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Immigration bill excludes LGBT people

WASHINGTON – The Senate’s so-called Gang of Eight today introduced its new immigration bill, and LGBT binational couples are not mentioned.

LGBT groups and allies said they are hoping that the bill will be amended to include protections for binational couples who are gay and lesbian.
Of the millions of undocumented immigrants living in the United States, about 267,000 identify as LGBT. Of that total, about 40,000 are binational couples.

The “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act” is sponsored by Senators Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.).

Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, was happy to see the bill come to light, but displeased that gay and lesbian protections are missing from the language. He issued the following statement:

“The bill introduced by the Senate’s Gang of Eight brings us one step closer to the historic immigration reform this country desperately needs. From a groundbreaking pathway to citizenship, to a lasting solution for the young DREAMers hopeful for a future in this country, to much-needed reform for asylum-seekers, this bill will change millions of lives for the better.

But as immigration reform reaches the Senate Judiciary Committee, there is work left to do. As drafted, the bill omits reforms that would end discrimination against tens of thousands of binational gay and lesbian couples. Currently, committed couples like Santiago Ortiz and Pablo Garcia from New York City are stuck in legal limbo because gay or lesbian couples are denied a chance to obtain relationship-based permanent residence.

Judiciary Committee Chairman [Patrick] Leahy [D-Vt.] has been an outspoken champion of the legislative fix to this problem, the United American Families Act (UAFA, S. 296). This bipartisan legislation, also sponsored by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), deserves a vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee as an amendment to the immigration bill.

Failing to act on UAFA would stand in stark contrast to this bill’s unprecedented inclusivity. As we stand at the crossroads of history, leaving anyone out weakens the moral authority of this once-in-a-generation legislation. No one should be forced to live in the shadows of society.

Felipe Sousa-Rodriguez, co-director of GetEQUAL, is pushing for the bill to be amended to include LGBT binational couples. He issued this statement today:

Our broken immigration system has created a moral crisis. Thousands of families have been separated, millions of families have waited years to be reunited in the U.S., and workers have been abused. This bipartisan effort at reform is a first, powerful step to start the process of honoring our legacy of immigration in our country.

LGBT immigrants have a lot of stake in this bill. The lift of the one-year filing bar for asylum will help hundred of thousands of immigrants coming to our country who are escaping homophobic and transphobic nations. The detention reforms will help us prevent some of the abuses currently happening in the detention system. We are excited that approximately 267,000 LGBT undocumented immigrants will have a pathway to citizenship. We are also celebrating the current version of the DREAM Act contained in this legislation, which is the most progressive version ever introduced.

We still have a lot to do in order to improve this bill. The allocation of resources to border enforcement will harm local border communities and will almost certainly lead to more deaths of migrants seeking a better life. We are extremely disappointed on the elimination of family visas and various triggers contained in the bill. And, of course, we are committed to fighting hard so that the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA) -- which will allow binational same-sex couples to remain in the United States without fear of deportation -- will be added to the bill via amendment in committee.

I am a DREAM Act beneficiary and in a binational relationship. The inclusion of UAFA is about the recognition of our families and the end of a century-old exclusion of LGBT families in our community. Last night, as pieces of the bill's text began to surface online, I held my husband tightly -- knowing that the Gang of 8 had excluded our family from the Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill. I know exactly what 40,000 families felt this morning when they saw that the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA) was not included in the bill. Our community has fought hard for full recognition under the law in this country and our struggle for equality has not ended, but only just begun.

LGBT immigrants have historically being denied fair access to our immigration system and this is our chance to be included in what could be a once in a generation overhaul of our immigration system. We will work so UAFA is included in the package in the Senate Judiciary Committee and we will hold accountable those who don’t help us get there. We will protect the important provisions for LGBT immigrants currently in the bill, and we will fight hard against those provisions that will drive our community further into the shadows or put them even more desperately in harm's way.

Kate Kendell, executive director of NCLR, expressed disappointment in the intitial bill. Her statement:

While we are extremely troubled that the current bill excludes UAFA principles, we remain confident that we will be able to add protections for same-sex binational couples to the final version of the bill. We will continue to work closely with equality movement leaders and Senate members to improve the current draft plan, and to protect the ability of citizens to sponsor their same-sex foreign partners, siblings and other family members for citizenship so that immigration remains a way to keep families together and not tear them apart."

Kevin Cathcart, executive director of Lambda Legal, issued this statement:

We are pleased that Congress is moving forward on this vital issue. Reforming immigration will protect millions of immigrants seeking a decent life and make our country stronger. But those who dismiss the needs of LGBT families and suggest that we can only protect some, but not all people are not being true to deeply held American values of fairness.

We are deeply disappointed that the Uniting American Families Act that would ensure that binational same-sex couples and their families are not torn apart is not included in this proposed bill. There is still time to include this provision in the bill, and we urge the Senate to do so.

LGBT undocumented immigrants are among the most invisible of the invisible. Many inhabit a double closet, afraid of disclosing their sexual orientation and/or gender identity and afraid of disclosing that they are undocumented. Our current immigration system is broken. Gross inequities in our country's current immigration system disproportionately harm LGBT people and people living with HIV - in extremely grievous ways. Without a path to legalization, LGBT and HIV-affected immigrants who are victims of hate crimes or who experience discrimination or other civil rights violations often are deterred from seeking justice out of fear of arrest or deportation. Furthermore, many immigrants rely on asylum and immigration relief for protection from persecution in their home countries based on their sexual orientation, gender identity or HIV status.

The LGBT community knows all too well what can happen when legislative proposals pit communities against one another - we cannot let that happen. We urge Congress to enact comprehensive immigration reform that provides decent and fair treatment for all immigrants, including those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) or who are living with HIV.

USA Today has a good explainer of the immigration bill HERE.

Summary of the proposed immigration reform bill

Outline of the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013