U.S. Senators introduced Wednesday the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2011 which includes the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA), legislation allowing U.S. nationals to sponsor their foreign-born same-sex partners for citizenship.
The bill, introduced by Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) alongside Senators Harry Reid (D-NV), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), John Kerry (D-MA), Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY), has a UAFA-inclusive counterpart measure in the House as introduced by Representative Mike Honda (D-CA).
LGBT groups including the Immigration Equality Action Fund praised the reintroduction of the legislation.
“Immigration Equality Action Fund is ready, willing and able to rally the LGBT community, and our families and allies, in support of Senator Menendez’s bill,” said Rachel B. Tiven, the group’s executive director. “Today’s bill is supported by the top Democratic lawmakers in the Senate, including the Chairmen of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Immigration, Refugees and Border Security Sub-Committee. We stand with them, and our allies in the LGBT and immigrant communities, in supporting reform that honors all families and offers an inclusive vision of America.”
The legislation also includes the DREAM Act, which would provide a path to citizenship for young people who enlist in the U.S. armed forces or receive a degree from a U.S.-based college or university. Many DREAM Act-eligible young people also identify as LGBT.
Tiven noted that Immigration Equality’s legal team is currently working with couples across the country who are facing imminent separation. The organization has called on the Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Justice, to halt the removal of LGBT spouses. To date, the Administration has declined to do so, and a New Jersey couple – Richard Dennis andJair Izquierdo – were recently separated when Izquierdo was deported to his native Peru. The couple, who have been together for six years, are now fighting to reunite in the United States.
“No one is served by tearing American citizens apart from their spouses,” Tiven said. “The immigration system is decimating families, forcing American citizens into exile and draining the talent and resources available to American businesses and communities. Comprehensive reform is overdue and must be given priority in Congress now.”
The group also reiterated its call for a halt to the separation of families until Congress acts.
“As Congress considers legislation to end the unconscionable separation of American citizens from their loved ones, the Administration must also commit to a moratorium on forcibly tearing apart families who would be eligible for relief under this and other bills.”
The UAFA has not performed well when introduced as a standalone measure so in packaging it as part of overall immigration reform there is a hope the legislation may find itself in better shape. That said, introduction of the UAFA has the unfortunate timing of coming when the House Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG) has taken up defense of Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
UAFA intentionally sidesteps DOMA, however the reality of the language and the perception of it are two different things and it is not a stretch of the imagination to think the Republican House leadership may be hostile to entertaining UAFA if it can be ventured it weakens their DOMA defense.
Those red flags in the distance aside, the reintroduction of the inclusive Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act would seem to put President Obama in a position to aid same-sex families in a way he has so far been unable to conjure with his legal slights of hand following the administration’s February decision to no longer defend, but by necessity still enforce, DOMA Section 3. This has left same-sex binational couples still vulnerable in a way no amount of new guidelines urging immigration officials’ “discretion” can solve.
UAFA would not end the inequality of DOMA but would dissolve its power to cleave same-sex binational couples apart which is of key concern for many LGBT rights proponents.
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