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Same-sex couples may see expanded immigration rights

As many in New York are aware, this week the Supreme Court heard arguments about whether the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act is constitutional. DOMA limits marriage to relationships between one man and one woman, which means that same-sex couples who marry in states where it is legal are not recognized as being married by the federal government.

This has been problematic for many married same-sex couples, as they are unable to attain federal benefits that are available to heterosexual couples -- and this includes legal immigration status.

When heterosexual couples marry, they are able to file a petition in order to have an immigrant spouse remain in the U.S. Same-sex couples are not able to do so due to DOMA.

If the Supreme Court finds DOMA unconstitutional, however, this would mean that married same-sex couples would share the same immigration status rights extended to married heterosexual couples.

The U.S. government has recently begun recognizing same-sex relationships for the purposes of deportation decisions. Last fall the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced that when considering familial relationships in determining whether to deport someone, authorities should give gay spouses the same consideration afforded to heterosexual spouses.

It has been estimated that there are as many as 36,000 same-sex couples in the U.S. in which one or both parties are not citizens or not documented. It remains to be seen whether DOMA will be ruled unconstitutional, resulting in green card eligibility for the same-sex spouses of U.S. citizens.

For now, it is critical for New York residents to seek legal counsel when taking immigration steps such as applying for green cards. Small mistakes during this process can result in serious consequences, so these steps should not be taken lightly.

Source: ABC News, "DOMA Ruling Could Mean Green Cards for Gay Immigrants," Emily Deruy, March 27, 2013

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