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton. We will continue to advocate for termination of these proceedings and a moratorium on all deportations of spouses of lesbian and gay Americans.”
“Today’s victory is yet another sign that when we engage the system and demand full equality we encourage those in power to find reasonable interim solutions that protect LGBT families, even as we fight to bring about an end to DOMA. Doug and Alex showed tremendous courage standing up for all binational couples as they insisted on fighting for an end to the government’s deportation proceedings against Alex. After the hearing the couple went for a celebratory lunch. The couple looked forward to spending time with their extended family including Doug’s two children who have always considered Alex to be their step-father, even before he and Doug married last year. They are very relieved to have been given a two year reprieve and they will continue to fight for an end to DOMA deportations, Soloway said.”
Alex came into the U.S. 12 years ago from Venezuela and overstayed a tourist visa, an immigration violation that straight binational couples can easily remedy once married; as a gay married couple, Doug and Alex do not have that option. Many binational couples are legally married like Alex and Doug, but they are still treated as legal strangers in the eyes of the federal government. There is only one reason Doug and Alex faced deportation proceedings at all — the Defense of Marriage Act, a law that the President and the Attorney General have both determined to be indefensible and unconstitutional.
To support the couple and to show widespread public support for their right to remain together, legally, in the United States, many organizations working for full federal equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Americans will hold a rally outside the courthouse in San Francisco where the hearing is scheduled to take place. Organizations leading the rally efforts include GetEQUAL, Marriage Equality USA, Out4Immigration, and Stop the Deportations.
These organizations launched a petition drive last week to show public support for Doug and Alex, garnering close to 17,000 signatures of individuals who are supportive of assigning all the same rights and responsibilities to binational same-sex couples as to binational heterosexual couples.
Organizations supportive of the couple and the rally include API Equality, API Legal Outreach, Asian Law Caucus. Asian Pacific American Legal Center, Central American Resource Center, Chinese For Affirmative Action, Equality California, Immigration Equality, Love Honor Cherish, National Center For Lesbian Rights, National Immigration Justice Center, San Francisco Immigrant Legal And Education Network, and the San Francisco LGBT Center.
Representatives Mike Honda (D-CA) and Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) have also been actively supportive of the couple, and provided written statements that were read at the rally. Rep. Lofgren’s statement included a passionate plea for binational families, including the excerpt below:
“Legally-married couples are being torn apart today in America because our laws unconstitutionally discriminate against same-sex marriages. Each and every day, American spouses are being forced to make unacceptable choices: live their lives separated from one another by thousands of miles, abandon their lives in this country and move someplace else, or break the law and go into hiding. This is a heartbreaking situation all across the United States. I believe the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional and that the government should respect legally-married same-sex couples. I am confident that DOMA one day will not be law. The whole country will look back and understand it was simply discrimination.”
Speakers at the rally included Bevan Dufty (Supervisor), Phil Ting (Assessor/Recorder), Vincent Pan (CFAA), Ross Mirkarimi (Supervisor), Lavi Soloway (Attorney for Doug & Alex), Heidi Li (APILO), Ming Wong (NCLR), Ana Perez (CARECEN), Annette Wong (SFILEN), Dusty Araujo (NIJC), and Judy Rickard (Author, “Torn Apart: United By Love Divided By Law”).
Stop The DOMA Deportation of My Brother-In-Law: California Family Fights to Keep Doug & Alex Together
A letter from Cecily McDonald about the fight to keep her brother, Doug, and his Venezuelan-born husband, Alex, together in this country.
|Doug and Alex on their Wedding Day in July 2010|
|Alex and his step-daughter, Katie|
Alex and Doug built a successful pet grooming business, which was the direct result of the long hours that Alex worked and his careful skill. Over the years, this business employed my nephew Kenneth and his girlfriend Jordan who were unable to find jobs in the depressed job market in California. Kenneth was grateful to his stepfather, Alex, not only for the job but also because it gave them a chance to strengthen their already close bond.
Our love for Alex has no limit. Alex shares the language, customs and upbringing of his youth with us and spares no effort at celebrating the holidays and birthdays in our family. He is generous to a fault. He is a wonderful guy to be around and anyone who is around him is better for it. None of us who know him can imagine what it would be like to live without Alex if he is deported.
GetEqual, Marriage Equality USA, Out4Immigration, Immigration Equality & Stop The Deportations Join Forces: Keep Doug & Alex From Being Torn Apart by DOMA
Check out GetEqual‘s website, sign our petition to the President and learn more about our protest scheduled for 7:30 a.m. on July 13 in front of the San Francisco Immigration Court. Other organizations that have signed on to this action include Love, Honor, Cherish, National Center for Lesbian Rights and Equality California.
