Lawsuit challenges DOMA over same-sex rights

SANTA ANA, Calif. - A new lawsuit aims to end the deportation of same-sex spouses from the U.S. and to further prove the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional.

The suit, for which class-action status is sought, concerns a Santa Ana lesbian couple and was officially filed July 12 in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, Western Division, against the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services and the Department of Homeland Security.

The couple, Irma Rodriguez and Jane DeLeon are fighting against deportation legislation threatening DeLeon's residency in the United States.

Jane DeLeon moved to the U.S. with her son, Martin Aranas, from the Philippines in 1989. Irma Rodriguez, U.S. resident, met DeLeon in 1992, and they've lived, loved and spent time with one another for the past 20 years.

In May 2006, DeLeon applied for residency within the United States. Already a California resident, DeLeon was sponsored by her employer for a green card. DeLeon received temporary lawful status until April of 2011, when she was informed of her inadmissibility to the nation.

According to authorities, she had not entered the nation under the marital name of her previous spouse, which is considered misrepresentation by the U.S. government. However, the recently filed lawsuit states DeLeon and her previous spouse were never officially married, but only under the common law of the Philippines.

Irma Rodriguez and Jane DeLeon were married in California during the brief window of same-sex marriage legality in 2008. However, the infamous DOMA, or Defense of Marriage Act, does not acknowledge the legality of their marriage because they are a same-sex couple. Since their marriage is not acknowledged at a federal level, DeLeon and Rodriguez are not considered relatives and cannot satisfy the requirements to allow a spouse residency in the nation.

After three years of California recognized marriage, DeLeon applied for a waiver to once again try to attain a green card on the basis of hardship. According to United States Immigration legislation, if deportation instills hardship on a family it becomes possible to attain such a waiver. However, since the U.S. government does not acknowledge DeLeon's relationship with Rodriguez, DeLeon is unable to receive a waiver for a green card. Therefore she cannot become a U.S. citizen and faces deportation from the nation. Not only is her residency challenged by DOMA, but her son Martin Aranas, 26, also faces immigration challenges.

According to Peter Schey, president of Los Angeles Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law, "It's clearly the kind of case where typically the waiver would have been granted, but it was simply denied based on DOMA."

Schey's organization also released a statement citing the case-by-case determination process the current lawmakers have claimed available to same-sex international couples:

While the administration has stated it would review gay marriage on "case-by-case" individual bases, the plaintiffs claim that many immigrants cannot afford to retain lawyers to prepare the materials needed for individualized discretionary case-by-case determination, and in any event many immigrants are afraid to come forward and expose themselves to detention or deportation. DeLeon was not offered a "case-by-case" determination but instead had her temporary status automatically revoked and was told to leave the country.

The case itself is nothing new. Countless couples have experienced separation, deportation, and other egregious happenings due to the DOMA legislation. In April 2012, citizens of New York filed a similar lawsuit based on the deportation of same-sex spouses.

Immigration rights activists argue that it is obvious that DOMA is affecting the people of the United States: Families are being torn apart. Children are being separated from their mothers, fathers, and siblings. Same-sex couples, who have lived together for more than 20 years, are being forcibly removed from each other, legally by the United States government.

The Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services have stated they will enforce DOMA until constitutionally revised.

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