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LGBT Immigration
Bill Reintroduced to a More Receptive Congress 

LGBT Immigration
Bill Reintroduced to a More Receptive Congress 


The Uniting American Families Act was reintroduced in both chambers of Congress Thursday -- chief sponsor Rep. Jerrold Nadler promised the first real push to pass the legislation since he first introduced it in 2000.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler reintroduced in the House Thursday the Uniting American Families Act, which would amend current immigration law to allow gay and lesbian Americans to sponsor their foreign-born partners for permanent residency on the same basis that straight citizens can sponsor spouses.

"The idea behind the bill is that it is wanton cruelty, gratuitous cruelty, to keep people who love each other apart," Representative Nadler said on a press call with reporters. The legislation would stipulate that the word "spouse" be replaced by the term "permanent partner" wherever it appears in the Immigration and Nationality Act. No same-sex partner, whether they are legally married or not, can currently apply for expedited residency.

Representative Nadler, a New York Democrat, has introduced a version of the bill every legislative session since 2000; last session it had 119 cosponsors, falling 100 votes shy of the 219 it needs to pass in the House.

But Representative Nadler noted the bill has a fresh new start with the Democratically controlled Congress and a president who supports immigration rights for gay and lesbian couples. "For the first time we are going to make a really serious attempt to pass this," he said, adding that although they are starting out with 74 cosponsors, he anticipates "far surpassing" that number within just a couple weeks.

Votes, of course, sometimes follow the leadership, which is where the LGBT advocacy organization Immigration Equality is targeting its lobbying efforts.

"We've come to focus less on the absolute number than on building support in the key committees that the bill depends on to move forward," executive director Rachel B. Tiven told The Advocate, "so really focusing on the judiciary committee in the Senate and the immigration subcommittee of the judiciary in the House."

Representative Nadler said he was getting "positive signals from key members" of the chamber's immigration subcommittee.

"We hope it can progress this year and perhaps be folded into the omnibus immigration, which we expect to enact during the next Congress," he said. Asked whether the legislation had a better chance of passing as a stand-alone measure or perhaps being folded into the larger immigration bill, Nadler said it was too early to tell.

"We won't really know until negotiations start on that bill in earnest," he said of the larger immigration package. "I don't know what the chances are of a comprehensive bill passing right now. We're going to have to make that tactical judgment going forward."

In an effort to build support for UAFA, Immigration Equality recently hired a policy director, Julie Kruse, who is now based in Washington, D.C. The organization also met with the Obama transition team and, although Tiven said they were in "listening mode," she added that they were "very knowledgeable about the extra challenges LGBT immigrants and their families have to contend with."

Sissi Loftin and Janet of Brattleboro, Vt., is one such couple. Though they were joined in a civil union in 2000 and May will mark their 25th anniversary, they will not be able to celebrate together. "The Constitution guarantees us life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and this really affects my happiness," Loftin said of their forced separation.

Janet, a British citizen whose last name has been omitted to protect her identity, said the situation makes her angry and depressed at times. "The only way I can be here at the moment is on a tourist visa, with a maximum of 90 days," she said. "The rest of the time I go back to England and I feel like I'm living in exile, waiting for my life to happen."

Tiven said the estimated 37,000 gay binational couples affected nationwide are not looking for any loopholes in the immigration system -- they simply want the opportunity to meet the same standard of proof that straight couples meet, of which a marriage certificate is just one element.

"You go through a whole process in which you show documentation, you're interviewed, and you're proving that you are a bona fide couple and this is not a marriage of convenience," Tiven explained. "Our couples would love the opportunity to show the leases and the mortgages, the joint bank accounts, the children they're raising, the vacations, and all the kinds of documentation people have when they've made a life together."

At least 19 countries currently allow lesbian and gay residents to sponsor permanent partners for legal immigration, including Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Israel, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.

Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Democratic chairman of the judiciary committee, introduced a companion bill in the Senate. It had 19 cosponsors last session and will require at least 60 votes to overcome a filibuster.

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