In the summer of 2011, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) issued guidelines on exercising prosecutorial discretion designed to focus its enforcement priorities on individuals who pose a threat to public safety, are recent border crossers, or repeatedly violate immigration laws. In a recent memo, ICE provides guidance to the field, clarifying how the existing guidelines relate to family relationships involving long-term, same-sex partners. Specifically, ICE has reminded its officers that one of the factors relevant to an assessment to decline to prosecute a case is the person’s ties and contributions to the community, including family relationships. And “family relationships,” it clarified, include two adults who are in a committed, long-term, same-sex relationship — specifically, it said, relationships in which the individuals:
• are each other’s sole domestic partner and intend to remain so indefinitely;
• are not in a marital or other domestic relationship with anyone else; and
• typically maintain a common residence and share financial obligations and assets.
While “family relationships” is only one of many factors that will be considered, this guidance is welcome news. Apparently, the guidance was prompted by a letter from 54 members of Congress requesting that DHS Secretary Napolitano issue written field guidance explicitly stating the policy that same-sex family ties are a positive factor to be considered for the exercise of prosecutorial discretion.