Frances Herbert just wants to keep her family together.
Frances, who lives in Vermont, is legally married to her spouse, Takako Ueda, who is originally from Japan. Despite their marriage, however, they are facing an uncertain future because federal immigration laws do not allow Frances to sponsor Takako for residency in the United States.
Earlier this year, Takako was denied a green card because her marriage to Frances isn't recognized by the federal government.
Unfortunately, theirs was not the first application to be denied, and it will not be the last. As The Advocate's Andrew Harmon first reported on Feb. 23, the Obama administration has said it will continue to turn down applications filed by lesbian and gay couples. As a result, spouses like Takako are left in legal limbo, with no ability to obtain a driver's license, employment authorization, or even the most basic of legal protections.
It doesn't have to be this way. The president has the power to ensure that American citizens are not left in a legally untenable situation, or forced to leave their own country in order to be with their husband or wife.
While the White House has said it cannot approve green cards for lesbian and gay spouses because of the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), what it has failed to tell the LGBT community is that it can hold those applications -- rather than deny them -- as the courts and Congress decide DOMA's ultimate fate. Doing so does not run afoul of DOMA, but it does give Americans the opportunity to legally keep their spouses here in the United States with them. In fact, the administration did just that for war widows who had pending green applications. It was the right thing to do then, and it is the right thing to do now, as more and more couples are facing separation or exile.
It is time for the president to change his mind.
Last week, a new viral video campaign -- My Family. Together. -- launched to call President Obama's attention to the plight of American citizens who are faced with the prospect of losing their families. The campaign follows increasing calls by congressional lawmakers for the White House to reverse its decision and place green-card applications on hold.
In a February letter to Secretary Janet Napolitano, the Vermont congressional delegation (Senators Patrick Leahy and Bernard Sanders, and Congressman Peter Welch) expressed dismay at the administration's continued resistance to do so: "[I]t is very distressing that the present decision to deny abeyance of the marriage-based immigration petitions in these limited situations will force otherwise law abiding immigrants to fall out of lawful status," the lawmakers wrote. "We are deeply concerned about the toll that this policy is exacting on families"
That toll includes enormous uncertainty for American citizens who should be able to expect their country to stand on the side of keeping their families together.
Granted, the White House has taken some welcome steps in stopping the actual deportation of some spouses. Under new guidelines announced by the administration, immigrants whose husband or wife -- including lesbian and gay spouses -- is a U.S. citizen are considered "low priority" for removal. The specific inclusion of gay and lesbian spouses, however, has yet to be put into writing, and even when observed in the field, they do not provide any legal protections for families. As the Vermont lawmaker pointed out, spouse like Takako "will accrue unlawful presence," which can make obtaining residency when laws do change even more challenging.
This decision shouldn't be a difficult one for a president who has taken such bold action on behalf of LGBT families already. He has said there is no defense for the so-called Defense of Marriage Act. But there should also be no defense for continuing to use it to separate American citizens from their husbands and wives. The president can, and must, take action to stop forcing couples into legal limbo. He can do so without violating DOMA; he can even do so without granting the green cards these families deserve.
It is time for President Obama to stand on the side of keeping families together.