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The end of one discriminatory policy . . . and what it means for another

Some of our blog readers have asked, in wake of this week’s news, why the HIV Ban is such a big deal, and for an update on the status of the Uniting American Families Act. With that in mind, I wanted you to know our thoughts on what repeal of the ban means for every family we work for, and what we expect to happen in the near future.

Repeal of the HIV Ban is a big deal for gay people because it was targeted at gay people. Congress instituted the HIV ban in 1993 to make gay men know just how unwelcome they were in the United States. Senator Jesse Helms led the crusade for the ban, against the advice of the Centers for Disease Control. The ban included waivers for families that would otherwise be torn apart – but only straight families. The ban was Helms’ attempt to replace the law that forbade any lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender person from immigrating to the U.S. – a law on the books from the 1950s through 1990. Yes, 1990.

Most people thought we were crazy to try and repeal the HIV ban. A few terrific partners worked very hard on it, but it was a low priority for most LGBT, HIV, and immigration advocacy groups. “Immigrants with AIDS? Good luck!” is what I heard over and over again.

Today, however, repeal of the HIV ban proves that the impossible is possible: We can change unfair law, and that changes everything.

How did we do it? We researched and wrote about the HIV ban for years. We helped build a big constituency of sympathetic organizations and individuals. We supported Members of Congress who asked for our help. And we seized a legislative opportunity when it came along. After Congress repealed the ban, we kept the heat on to make sure the necessary regulations were implemented. We worked with many different agencies and with the White House to get it done and done right. It wasn’t sexy and it wasn’t fast, but it’s the only way to get results. And that’s what we’ll keep doing.

If the HIV ban doesn’t affect your family, I’m very glad. If it does, there is one less barrier to getting your family to the U.S. and keeping you together here. Either way, the repeal of the ban is an opportunity to publicize immigration discrimination against LGBT families, and that’s one reason Immigration Equality has worked so hard to make sure the issue gets press coverage. When the New York Times quotes us saying that “stigma and exclusion are not a sound basis for immigration policy,” that helps get our LGBT-inclusive message out to a national audience.

The HIV ban doesn’t detract from our work on the Uniting American Families Act. Nothing could detract from that. And make no mistake: Equality for binational couples is our #1 legislative objective. It always has been and always will be.

The past year, in fact, marked a turning point for UAFA. June’s Senate hearing was a landmark one, and sent a signal that UAFA is a priority for the Judiciary Committee (which handles immigration legislation). It also showcased influential allies, including the NAACP and the American Bar Association. And, the introduction of the LGBT-inclusive Reuniting Families Act in the House demonstrated that we have the clout to be part of a larger immigration package, and it brought Congressman Honda to the fore as a devoted champion of our families.

So where do we go from here?

We expect the Senate to introduce comprehensive immigration reform legislation early this year . . . even as early as this month. It will be the first comprehensive immigration bill since 2007. Immigration Equality is working tirelessly to ensure that the final immigration bill voted on in Congress includes LGBT binational families. Congressional leaders have been very clear that, until the comprehensive bill gets a vote, other immigration bills will have to wait. And because so many of our families are facing separation so soon, it is imperative that we work now to include UAFA in that larger bill. We’re doing so by continuing to build support in both the House and the Senate, and by working with key allies, such as Senator Patrick Leahy and Congressman Jerrold Nadler, to ensure we have the support, and votes, we need to make that happen.

Every day we’re working hard, in ways both seen and unseen, to pursue every possible path to victory. We’re optimistic about our chances for success, but also realistic about the resolve a win will require. We are expanding our Washington, D.C. office, to have a more robust presence on Capitol Hill and in your communities. Our new policy associate and grassroots organizer positions will ensure we continue to seize the momentum we have, and win.

The Senate immigration reform bill will be followed by a House bill, too. In-between, there will be countless steps, challenges and opportunities that must be addressed. As we have seen in the current healthcare debate, legislation does not move easily, or without hard work. Immigration reform will be similar: It is imperative that we build grassroots support for our families, Congressional support for UAFA and broad public support for fair immigration policies.

That’s where you come in. Have no doubt that, in the coming weeks and months, things will get very busy, and very interesting. And rest assured that, every step of the way, Immigration Equality will keep you informed and let you know what actions you can take to help ensure our success.

If you haven’t already done so, please sign up for our email alerts today. As Congress wraps up healthcare, and turns its attention towards immigration, there will be plenty of hard work for each of us to do. This week, we cheer for those families who have been reunited after a long separation because of the HIV Ban. In the coming weeks – with your help – we can turn that momentum and precedent into victory for other binational families, too.