Gay couples may begin having the same immigration rights as married ones.

The Department of Homeland Security said it plans to issue a policy memo stating undocumented immigrants with American same-sex partners are eligible for consideration of having their deportation put on hold.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano delivered the news on Thursday in a letter to 84 Democratic lawmakers who had pressed her agency to provide written guidance. The policy expected to go out next week falls under a federal program designed to focus resources away from low-priority deportation cases

Napolitano says the memo to Immigration and Customs Enforcement offices will state that binational gay couples in long-term relationships would meet the definition of family that government lawyers can use as grounds for deferring a foreign citizen's removal from the U.S.

The policy does not mean Americans who are married to same-sex foreigners will be able to sponsor their spouses' green card applications.

Rachel B. Tiven, executive director of the gay rights group Immigration Equality, said the move was a huge step forward…”

“Until now, LGBT families and their lawyers had nothing to rely on but an oral promise that prosecutorial discretion would include all families,” she said in a press release. “Today, DHS has responded to Congress and made that promise real. The Administration’s written guidance will help families facing separation and the field officers who are reviewing their cases.”

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