At an Oct. 7 meeting, Immigration and Customs Enforcement rejected Anton Tanumihardja’s petition for deferred action, a means of indefinitely stopping deportation used for low-priority cases.
Tanumihardja was ordered to return to the office Jan. 13, when travel arrangements to Indonesia will be made if the decision is not reversed.
In June, ICE announced guidelines to direct ICE officials in their “prosecutorial discretion,” laying out a list of factors, such as community ties, a lack of criminal activity or family relationships, that should be considered in prioritizing deportation cases.
In August, Department of Homeland Security said it would launch a working group to evaluate open deportation cases and clarified that same-sex relationships were included among “family ties,” although that provision was not formally put in writing.
Tanumihardja legally married his partner, Brian Andersen, this past summer in Washington, D.C.
“We were very optimistic and hopeful that Anton would be granted this relief so we wouldn’t have to continually live with the fear that the U.S. government could essentially destroy our family without any legitimate reason,” Andersen said. “When the administration put forth these guidelines, we were very hopeful that they would be applied in our case. Much to our disappointment, the local Philadelphia ICE office chose not to apply them here.”
In their denial, ICE officials told the couple Tanumihardja’s case illustrated no “extraordinary” circumstances that would warrant deferred action.
The couple’s attorney, Lavi Soloway, founder of Stop The Deportations, called the decision a “devastating setback” that “should be of great concern to everyone, including the Obama administration, as they work to ensure that we have a fair and humane deportation policy.”
“The Obama administration’s new policy has failed to protect Anton and Brian from deportation,” Soloway added. “ICE’s determination to deport Anton regardless of the new guidelines demonstrates that the administration has not instructed ICE deportation officers on the implementation of the LGBT-inclusive prosecutorial discretion guidelines for an individual with a final order of removal.”
In a statement released after the denial, DHS acknowledged that ICE officers have not yet been trained on the updated “prosecutorial discretion” guidelines, and that the working group has not yet undertaken its review of outstanding cases.
“We were disappointed Anton was not granted deferred action, and we were disappointed that they didn’t really provide an explanation as to why he didn’t meet those criteria, but what was even more disheartening was learning that the administration still has yet to undertake the training necessary to ensure these guidelines are being enforced consistently and properly,” Soloway said. “If the local ICE officers that have the responsibility to apply these guidelines fail to do so or are insufficiently trained, then all of these policy announcements are meaningless. If Anton’s deported, these new guidelines that were put in place to protect people like him and Brian, then they don’t mean anything.”
Tanumihardja came to Philadelphia on a tourist visa in 2002 and applied unsuccessfully several times for asylum, based on the fact that he could face persecution in Indonesia because of his orientation, as well as the fact that he is Catholic and ethnically Chinese.
Because of the Defense of Marriage Act, which prevents the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages, Andersen cannot sponsor his husband for citizenship, as a binational heterosexual married couple could do.
“We really are still hopeful that someone at a higher level in Washington will reverse this decision. It really is the only form of relief for us at this point, being that the normal avenue of spousal sponsorship for residency is closed off to us because of DOMA,” Andersen said. “I truly wish this wasn’t a battle we even had to enter into; however, it is one we will fight to the end.”
The working group is expected to be formed in the coming weeks, and Soloway said he and other advocates will be urging DHS to review Tanumihardja’s case and reverse the denial of deferred action.
Supporters can also contact their elected officials, particularly U.S. Sen. Bob Casey and Congressman Bob Brady, to urge them to intervene on the couple’s behalf.
Jen Colletta can be reached at email@example.com.