Doug & Alex Face DOMA Deportation in Six Days! Help Stop The Obama Administration From Tearing Apart This Family
Read “California Couple Fights Deportation,” by the Bay Area Reporter.
Sign our petition to help us stop this DOMA deportation.
“Don’t Deport My Stepfather,” 26-Year-Old Kenneth Gentry Fights to Keep His Family from Being Torn Apart by DOMA
|Alex, Kenneth and Doug recently participated in the NOH8 campaign|
In my short 26 years of life I don’t think I ever imagined I’d be writing to my elected officials and to the President of the United States to beg them to stop a deportation that will tear apart my family. I’m a Californian, born and raised, originally from Santa Monica but now living in the desert near Palm Springs. I am extraordinarily lucky to have the most loving and caring mother and father (who despite being divorced are close friends) and, now that my father has re-married, an incredible stepfather, Alex Benshimol. Although my dad and Alex married last year, Alex has been an indispensible part of my life and our family ever since he and my dad started dating six years ago.
You might say that we are the typical American family: we stick together in hard times, we celebrate our holidays and life’s milestones together. The love that we share for each other is boundless. Most of all, everyone in my family loves Alex unconditionally. My mom loves him as though he was her sibling; my aunt Cecily loves him and treated him as a brother-in-law even in the years before my Dad and Alex traveled to Connecticut to “tie the knot.” My sister, of course, also loves Alex; for both of us it is a blessing to have a mom and two dads who love and care for us in a way that is inspiring.
It never occurred to me that anything could come along that would be so strong, so powerful and so cruel that it would destroy our family. And yet that is what is about to happen to us. (Read more about the July 13 Deportation Hearing and sign our petition here.)
The extended Gentry-Benshimol family is now faced with something we were never prepared for—a family member is being ripped away from us. And what’s more, it is my own government that is pursuing this deportation because it refuses to recognize the marriage between my father and Alex.
If you asked me how special Alex is to me, I’m a little speechless: after all, how can I describe in simple words how much I love a person who is an immediate family member? Perhaps not every stepfather is as close to his step children as Alex is to me and my sister. But I would not hesitate for a moment to consider Alex not only to be part of my nuclear family, but also one of the most important people in my life.
For more than half a decade he has been the everyday stepfather that I can come to for literally anything. I’ve lived with Alex and my father, in their home, and I have seen their incredible bond, the love they share. I have seen the relationship they have built and the life they have created. I have seen them share that love with our extended family and become an integral part of our lives as a couple. I can’t even imagine what life would be like if they are torn apart.
Ever since the first day we met five years ago, Alex has treated me as though I was his son and has helped me in every circumstance to get through life’s challenges with love and guidance. Shortly after they started dating, Alex saw that my girlfriend and I were struggling financially and he offered us a job to help us make ends meet. It was the first time in a very long time that both my girlfriend and I had been employed simultaneously. By both of us had steady employment, our relationship blossomed, and we are both extraordinarily thankful even now because of the positive impact this had on our lives.
|Kenneth and Alex install a new kitchen sink|
Alex has helped me in countless, and priceless ways. How did I meet the woman I have loved for the past three years? Alex introduced us. The reason my girlfriend and I have a steady income together? Because of Alex. How I found an awesome roommate to live with? Alex. The reason my father, Doug, is happy and healthy? Alex. And when I was evicted from my home, guess who took me in? Alex.
I’ve worked in pet grooming with Alex for a few years and I have seen him become a respected business man. Pet grooming might not sound immediately important to anyone, but Alex has clients from all around the world. The week after a local news station covered Alex’s deportation case, he was flooded with hundreds of people expressing their support to him, and their anger that he was facing deportation. Most of all, they expressed their support for the love that Alex shares with my Dad. Alex has truly made his mark on not only me and my Dad, but my family, the neighborhood, and the entire community that has known him for many years.
I’m not the only one who has benefited Alex’s tremendous capacity to improve the lot of others. Our entire family simply hasn’t been the same since Alex stepped into our lives. For years, during the holiday season, the talk of the family was all about Alex and his elaborately decorated house—almost identical to Santa’s Village. I couldn’t even begin to imagine how our family would go about facing a holiday if Alex is deported.
I could easily speak highly of Alex for hours and I invite anyone to ask me anything about my stepfather. I love Alex, and I will fight by his side until I know that he will remain safe in my country. I won’t stop fighting for Alex until the Defense of Marriage Act is gone forever, and full marriage equality reigns throughout the United States for all couples.