The US Department of Homeland Security will soon announce gay bi-national couples are eligible to have their deportations temporarily suspended.
According to the Associated Press, Secretary Janet Napolitano sent a letter to 84 Democratic lawmakers announcing the policy change. In the US, immigration regulations are handled by Homeland Security.
'I have directed ICE to disseminate written guidance to the field that the interpretation of the phrase "family relationships" includes long-term, same-sex partners,' the secretary wrote.
Under the new ruling, bi-national couples in long term relationships, with family ties, can be considered as grounds to put a possible deportation on hold. The secretary stressed that each case would be judged on its own individual merits.
Immigration advocates are pleased with the shift in policy.
'It will mark the very first time that lesbian and gay couples have been recognized within immigration policy for relief,' said Steve Ralls, spokesman for Immigration Equality, an advocacy group for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender immigrants.
According to the think tank the Williams Institute, 29,000 same-sex couples are made up of a US citizen and a citizen of another country.
Marriage is still useless for bi-national couples. Immigrants who marry opposite sex American partners are eligible for green cards. This does not apply to LGBT unions because of the Defense of Marriage Act. The law, known as DOMA, was passed in 1996 and prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages, even in states where such unions are legal.