Victory for transgender immigration documents and marriage benefits

WASHINGTON -- U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) on Friday issued a Policy Memorandum revising the treatment of gender designations for transgender people on their immigration documents.

The new guidance also makes clear that if a couple has married as a different-sex couple under state law, the federal government will continue to recognize the marriage for immigration purposes regardless of a person's subsequent gender transition.

The revisions update the Adjudicator's Field Manual, a guide binding all USCIS staff overseeing immigration procedures.

"This announcement is another example of the Obama Administration's long-term commitment to equality. These revisions mean that trans people and their families can obtain accurate identification while maintaining their privacy. It'll also reduce bureaucratic delays, intrusive questions, and wrongful denials of immigration benefits," said Harper Jean Tobin, policy counsel for the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE).

Significantly, the gender designation change is modeled after the U.S. State Department's updated passport policy, which does not require sex reassignment surgery. "This Guidance is an important step forward for transgender immigrants and their families," said Victoria Neilson, legal director for Immigration Equality. "It brings USCIS in line with DOS in its guidance for updating gender markers on identity documents - no longer requiring any specific surgery, but instead allowing a doctor to certify the individual's gender."

NCTE has been working with Immigration Equality to advance these urgently needed policies, part of our comprehensive agenda for the fair treatment of transgender immigrants.

"The memo affirms existing law and precedents, and recognizes that if a marriage is considered valid and opposite sex under state law, it is valid for immigration purposes," Neilson said.

"And while these two revisions aid some trans immigrants and their U.S. citizen spouses, and vice-versa, the revisions only highlight the need to eliminate the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act," Tobin said.

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