Lesbian couple in limbo as immigration pilot program officially ends today

Violeta Pando couldn't sleep last night. After all, today is the last for a six-week pilot program to review the deportation cases of all non-detained immigrants in Baltimore and Denver -- including the case of her wife, Sujey Pando. "The hours that I did sleep, which were very few, I kept dreaming about it," Violeta says. "We got denied. It was a horrible dream."

The reality may be more nerve-wracking: The Pandos, who married in Iowa in 2010, still do not know the outcome of Sujey's case. They still haven't gotten a phone call telling them whether Sujey's case will be dismissed, or whether she'll be deported.

"We're very, very nervous," Violeta says. "We don't know what to think."

Today, the Denver Post quoted a U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) official as saying that though the pilot program is coming to an end, immigration judges will continue to review the 7,800 Denver cases that involve nonviolent immigrants who have strong familial ties in the U.S. -- including the cases of gays and lesbians.

But Sujey's attorney, Lavi Soloway, isn't too comforted by that news. "They are suffering," he says of the Pandos. "Every day that they go to bed at night and worry that Sujey will be deported is a day that doesn't need to happen."

Sujey came to the United States as a teenager, but was thrown out of her house when she revealed that she was gay. However, her history of abuse began long before that; Soloway says it started when she was an infant in Mexico. "This woman has been through hell and back," he says. "She has transformed herself from all of that." She now has a stable relationship with Violeta, whom she met at a gay bar in 2006. She follows the law and acts as a caretaker for a friend who was badly injured in an accident, he says.

Sujey's deportation case began in 2008 with a traffic stop. That led to an inquiry into her citizenship status and a plea for asylum in the United States. Though she and Violeta are married, federal law doesn't recognize their union. "This is exactly the kind of person we want to protect," Soloway says.

Indeed, ICE director John Morton issued a memo last year, urging "prosecutorial discretion" in certain immigration cases, such as those of young immigrants hoping to go to college and those of immigrants who are married to U.S. citizens.

For now, the Pandos are in a holding pattern. "We are waiting for an answer," Soloway says. If her case isn't dismissed as a result of the review, she'll face a hearing in court. Her last hearing was delayed in light of the announcement that the feds would conduct a review of low-priority deportation cases in which the immigrant is not a criminal.

"Your life is on hold," Violeta says of their position. "We can't really put a life together. We can't really buy a home together, we can't really move forward. We're just stuck in this spot. We can't really live our lives."

More from our Immigration archives: "Jared Polis wants investigation into abuse of LGBT immigrants in detention."

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