New gay immigration bill introduced

Last week, lawmakers from both houses of Congress resurrected a bill that would provide for more equitable treatment of binational LGBT couples.

The Uniting American Families Act would, among other stipulations, allow the same-sex foreign partners of American citizens to receive the same immigration opportunities currently provided to binational heterosexual married couples.

The bill was introduced Feb. 12 by Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) in the House and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) in the Senate. The House version currently has 80 cosponsors, while the Senate bill has 14. Both were referred to the Judiciary committees.

Similar legislation has been introduced in every session of Congress since 2000, most recently in May 2007.

Before UAFA died in committee last year, the bill garnered 118 cosponsors in the House and 18 in the Senate.

Currently, American immigration law allows American-born individuals to sponsor their foreign-born opposite-sex spouse for immigration to the country. Same-sex couples, however, are not given this same opportunity.

UAFA would change the language of the immigration law to allow American citizens to sponsor the immigration of their “permanent partners.” The individuals must be in a committed, intimate and financially interdependent relationship with one another in which both intends a lifelong commitment.

Individuals found to be fraudulently applying for immigration for a same-sex partner could be penalized with up to five years in prison or $250,000 in fines.

“For far too long, our elected officials have ignored the devastating real-life consequences that current immigration policies have had on thousands of gay and lesbian couples in loving, committed relationships,” said Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese.

According to the 2000 Census, more than 36,000 Americans are in same-sex relationships with individuals who were not born in the States.

Rachel B. Tiven, executive director of Immigration Equality, which promotes LGBT immigration issues, noted the ironic timeliness of the legislation’s introduction.

“This Valentine’s Day, thousands of gay and lesbian Americans who have fallen in love across borders must grapple with an impossible choice between being with the person they love and staying in their country,” Tiven said. “These couples simply want the same opportunity to prove that their families deserve to stay together.”

During a media conference call last week, Nadler noted that the inequalities inherent in immigration law should resonate with all Americans, no matter their sexual orientation, who recognize the need for equal rights for all families.

“It should be an outrage to all Americans that our government continues to deny one set of citizens the fundamental rights enjoyed by the rest of its citizens,” Nadler said. “It is time that we as a society finally acknowledge that a committed, loving family is a committed, loving family, no matter whether a couple is gay or straight. It makes no difference.”

During the conference call, Nadler said he thought the legislation had a “fair chance” of passing in both houses this session and noted the likelihood of passage could be increased by building UAFA into a larger immigration bill.

During his campaign, President Obama pledged to back UAFA.

Jen Colletta can be reached at [email protected].

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