U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder suspended the deportation of an Irish man May 5 because he is in a New Jersey same-sex civil union with an American.
In essence, Holder said he wanted the Board of Immigration Appeals to reconsider whether Paul Wilson Dorman's civil union might qualify him for a spousal green card.
The federal Defense of Marriage Act prohibits agencies of the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages, but Holder and President Barack Obama said in February that they consider that portion of DOMA unconstitutional, and the Justice Department stopped defending it in ongoing federal court cases challenging it.
In his May 5 order, Holder said: "I direct that ... this matter be remanded to the Board to make such findings as may be necessary to determine whether and how the constitutionality of DOMA is presented in this case, including, but not limited to: 1) whether respondent's same-sex partnership or civil union qualifies him to be considered a 'spouse' under New Jersey law; 2) whether, absent the requirements of DOMA, respondent's same-sex partnership or civil union would qualify him to be considered a 'spouse' under the Immigration and Nationality Act; 3) what, if any, impact the timing of respondent's civil union should have on his request for that discretionary relief; and 4) whether, if he had a 'qualifying relative,' the respondent would be able to satisfy the exceptional and unusual hardship requirement for cancellation of removal."
Then, on May 6, an immigration judge in Newark, N.J., suspended the deportation of a Venezuelan man who is married to an American man under Connecticut law. Judge Alberto Riefkohl cited Holder's action the day before in issuing his decision.
The couple in the Newark case, Henry Velandia and Josh Vandiver, have made numerous national media appearances and become a poster couple in the political fight to extend spousal immigration rights to foreigners who are in a legally recognized same-sex relationship with an American.
Gay activists and legal observers said the twin deportation suspensions could mean that the Obama administration hopes or intends to stop using DOMA against binational same-sex couples and to start granting green cards to foreigners who marry or enter into a civil union with an American of the same sex.
However, on May 8, a Justice Department spokeswoman told The New York Times that the department will continue to enforce DOMA and that Holder had intervened in Dorman's case only because some issues had been overlooked by the Board of Immigration Appeals.
According to reports, both Dorman and Velandia entered the U.S. legally, stayed beyond the terms of their visas, tried to get permission to remain based on their same-sex unions, and were turned down.
The section of DOMA that is involved -- and that the Justice Department no longer defends in court -- reads: "In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States, the word 'marriage' means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word 'spouse' refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife."