Shift in national immigration policy just in time for Denver woman facing deportation
By Felisa Cardona
The Denver Post
Posted: 08/20/2011 01:00:00 AM MDT

The Obama administration's sudden shift in immigration policy had a tangible impact in a Denver courtroom Friday when a federal immigration judge delayed a deportation hearing for a lesbian fighting to stay in the country with her wife.

"I feel relief, and I thank the judge because she is a human being," said Sujey Pando, who is trying to stay in the U.S. following a 2008 traffic stop that revealed her undocumented status.

Sujey Pando is one of 300,000 undocumented immigrants across the country who Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Thursday should begin to be considered "low priority" for deportation. Pando was facing the possibility of removal from the country, but the the immigration judge, Mimi Tsankov, postponed the hearing until January, citing Napolitano's shift.

"The judge was not comfortable moving forward with so much at stake," said Pando's attorney, Lavi Soloway.

The status of undocumented immigrants who pose no security risk and came to the country as children should be reviewed on a case-by-case basis in compelling circumstances, Napolitano said in a letter to the Senate released Thursday.

The policy change includes consideration for immigrants who have familial ties to the U.S., including lesbian and gay families.

Critics of the plan say the White House is providing back-door amnesty to undocumented immigrants and overriding Congress' authority on the issue.

Napolitano thinks easing up on those cases will let courts focus on security threats and undocumented immigrants with criminal records.

Over the next five months, prosecutors may be offered more guidance by the government as to how to proceed with Pando's case.

Prosecutors could decide to allow Pando to live in the U.S. under certain conditions and drop the case against her, Soloway said.

Pando's mother and stepfather brought her from Chihuahua, Mexico, into the U.S. when she was 16 and promptly kicked her out when she revealed she is a lesbian.

Her mother, who has permanent residency status, obtained citizenship for her three sons, but not her daughter, because she is gay.

In 2010, Pando, 34, traveled to Iowa so she could legally marry her longtime girlfriend Violeta Pando, a 27-year-old U.S. citizen. They live in Denver.

Sujey Pando works as a restaurant service manager, and Violeta Pando is a correctional case manager for felony offenders.

In November 2008, Sujey Pando forgot to use her turn signal while driving in Adams County, and police pulled her over. She didn't have a valid driver's license, and she didn't lie to the officer about her status.

The police called Immigration and Customs Enforcement to pick her up, and she was jailed for 3 1/2 months.

"I was scared to go into that kind of facility because I am not used to that kind of life," she said.

Violeta Pando says her government should be protecting her marriage instead of trying to destroy it.

"If I was straight they would be helping me keep her here," she said. "I do feel relief today, and I am happy our marriage was being recognized a little bit at least."

From left, Sujey and Violeta Pando and the Denver couple's attorney, Lavi Soloway, walk into court Friday before a federal immigration judge postponed a decision on deportation of Sujey Pando. The decision came a day after the Obama administration announced a policy change that makes cases like Sujey Pando's a low priority. The Pandos were married in Iowa in 2010. (Karl Gehring, The Denver Post )

Felisa Cardona: 303-954-1219 or