What this means is that if an undocumented alien has a same sex partner who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, DHS would consider that partner to be a U.S. relative form the purpose of granting prosecutorial discretion.
Prosecutorial discretion refers to the authority that ICE attorneys have in deciding which cases to bring to Immigration Court, and which cases to ignore or close before seeking an order of removal. In June of 2011, ICE issued a memorandum stating its policy to concentrate its resources on aliens with criminal records or who pose a threat to U.S. security. In deciding whether to exercise prosecutorial discretion, ICE is to consider a number of factors. One is whether a person has ties to relatives in the United States.
In a letter responding to Jerrold Nadler of the U.S. House of Representatives, Napolitano states that ICE will be instructed to consider long-term same-sex partners as U.S. "relatives" for the purpose of determining whether to grant prosecutorial discretion.
The new policy may open the door for undocumented aliens who are in a long-term homosexual relationship with a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident to other forms of discretionary relief as well. For example, based on this policy, it may be possible to argue that same-sex partners should be considered as U.S. "relatives" when applying for deferred action.
Deferred action is essentially a promise by the U.S. Government that it will not seek the removal of an alien who is otherwise removable. When the Government grants deferred action, it has the authority to issue employment authorization as well. Whether to grant deferred action is a matter of discretion. Recently, the President announced that he would grant deferred action to certain young people who were brought to the United States before the age of 16. This is the deferred action for childhood arrivals (DACA) program.
But, the DACA program is not the only basis for granting deferred action. The Government can decide that there are enough mitigating factors present to permit a person who does not have a valid immigration status to stay in the United States. One factor that the Government takes into consideration is whether a person has any U.S. relatives, such as a spouse or children.
Napolitano's directive does not go so far as to say that U.S. citizens can file a visa petition to obtain permanent residency, or a green card, for a same sex partner who is also an alien. The Defense of Marriage Act prohibits the U.S. Government from considering a same sex partner to be a spouse, even if the homosexual couple has married in a state or country where same sex marriage is legal. To change this policy would take an act of Congress.
The text of the letter can be found at this link:
Much of what is written in the press on this is confusing. Here are some links to the best of the articles I've seen so far:
By: William J. Kovatch, Jr.