Immigration Equality Bill Introduced in the Senate
A bill to reform immigration law and extend a measure of protection to GLBT bi-national families has been introduced in the Senate, garnering plaudits from family equality advocates.
The bill was introduced by Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez on June 22, a press release from the Immigration Equality Action Fund said, "with original co-sponsorship by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), as well as Senators Richard Durbin (D-IL), John Kerry (D-MA), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and Chuck Schumer (D-NY).
"Among the provisions included in the Senate proposal is the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA), a bill to end the discrimination LGBT couples face under current immigration law, which prohibits Americans with foreign-born partners or spouses from sponsoring them for residency in the United States," the release added.
A law from 1996, the "Defense of Marriage" Act, which excludes same-sex couples from federal level benefits and protections, including marriage, also curtails the rights of gay and lesbian families.
"Immigration Equality Action Fund is ready, willing and able to rally the LGBT community, and our families and allies, in support of Senator Menendez’s bill," the group’s head, Rachel B. Tiven said in the release.
"Today’s bill is supported by the top Democratic lawmakers in the Senate, including the Chairmen of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Immigration, Refugees and Border Security Sub-Committee," added Tiven. "We stand with them, and our allies in the LGBT and immigrant communities, in supporting reform that honors all families and offers an inclusive vision of America."
The release noted that the bill "also includes the DREAM Act, which would provide a path to citizenship for young people who enlist in the U.S. armed forces or receive a degree from a U.S.-based college or university. Many DREAM Act-eligible young people also identify as LGBT."
One such individual is journalist Jose Antonio Vargas, formerly of the Washington Post, who received a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the shootings at Virginia Tech. Vargas found out as a teenager that he was an illegal alien. He chose to use fake documents to remain in the United States, and how says that the DREAM Act should be approved by Congress to provide a means for aliens living and working illegally in the United States to legitimize their status.
For gay and lesbian bi-national families, who do not have access to the same rights and protections as heterosexual bi-national couples, the obstacles are often insurmountable, leading to the heartbreaking dilemma of either separating, or remaining together through some extraordinary means, such as an American emigrating to live elsewhere.
"The organization has called on the Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Justice, to halt the removal of LGBT spouses," noted the release of the work undertaken by the Immigration Equality Action Fund.
"To date, the Administration has declined to do so, and a New Jersey couple -- Richard Dennis and Jair Izquierdo -- were recently separated when Izquierdo was deported to his native Peru. The couple, who have been together for six years, are now fighting to reunite in the United States," the release added.
"No one is served by tearing American citizens apart from their spouses," Tiven said. "The immigration system is decimating families, forcing American citizens into exile and draining the talent and resources available to American businesses and communities. Comprehensive reform is overdue and must be given priority in Congress now."
A similar bill for comprehensive immigration reform was mulled last year. GLBT-friendly lawmakers U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Chicago), joined by fellow Reps. Mike Quigley (D-Chicago) and Jared Polis (D-Colo.) attempted to see language added to the bill that would address the needs of sexual minorities.
"It seems to me that the cornerstone -- the bedrock -- of any comprehensive immigration reform is the unity of families," Gutierrez told the press.
The bill failed to gain traction.