LGBT immigration reform tied to larger effort
by Bob Roehr
The fate of the 36,000 binational gay and lesbian couples and their families who are separated or threatened by United States immigration law will likely be tied to broader immigration reform, the leading sponsors of both efforts said during a June 11 telephone news conference.
Representative Mike Honda (D-Campbell) has introduced the Reuniting Families Act (H.R. 2709), a broad immigration reform bill that for the first time includes LGBT families.
"We are here to fix a broken immigration system," he said.
The foundation of that system always has been reuniting families, giving preference to those with blood or marriage ties to U.S. citizens.
"American workers who have a family are happier, healthier, and more likely to succeed with this family safety net," said Honda.
They lower the burden for social and government services and reuniting these families will help to reduce the $46 billion that is remitted just to Latin America each year.
"This is about folks who are here legally and petitioning their government to do the right thing. The problem is that the system is so broken that it is creating larger and larger backlogs," Honda said.
Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-New York) first introduced the gay-specific Uniting American Families Act (H.R. 1024) nine years ago.
"It is essential to solve the problem of the fundamental unfairness for gay and lesbian families," Nadler said, which is tied to a spouse not being able to sponsor their partner.
"This is not part of the gay marriage debate," Nadler added. "It says a gay person can sponsor his or her partner for immigration to the United States as if they were spouses."
Nadler called the current policy "gratuitous cruelty" because it serves no purpose for the United States.
"It ought to be un-American. It's a crime against humanity," he said.
The Obama administration has promised a White House conference on immigration reform but that meeting has twice been postponed. Nadler has heard that the administration prefers that the LGBT issues be part of the total reform package.
Public opposition to including gays in broader legislation has come from "a Catholic Bishops letter that said including this would be incidental to gay marriage, or something to that effect," according to Nadler.
Honda said the LGBT inclusion has been "inserted in such a way as to be impossible to extract, give up, or compromise away."
Nadler recently was on a CNN program hosted by Lou Dobbs, a vocal opponent of past immigration reform efforts. Dobbs was notably restrained on LGBT reform. Nadler believes it is because of the basic unfairness of the situation and the fact that "you are not talking large numbers, maybe a couple of hundred people a year" once the backlog is eliminated.
Immigration Equality is also working with Congress on the issue.
"It is past time to fix our immigration system," said Rachel Tiven, executive director of the nonprofit. "It is crucial that the LGBT family be part of that process."
Some 46 percent of those couples are raising minor children.
Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said the legislation "sends a strong message that when we say families, we mean all families ... We are not strengthened as a nation when we force our citizens to abandon their community and country to keep their families together."