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Immigration reform would give 250,000 LGBT immigrants a path to citizenship

WASHINGTON - The U.S. Senate late Thursday passed a bi-partisan immigration reform bill by a vote of 68-32. The U.S. House has yet to take up the issue.

Human Rights Campaign (HRC) president Chad Griffin said he was pleased with the legislation.

“The bipartisan immigration reform bill passed in the Senate [Thursday] will benefit millions of immigrants across our nation – including LGBT immigrants,” Griffin said. “We thank Senator Leahy for his steadfast commitment over many years to the LGBT immigrant community and we join our allies in the immigrant and LGBT communities in challenging the House of Representatives to act without further delay and pass the Senate’s bill.”

The Senate’s immigration bill provides a pathway to citizenship for the over a quarter-million LGBT adults living in the U.S., and provides an expedited path to citizenship for undocumented LGBT youth who have lived in the U.S. for all or most of their lives and want nothing more than to be recognized for what they are – Americans.

In addition, the bill removes the one-year filing deadline that has arbitrarily denied LGBT asylum seekers refuge in the U.S. when they are fleeing their home countries after being persecuted because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Moreover, the bill will lead to more humane treatment of LGBT immigrants who are vulnerable to abuse and mistreatment in the immigration detention system because of increased requirements for immigration detention oversight and a ban on solitary confinement based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

While the Senate Judiciary Committee failed to get language in the bill to provide bi-national same-sex couples access to family-based immigration, this week’s Supreme Court decision striking down the Defense of Marriage Act as unconstitutional will provide welcome relief.

Find answers to frequently asked questions addressing some of the questions we anticipate LGBT families with immigration issues will have following the Supreme Court decision striking down the Defense of Marriage Act by visiting HERE.

In April, the Human Rights Campaign launched a public education effort within the LGBT community on the importance of immigration reform. As part of this effort, HRC published Inclusive Immigration Reform: Nine Problems Deserving Solutions

HRC chronicled the stories of a diverse group of Americans who are harmed every day by this country’s immigration laws on its blog. In addition, HRC used its presence at LGBT pride festivals across the country to inform and educate the LGBT community on immigration reform. During the Judiciary Committee markup of the bill, HRC activated its members to call on their senators to amend the bill to include language that would provide binational same-sex couples with relief from having to make the decision to breakup or live in exile.

Meanwhile, other leading LGBT advocacy groups -- National Center for Lesbian Rights, GLAAD, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, United We Dream and Queer Undocumented Immigrant Project, GetEQUAL, Lambda Legal, National Center for Transgender Equality, Equality Federation and National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance -- issued this joint statement:

[Thursday], the Senate passed a bill with the potential to transform the lives of 11 million immigrants, including 267,000 LGBT immigrants.

We are one step closer to reforming our immigration policies and keeping more families together. The Senate's action follows on the heels of the Supreme Court's historic ruling to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act, which provides an estimated 28,500 same-sex, binational couples with an easier road to citizenship.

This legislation includes many provisions that will particularly benefit LGBT immigrants, such as eliminating the one-year bar on applying for asylum, providing protections for DREAMers and improving conditions for people held in detention facilities. The Senate's bill limits the use of solitary confinement and explicitly prohibits the use of this practice based solely on a detainees’ sexual orientation or gender identity.

For all the good in the legislation, there are several hard pills to swallow. In exchange for its passage, the Senate pledged $40 billion for 'border security.' Our border communities will pay a heavy price for this mistaken political calculus. We believe the Senate made the wrong deal. This reckless and injudicious spending will have a harmful impact on border communities, particularly LGBT immigrants living on the border, and undermine the principles of humane enforcement.

The Senate also failed to include several amendments that would have strengthened the legislation for aspiring citizens and addressed the root causes of our patchwork of failed and mismanaged immigration policies. As the legislative process continues, we will advocate for provisions that protect workers, reunite families and allow young children to access the path to citizenship expeditiously. We will also advocate for tax-paying immigrants to receive their fair share of benefits and access to health care.

Now it's time for the House to act. No more compromises, no more piecemeal provisions, no more extremist amendments. It's time for the House of Representatives to introduce serious legislation that reflects the will of the country: to give 11 million men, women and children the chance to come out of the shadows and have a clear and direct path to citizenship.