Gay-inclusive immigration reform is in trouble.
The Republican half of the Gang of Eight rejected it and now, to keep the wider immigration reform deal moving, Democratic senators have abandoned including gay couples.
But is there still a chance to save this much needed change to the law?
Democrats Cave to Republicans Over Gay Inclusion in Immigration Reform
The U.S. Senate’s immigration reform package passed committee markup in a 13-5 vote this week, with Republicans John McCain, Jeff Flake and Orrin Hatch joining all ten committee Democrats. This came only after they had successfully forced the ousting of gay families from the bill.
As soon as Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) mentioned an amendment(pdf) to the immigration reform package that would have included a path to citizenship for gay couples, the Republican members of the so-called Gang of Eight balked.
This week saw Democratic legislators capitulate and Leahy, sounding incredibly disappointed, withdraw the Uniting American Families Act amendment during the bill’s markup.
“I take the Republican sponsors of this important legislation at their word that they will abandon their own efforts if discrimination is removed from our immigration system,” Leahy is quoted as saying.
“So, with a heavy heart,” Leahy went on, “and as a result of my conclusion that Republicans will kill this vital legislation if this anti-discrimination amendment is added, I will withhold calling for a vote on it. But I will continue to fight for equality.”
Before this, key Democratic legislators like Senator Dianne Feinstein had in her own words implored Leahy “to hold up on this amendment at this time” while Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) had opposed adding the amendment despite supporting the spirit of UAFA.
President Obama had also apparently signaled that he would accept the immigration reform package without gay inclusive provisions.
UAFA would have given binational same-sex couples a path to citizenship they are currently denied.
While straight couples can marry and obtain a green card for a foreign-born spouse, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) bans the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages.
As such, foreign-born partners in same-sex marriages are de facto denied this path to citizenship, leaving them vulnerable to lengthy and costly court battles and the threat of forced separation.
Gay Rights Groups Slam Democrats for Lack of Backbone on Immigration Reform
Gay rights groups and immigration reform groups had already been critical of the fact that the original Gang of Eight bill had left out same-sex couples.
It had been hoped that this would be remedied during mark-up. Obviously, this now won’t be the case and gay groups are being especially critical of Democratic lawmakers for buying into the Republican grandstanding.
“Let me be clear — Senators Schumer, Feinstein, and Durbin caved today to the bullying of extreme right-wing Republicans, rather than standing up for the LGBT binational couples they claim to care so deeply about,” said GetEqual’s co-director Felipe Sousa-Rodriguez.
“Today it became clear that our so-called ‘friends’ don’t have the courage or the spine to stand up for what’s right, and are content to buy into the false choice that Republicans created — holding a sorely-needed immigration bill hostage in order to cement inequality into law.”
Similarly strong words were offered by other immigration reform groups.
“Despite the leadership of Chairman Leahy, Judiciary Committee Democrats have caved to bullying by their Republican colleagues,” said Rachel B. Tiven, executive director of Immigration Equality Action Fund.
“There should be shame on both sides of the political aisle today for lawmakers who worked to deny LGBT immigrant families a vote. Despite widespread support from business, labor, faith, Latino and Asian-American advocates, Senators abandoned LGBT families without a vote.”
Does this mean that gay-inclusive immigration equality is done for?
A Last Chance for Gay Inclusion in the Senate Immigration Reform Package
Certainly, had the bill included immigration equality reform before heading to the Senate floor, the chances of it passing would be much higher.
However, as the Washington Post notes, there may still be one last opportunity to hold a debate on gay inclusion before the bill passes and heads to the Republican controlled, and gay hostile, House:
Democratic aides expect Senator Patrick Leahy… to reintroduce one or both of those amendments at some point, when the immigration bill is on the Senate floor.
This could theoretically force a floor debate over one or both of these amendments. They probably wouldn’t pass, unfortunately. While most Democrats — and perhaps a few Republicans, such as Mark Kirk and Rob Portman, who have come out for gay marriage, and even Susan Collins — would vote for them, they might not get the 60 votes they need to clear a GOP filibuster. But Republicans would be forced to vote against them.
It is estimated that DOMA’s restrictions impact more than 36,000 couples who are raising more than 25,000 children in the United States — and this doesn’t mention those families who have already been deported.
While many have placed stock in the Supreme Court of the United States overturning the Defense of Marriage Act when it returns its ruling in Windsor v. United States later this year, analysts have pointed out that without any standard to allow for federal recognition of same-sex marriages, binational same-sex couples may continue to suffer.
Image credit: Thinkstock.