by Marene Gustin
In what could be a landmark decision in Texas, the Houston Office of Chief Counsel informed Isaias Gregorio Rivas-Guzman’s immigration lawyer last week that they were seeking to close his deportation case.
The decision by immigration officials is based on the Obama administration’s 2011 policy giving prosecutorial discretion to close cases of illegal immigrants who have deep ties in the U.S. and no serious criminal record and this summer’s announcement from Homeland Security officials that they would consider a foreigner’s longstanding same-sex relationship with a U.S. citizen in deportation cases.
Rivas-Guzman’s deep ties include the fact that last fall he was legally married to Fred Smith, a U.S. citizen. They were married in Massachusetts, one of six states where it is legal.
“For the last three years I have lived in fear that my husband would be taken away,” says Smith. “This means that my life is complete now—we can breathe again.”
Rivas-Guzman fled his native Mexico in 2004 due to discrimination for being gay. He and Smith met at church the following year and have been together ever since. In 2009 immigration officials detained Rivas-Guzman, and he has been fighting deportation since then.
His attorney, Raed Gonzalez, filed two requests for prosecutorial discretion that were met with silence before last week’s e-mail that barring a negative criminal background check, the immigration case would be closed, meaning Rivas-Guzman can legally stay in the U.S. But that doesn’t mean he automatically becomes a citizen, as would be the case if an illegal immigrant were in a heterosexual marriage with a U.S. citizen, so there is still work ahead for the couple.
“He’s been denied a work permit,” says Smith. “So our next step is to appeal that and then try to get him a driver’s license. He wants to work, he wants to go to college, but it’s hard for him. Right now he has to take three buses from our home in Sugar Land to the church where he takes English classes.”
But the upside is that Texas may finally be coming around to recognizing same-sex marriages. Last month the Austin City Council became the first Texas city to endorse same-sex marriage and now the Rivas-Guzman case.
“I really do believe there is hope,” Smith says. “Not soon, not with the politicians we have right now, but someday.”
Editor’s note: Read about Rivas-Guzman and Smith’s wedding from OutSmart’s February 2012 issue.