Senate Talks LGBT Immigration

The Senate Judiciary Committee held the first congressional hearing on the Uniting American Families Act Wednesday. The act would allow gay citizens to sponsor their partners for residency in the United States.

BY Kerry Eleveld

June 03 2009 12:00 AM ET

The Senate Judiciary Committee held the first congressional hearing on the Uniting American Families Act Wednesday. The act would allow gay and lesbian citizens to sponsor their partners for residency in the United States.

"For too long, gay and lesbian American citizens whose partners are foreign nationals have been denied the ability to sponsor their loved ones for lawful permanent residency," said Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. "Under current immigration law, many citizens have been forced to choose between their country and their loved ones. No American should face that choice."

Senators Chuck Schumer of New York and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania both stated their support for the bill; it was the first time Specter had gone on record in support of the legislation.

Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama served as the lone GOP detractor of UAFA, saying that it amounted to a redefinition of marriage. "Our Congress voted overwhelmingly that marriage should be defined as a union between a man and a woman," he said of the 1996 vote on the Defense of Marriage Act.

Shirley Tan, a 43-year-old Filipina who lives in California with her partner, Jay Mercado, and their 12-year-old twin sons, gave moving testimony about her family's dilemma. Her voice breaking and on the brink of tears, Tan described how U.S. immigration officials had showed up at their home at 6:30 a.m. on January 28, 2009.

"The agents showed me a piece of paper, which was a 2002 deportation letter, which I informed them I had never seen," she said. "Before I knew it, I was handcuffed and taken away, like a criminal, as Jay's frail mother watched in hysterics."

Tan's two sons, Jashley and Joriene, who sat behind their mother, became visibly upset as she revisited the moment. Senator Leahy interrupted the testimony briefly to ask if they would like to leave the room. As Jashley regained composure, Leahy said, "I just want you to know, young man, your mother is a very brave woman, you should be very proud of her."

Tan met her partner 23 years ago through family friends. "It was love at first sight," Mercado said, thumping her hand against her heart in an interview prior to the hearing. Tan was fortunate to be given a two-year stay on deportation when U.S. senator Dianne Feinstein of California took the unusual step of introducing a bill to grant her clemency while the Senate considers UAFA.

Tags: Politics

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