Senate panel shelves immigration amendment
by Seth Hemmelgarn
Bay Area advocates for same-sex binational couples expressed frustration with Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California) this week for her lack of support for a proposal to protect such families. An amendment designed to end discrimination against couples where one partner isn't a U.S. citizen failed to make it out of the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday, May 21.
During the hearing, Feinstein told committee Chair Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), who had introduced the amendment, "I implore you" to drop the proposal, which faced stiff Republican opposition. Leahy complied, and the bill ultimately passed the committee by a vote of 13 to 5, setting up a showdown in the full Senate.
In a Facebook post Tuesday, Amos Lim, co-founder of the San Francisco-based nonprofit Out4Immigration, said there are an estimated 12,000 same-sex binational couples living in California, and "Feinstein thinks that they do not matter!" In another comment, he said, "We have a bunch of spineless leaders making empty promises ... F them! My life is not for you to gamble!" Lim himself emigrated from Singapore to the United States in 1999 to be with his husband, Mickey.
A spokesman for Feinstein didn't respond to an emailed request for comment on the amendment.
Chad Griffin, president of the national Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement, "We are extremely disappointed that our allies did not put their anti-LGBT colleagues on the spot and force a vote on the measure that remains popular with the American people. We will continue to work hard to include binational same-sex couples as the bill moves to the floor and remain committed to the underlying principles of inclusive and comprehensive immigration reform. We owe it to the estimated 267,000 undocumented LGBT adults and estimated 24,700 LGBT binational couples living in the U.S. today to get the job done."
Other LGBT organizations also expressed disappointment.
"It is unconscionable that lawmakers committed to equality and commonsense, humane immigration policy were forced to make a false choice between protecting the rights of same-sex binational couples and keeping a tenuous coalition together," said a statement from the National Center for Lesbian Rights, GLAAD, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and United We Dream.
During Tuesday's hearing, some lawmakers pledged support for LGBT-headed families caught up in the country's immigration system even as they did not support the amendment.
Senator Christopher Coons (D-Delaware) noted that his state recently became the latest in the country to legalize same-sex marriage.
"I think we're on the right side of history," Coons said, adding, "I am determined to see us end legal discrimination against families headed by same-sex couples."
Senator Richard Blumenthal, (D-Connecticut), pointed out that his state allows same-sex marriage, too, and said the current discrimination against same-sex binational couples is "truly devastating."
"The greatest nation in the history of the world should not force people" to choose between staying with their partner and leaving their country, Blumenthal said.
He said he believes that LGBT-headed families will be able to stay together either through passage of legislation or through the U.S. Supreme Court repealing the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits recognition of same-sex marriage.
That law is the subject of a lawsuit recently heard by the U.S. Supreme Court. The justices are expected to announce their decision in June on the DOMA case.