The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent strike against the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, has brought changes for couples around the country, including same-sex couples in which one or both parties is from another country. In the last several years, U.S. citizens and permanent residents have been sponsoring their foreign spouses. According to immigration attorneys in New Jersey, this decision opens the door to same-sex Americans whose partners are currently living in another country, lacking permanent access to the United States.
The U.S. immigration policy is centered around family unity—currently, two-thirds of all legal immigration methods are family sponsored, and the majority of those methods allow immigrants to apply for marriage-based permanent residence. More than 290,000 marriage-based visas are issued to immigrant spouses every year. Being married to a U.S. citizen can allow an immigrant the chance to apply for permanent residency, without being subject to visa quotas. Immediate foreign relatives in these marriages are excused for previous violations of existing immigration laws, allowing them to apply for green cards while already residing in the U.S.
Until last June, when the Supreme Court declared DOMA unconstitutional, and in violation of the equal protection clause in the U.S. Constitution, these marriage-based rules did not apply to same-sex couples. In the midst of appeals and testimonies from same-sex couples struggling before the repeal of DOMA, immigrants have shared their poignant stories of frustration and trials. Couples like U.S. citizen Richard Adams and his Australian partner Anthony Sullivan were outspoken against restrictive immigration laws for same-sex couples.
Adams and Sullivan were married in 1978, but when Adams filed paperwork with the Immigration and Naturalization Service to keep Sullivan in the country, the INS denied the application, declaring their marriage to be illegal. Adams and Sullivan were forced to leave the U.S. for several years. They finally conceded to return to the United States, but lived under the constant threat of deportation for Sullivan, and possible repercussions for harboring an illegal immigrant for Adams.
Adams died in 2012, before he could see the courts overturn DOMA, but his partner took care of him to the end. After his death, the American Immigration Council honored Sullivan and his late spouse for pioneering the cause of equality for same-sex immigrants.
Immigration lawyers in New Jersey say that the Supreme Court decision will pave the way for illegal immigrants to move openly to the country, and be able to start families, secure good jobs, and enjoy the American way of life as legal spouses of U.S. citizens. These petitions will be subject to the same rigorous scrutiny that traditional marriages are observed, but couples will now have a chance to bring their families together in one home.
At New Jersey law firm Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, P.A., the immigration attorneys offer legal counsel and representation to couples who want to bring their spouses into the country permanently and legally.