DOMA Ruling Opens Immigration Door For Same-Sex Couples
Exner said some of her same-sex clients have been in relationships since the 1990s and come into her office crying with relief over the news that they had an easier path to a green card. Nevertheless, she said, some are still worried about the process because they have faced bias for so long. "It's a sensitive issue," she said. "Because people have been so secretive [about their same-sex relationships] for so long, we have to encourage them."
She said that all of her 25 or so clients are on their way to getting green cards for their partners. None have gotten them yet. So she is keeping an eye on how they are treated at interviews at federal immigration offices or at the U.S. consulate in the country where the foreign partner is from. "They worry that the [immigration] officer isn't going to be accepting," she said. "They experienced discrimination for so long, it's hard to get used to that."
Exner added: "I want my clients to tell me, 'How did the officers treat you?' We'll let the government know if we have a problem."
The precise process varies depending on current marital status and the location of the foreign partner.
For couples who are married, but where the foreign spouse is currently living outside the U.S., the American spouse can submit a relationship-based petition and the foreign spouse can apply for an immigrant visa through the U.S. consulate in the foreign spouse's home country.
For partners who are not already married, the American partner can sponsor the foreign partner to come to the country on a K1 fiancé or fiancée visa, which will let the two to marry in the United States. After the marriage, they can then file a relationship-based permanent residency application.
Exner is representing a client, Emilie Arseneault, of Canada, who is hoping to come here on a fiancée visa. She met her partner, Alecia Elizabeth Picket, of Woodbury, at Union College in New York They kept up their romance through weekend visits — Picket often takes a Greyhound bus to Canada. She also bought her fiancée an engagement ring at Tiffany's.
"I have letters from Tiffany's wishing them well," Exner said, adding that she will use the letters, among other documents, to support the fiancée visa.
Once Arsenault is allowed to move to the U.S., the couple must marry within 90 days. Because Canada recognizes same-sex marriages, Exner expects the process at the U.S. Consulate in Canada to go smoothly. "There should not be a problem with this one," she said. •