This Wednesday, Senator Leahy held a Judiciary Committee meeting to discuss the Uniting American Families Act of 2009, a bill that would extend those immigration benefits currently offered to married heterosexual couples to "permanent partners." The latter are defined as individuals over 18 years of age in a monogamous, financially interdependent relationship intended to be a lifelong commitment, but unable to marry. This amendment would thus allow an LGBT U.S. citizen in permanent partnership with a non-citizen to sponsor her partner for a green card and an LGBT asylee or refugee to designate his partner as a derivative recipient of his asylum or refugee status, among other benefits. The impact on LGBT couples would be tremendous, but of course, as the NY Times describes, political opponents have already reacted strongly. This will not be one of those "areas of agreement" that Obama seeks to identify; brace yourselves for a long, hard fight -- but at least it's being fought.
On the same day, Attorney General Holder confirmed that non-citizens are entitled to effective assistance of counsel in immigration hearings. This wise step vacated former AG Mukasey's decision in Matter of Compean (about which IntLawGrrl Dina Francesca Haynes posted here), less than two weeks before Obama took office, to overturn long-standing precedent establishing a framework for bringing ineffective assistance of counsel claims in immigration court. Bringing great cheer to the hearts of immigrants and proceduralists alike, Holder notes that the process used by Mukasey to overturn the ineffective assistance of counsel framework was insufficient, and seeks instead to create
one that affords all interested parties a full and fair opportunity to participate and ensures that the relevant facts and analysis are collected and evaluated.
(In the meantime, the pre-Compean framework remains in place.) While this standard may seem a bare minimum of procedural fairness, it represents a great step towards transparency and fairness in an area of law heretofore characterized by neither. Here's hoping it's the first of many such steps.