DOMA Ruling’s Impact on Immigration

The Supreme Court's ruling gives married gay couples all the federal benefits and rights that straight married couples are entitled to, which could mean citizenship for an estimated 36,000 couples.

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Noah Berger / REUTERS

The Supreme Court‘s decisions to extend federal benefits to gay married couples and allow same-sex marriages to proceed in California mean a lot to Ian Holloway, a young man from Los Angeles. He and his partner were scheduled to be married on March 30, he said as he celebrated the ruling outside the court Wednesday. ‘This is a big moment for us,” he said. But the decision means even more for Holloway’s partner, whom Holloway says is a citizen of Colombia.

The decision in the DOMA case, which gives married gay couples all the federal benefits and rights that straight married couples are entitled to, could mean citizenship for an estimated 36,000 couples, according to Immigration Equality, a gay rights and immigration advocacy group. American citizens and green card holders can submit a petition to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services for an international spouse to receive a green card. Furthermore, a green card holder who has lived in the U.S. and been married to an American for at least three years can apply for naturalization if other conditions are met.

Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Homeland Security, confirmed the effect of the ruling in a statement yesterday. “I applaud today’s Supreme Court decision…This discriminatory law denied thousands of legally married same-sex couples many important federal benefits, including immigration benefits,” she said. “Working with our federal partners, including the Department of Justice, we will implement today’s decision so that all married couples will be treated equally and fairly in the administration of our immigration laws.”

Rachel B. Tiven, executive director of Immigration Equality, applauded the ruling. “Many of our families have waited years, and in some cases decades, for the green card they need to keep their families together,” Tiven said. “Couples forced into exile will be coming home soon. Americans separated from their spouses are now able to prepare for their reunion.” Tiven called the Court’s decision “life-changing” for the couples in question.

Conservative Senators, who last month threatened to sink the Senate immigration reform bill if it included the immigration equality amendment proposed by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), were not as outspoken. Forced to choose between immigration reform and marriage equality, Democrats convinced Leahy to not bring the amendment to a vote, arguing that the Supreme Court would soon decide the marriage issue. Either way, the Democrats argued, the amendment wouldn’t make a difference after the ruling.

Guillermo Rodriguez, a young Mexican man among the many gay immigrants is among those who may benefit from the ruling. “Right now I’m on a working visa and I’m in the process of getting a green card. And that process through employment takes a very long time,” he said yesterday from the sidewalk in front of the Supreme Court. “It’s hard…I immigrat[ed] to this country for the purpose of my job and my personal life had to be put on hold. If DOMA was still in place and I got engaged with someone and got married, there is no guarantee that I would be able to stay in this country. DOMA…opens the door [to] immigration and equality for everybody.”