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Lawmakers Push Immigration/UAFA

Lawmakers Push Immigration/UAFA


Key House lawmakers convened a press conference Thursday on Capitol Hill in conjunction with an array of 37 advocacy groups to voice their support for including LGBT families in the comprehensive immigration reform effort.

"No immigration reform measure will truly be deserving of the term 'comprehensive' unless it provides equality for gays and lesbians as well," said Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York, chief sponsor of the Uniting American Families Act, which would allow American citizens and green-card holders to sponsor their same-sex partners for residency.

The event came just one day after the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration held a hearing on reform as key lawmakers in the House make an effort to jump-start the issue again before the close of the 111th Congress.

Nadler was joined by out representative Jared Polis of Colorado; Rep. Mike Honda of California, chief sponsor of the LGBT-inclusive Reuniting Families Act; and Rep. Luis Gutierrez of Illinois, a lead member of the Hispanic caucus who introduced a comprehensive immigration bill last December that did not include LGBT families.

But Gutierrez has since voiced his support for adding same-sex partners into the immigration package over the objections of certain groups, such as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

"I have been trying to highlight the theme that the underlying part of any comprehensive immigration bill is family unity," Gutierrez said, "and I'm here today because I think we need to speak out more clearly, more articulately, and more frequently that the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community and same-sex couples and their binational relationships are part of those families."

Gutierrez added that he was "confident" Congress could pass an immigration bill "that would include the provisions of UAFA this year."

The press conference and the lawmakers' insistence on LGBT inclusion represents a shift in the immigration landscape away from a deference to social conservative groups who have fought to exclude same-sex couples from the greater immigration effort.

Nadler addressed one of the main objections of conservative groups head-on during Thursday's press conference. While some detractors of UAFA have suggested that allowing LGBT people to sponsor their partners is related to the marriage debate, Nadler rejected the assertion emphatically.

"It is simply a question of whether the law should [perpetuate] gratuitous cruelty," he said. "Keeping couples apart is simply gratuitous, purposeless cruelty on the part of our government. Government should never ever engage in purposeless gratuitous cruelty."

Edwin Blesch and his South African partner, Tim, know that cruelty all too well. The couple, who met 11 years ago in Cape Town and were since married there, has been commuting from South Africa to New York and, more recently, to Quebec, Canada, over the course of their entire relationship in order to comply with the requirements of Tim's travel visa.

While it may sound cosmopolitan to some, Blesch said he would much prefer to sponsor his husband for residency in the United States and be more settled.

"We want to be in one place," he said, "with a cat and a dog and lead a life in the country with a garden."

The couple estimated that they spend an extra $10,000 to $15,000 a year in travel and relocation expenses, but even more pressing for them are some recent health problems that Blesch is experiencing. At 70, he has been HIV-positive for 25 years and has developed complications with his medications, among other issues.

Tim, who asked not to be identified by his last name, said he recently found Blesch unconscious in their apartment after he had undergone surgery the week before.

"I thought he was dead," said Tim, 64, who will soon have to travel back to South Africa alone and worries for Blesch's health.

"It's a constant worry; I can't explain that to anybody," he said. "It's every day."

Steve Ralls, a spokesman for the pro-LGBT group Immigration Equality, said that as members have traveled around the country and spoken to the people who are actually affected by this issue, they have heard "resounding support" for an LGBT-inclusive bill.

"The voices of countless constituents and immigrant families have now drowned out the dwindling voices of opposition on this issue," Ralls said.

But the motivation on Capitol Hill may be as much due to political calculus as constituency support. Despite a recent call by President Barack Obama for congress to take up immigration reform this year, a comprehensive bill has yet to be introduced in the Senate, and Rep. Gutierrez has acknowledged in the past couple weeks that his bill does not have the 217 votes needed to pass the House.

And although House leadership had been insisting that the Senate move first on an immigration measure, key lawmakers in the House have made an effort in past weeks to jump-start the issue again.

"The U.S. government's lawsuit against the Arizona law and the debate the Arizona law has sparked across the country has presented an opportunity for Congress to take up the issue in a serous way again," Ralls said. "There's a short window of opportunity between now and the end of this Congress to do that."

Groups endorsing UAFA in immigration reform:
Anti-Defamation League
AIDS Action Council
Advocates for Youth
Asian American Justice Center
CenterLink: The Community of LGBT Centers
Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles
The Council for Global Equality
The Episcopal Church
Equality California
Equality Federation
Family Equality Council
Friends Committee on National Legislation
Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders
Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network
Bill Mefford, Director of Civil and Human Rights
General Board of Church and Society, The United Methodist Church
Hispanic Federation
Human Rights Campaign
Human Rights Watch
Immigration Equality Action Fund
Labor Council for Latin American Advancement
Lambda Legal
Mexican American Legal Defense & Educational Fund
National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum
National Center for Lesbian Rights
National Center for Transgender Equality
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Action Fund
National Immigrant Justice Center
National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health
National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance
Out & Equal Workplace Advocates
Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays National
People for the American Way
South Asian Americans Leading Together
Stonewall Democrats
Union for Reform Judaism
Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations
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