Allaying concerns about the vagueness of previous directives, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano stated in a letter to House Democrats that she is instructing immigration officials to consider long-term same-sex relationships equal to heterosexual ones in deportation cases.

“In an effort to make clear the definition of the phrase ‘family relationships,’ I have directed ICE to disseminate written guidance to the field that the interpretation of the phrase ‘family relationships’ includes long-term, same-sex partners,” Napolitano wrote in a September 27 memo. “The applicability of the ‘family relationships’ factor is weighed on an individualized basis in the consideration of whether prosecutorial discretion is appropriate in a given case. [This] will provide a measure of clarity and confidence to families dealing with separation. Our nation is served when loving families are kept together.”
Of course, evidence of family relationships doesn’t automatically protect anyone from deportation, but Napolitano’s letter helps level the playing field.

This is a huge step forward,” said Immigration Equality director Rachel B. Tiven. “Until now, LGBT families and their lawyers had nothing to rely on but an oral promise that prosecutorial discretion would include all families. Today, DHS has responded to Congress and made that promise real.”

Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.), applauded the move, but is still pushing for immigration reform:  “Current immigration laws are tearing families apart and separating American citizens from their loves ones,” he said in a statement to The Hill. “No one should have to choose between their spouse and their country, and no family should be left out of the immigration system.”

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