Include UAFA in immigration bill

  • by Camiel Becker
  • Wednesday May 8, 2013
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Immigration attorney Camiel Becker
Immigration attorney Camiel Becker

When the "Gang of 8" senators announced the details of a comprehensive immigration reform bill on April 16, immigration advocates rallied behind the bill's proposed wide-reaching benefits for the estimated 11 million immigrants who are in the U.S. without legal permission. After more than 25 years without a major immigration reform of this scale, the moment for action seemed to have finally arrived. Introduced by a bipartisan group of senators, the compromise bill is widely considered the best chance for major immigration reform in decades.

To reach the compromise, however, benefits for same-sex couples were stripped entirely from the bill.

LGBT rights groups have been lobbying heavily to pass an amendment to the bill that would include benefits for same-sex couples before the bill enters full debate on the Senate floor, where it is less likely that any LGBT-inclusive amendment would survive. The Senate Judiciary Committee is currently considering amending the Senate's immigration reform bill to include the Uniting American Families Act.

If passed " either as part of a comprehensive immigration bill or on its own " UAFA would permit U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents to sponsor their "permanent partners" for permanent resident status in the U.S. UAFA also would recognize immigration benefits for children and stepchildren of same-sex couples. If the current Senate bill were to be amended to include UAFA and become law, same-sex couples would have the same rights and benefits under immigration law that heterosexual couples now enjoy.

Religious groups have threatened that their support for the immigration reform bill would be jeopardized if UAFA were added to the current Senate bill. Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida), one of the Gang of 8 senators, insists that the bill would not survive Congress if protections for same-sex couples were added, and has warned that he may withdraw his own support for the bill. Without his support, many see the prospects for comprehensive reform significantly reduced.

It is tempting not to rock the boat and to accept the existing compromise in order to get such a broad and much-needed bill through Congress. However, this means asking LGBT couples to keep sitting quietly and to continue suffering serious violations of their constitutional rights. Rubio and other Republicans have not forgotten the November election: Most conservatives agree that in order for the Republican Party to remain competitive and relevant, a re-messaging of its immigration platform is essential. Successfully passing a comprehensive immigration reform bill is far too important for Republicans to drop the entire bill just because it includes protections for LGBT couples. And for the estimated 35,000 LGBT couples and their families who are affected by discriminatory immigration laws, too much is at stake to sit aside and sacrifice while the existing bill moves through Congress, leaving them behind.

Waiting for the Supreme Court's decision on Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act is a major gamble. While it is possible that either of these cases will be decided on broad grounds that would include federal immigration benefits for same-sex couples, it is just as likely that the decisions will not go far enough.

The last major immigration reform of this scale occurred in 1986 under President Ronald Reagan. Another opportunity for comprehensive reform of this size may not come again for several decades. Introduced in the Senate a little over four years ago, UAFA has slowly gained support in Congress, but realistically UAFA remains unlikely to pass on its own in the near future.

For far too long, discriminatory immigration laws have ripped apart families, destroyed relationships and forced LGBT couples to relocate to other countries. It is time to call Rubio and his Republican colleagues' bluff.

Please call Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California) at (202) 224-3841 to request that she support the proposed immigration bill to include protections for LGBT couples before the bill leaves the Senate Judiciary Committee. As a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Feinstein needs to know how important it is to her constituents that the bill be amended to include LGBT benefits before it leaves her committee and enters full debate on the Senate floor.

 

Camiel Becker is an immigration attorney and partner at Becker and Lee LLP in San Francisco. He serves as the LGBT coordinator for the Northern California chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. For more information about Becker, visit www.BLimmigration.com or contact him at camiel@BLimmigration.com or (415) 863-3910.