Gutierrez, Quigley Push LGBT Rights In Immigration Reform
U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Chicago), joined by fellow Reps. Mike Quigley (D-Chicago) and Jared Polis (D-Colo.), called May 24 for the inclusion of gay and lesbian binational couples in the comprehensive immigration reform measure now before Congress.
"Our legal immigration system is so dysfunctional and restrictive that we have created incentives for people to go around our system rather than going through it," Gutierrez said. "Nowhere is this more true than for committed same-sex couples who have to make a painful choice between their family and the immigration laws of the U.S. that do not recognize these family units for the purposes of immigration."
At a press conference at the Center on Halsted, Gutierrez said U.S. laws that allow heterosexuals to sponsor a partner for citizenship, but not gays and lesbians, send the wrong message.
"It seems to me that the cornerstone - the bedrock - of any comprehensive immigration reform is the unity of families," Gutierrez said.
Gutierrez, Quigley and Polis were joined at the Center by a host of LGBT community leaders and officials, including Metropolitan Water Reclamation District Comm. Debra Shore (D), Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) and representatives of the Chicago Commission on Human Relations, Equality Illinois, Amigas Latinas, the Association of Latino Men for Action, Latinos Progresando and others.
Gutierrez is a leader on immigration reform in Congress and said he is committed to ensuring that provisions of the Uniting American Families Act, also pending in Congress, are included in the final comprehensive immigration reform bill. UAFA would allow gays and lesbians to sponsor partners from other countries for citizenship.
"When I talk about an issue like this, I become the arch-conservative," Quigley said. "Why? Because we’re talking about family values."
Polis, who is openly gay, said LGBT support is a critical part of building a coalition for comprehensive immigration reform.
"It’s our task to educate our community," Polis said, emphasizing that immigration reform means, "Yes, we’re talking about our LGBT families and our LGBT communities."
Stories told by advocates of UAFA at the press conference highlighted the uncertainty and worry that gay and lesbian binational couples face in the U.S.
"This bill can make or break my family," said one gay man with a foreign-born partner.
Equality Illinois CEO Bernard Cherkasov, who as a youth with his family fled persecution in Azerbaijan before gaining asylum in the U.S., said his elderly immigrant grandmother cannot understand why the U.S. welcomed her family but threatens to force Cherkasov’s partner to leave because he’s a British citizen.
"We were married by our rabbi," Cherkasov said. "If we really respect families, then we must respect all families."
Gutierrez said despite Congress’ full agenda this year, he still hopes to get immigration reform through.
"We still think there’s an opportunity in the House and in the Senate to get something done," Gutierrez said.
But, he added, if it doesn’t get a vote this year, same-sex couples would be included from the start on any subsequent immigration reform proposal.
"The goal must be to have an immigration system that keeps families together, enhances America’s security, strengthens the economy and is true to the core values of this nation that guarantee freedom and protect the basic human and civil rights of every individual," Gutierrez said.