Saturday, May 04, 2013

Saturday Politics: LGBT Equality and Immigration Reform

As readers of this blog know, I am myself a gay immigrant (now a naturalized citizen of the United States). So, I am following the discussions and politics around comprehensive immigration reform quite closely. One of the most important issues to me (and many other people) is how immigration reform will deal with the plight of same-sex binational couples. Under current law, there is no way for a U.S. citizen or permanent resident to sponsor their foreign-born spouse or partner to remain in the United States permanently. Partly this is is due to the fact that the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) prohibits the federal government from providing any federal right or benefit to legally same-sex married couples, but it also is a result of Congress' inaction to fix this injustice towards same-sex couples. (It should be noted that there are 18 countries who allow their citizens to sponsor a foreign-born same-sex partner to remain with them permanently, and several of these countries do not recognize same-sex marriage.)

Of course, generally the  people who hate the LGBT community and oppose any establishment or strengthening protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation (i.e. heterosexual supremacists) are also generally the same people who hate immigrants as well (i.e. xenophobes and oftentimes nativist racists), although these two sets of people are not completely overlapping. (Not all homophobes are xenophobic and not all racist xenophobes are anti-gay. However, a significant fraction of the Republican Congressmembers are both anti-gay and anti-immigrant)

The current draft comprehensive immigration reform bill in the Senate (often referred to as the Gang of Eight's CIR bill) does not include a provision helping same-sex binational couples, although the President's immigration blueprint of reform principles does.

So there is an intriguing political question of what will happen when the political desires of the LGBT community to be included in CIR collides with the Republican xenophobia and homophobia? The Go8 CITR bill is being marked up in the Senate Judiciary Committee next week and the Democrats are expected to offer an amendment that includes the entire text of the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA) that would solve the same-sex binational couples' issue by creating a new class of visa for sponsorship of "permanent partners" for those who can not get married and sponsor their spouse for a permanent resident visa.

The Republicans involved in immigration reform have been repeatedly saying that including "social issues" like LGBT equality will derail any chances of comprehensive immigration reform. Cue the New York Times:
Now, with the immigration bill scheduled to advance next week toward a vote in the Judiciary Committee, Democrats are in a quandary about whether to offer an amendment that would give green cards to same-sex partners. 
Republican sponsors of the overhaul warned on Tuesday that such an amendment would sink the entire measure.  
“There’s a reason this language wasn’t included in the Gang of Eight’s bill: It’s a deal-breaker for most Republicans,” Senator Flake said. “Finding consensus on immigration legislation is tough enough without opening the bill up to social issues.” 
Under existing immigration law, it is generally a quick and straightforward process when an American citizen seeks a green card for a foreign-born spouse in a traditional marriage. 
But under a 1996 federal law that defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman, Americans cannot apply for green cards for foreign spouses of the same sex. In addition, the immigration code does not recognize same-sex partners.
Interestingly, a number of LGBT groups pushed back hard this week on the notion that including same-sex couples in comprehensive immigration reform would weaken the bill:
Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, issued a statement late Wednesday saying Congress must pass an immigration bill that includes gay couples and the notion that their addition would block the legislation from passing is an “offensive ruse.”
“This bluster is nothing more than a political maneuver designed to divide the pro-reform coalition and at the same time appease a small but vocal group of social conservatives that will do anything to stop progress for lesbian and gay couples,” Griffin said. “The LGBT community will not stand for Congress placing the blame of their own dysfunction on our shoulders.”
Another joint statement earlier in the day from a quintet of LGBT organizations — the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, United We Dream and Queer Undocumented Immigrant Project — expressed a similar sentiment.
“We do not believe that our friends in the evangelical faith community or conservative Republicans would allow the entire immigration reform bill to fail simply because it affords 28,500 same-sex couples equal immigration rights,” the organizations state. “This take-it-or-leave-it stance with regard to same-sex bi-national couples is not helpful when we all share the same goal of passing comprehensive immigration reform that provides a path to citizenship.”
Both of these statements emphasize that LGBT groups support passage of comprehensive immigration reform and take note of an estimate from the Williams Institute that 267,000 of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States are LGBT.
This is a tough one. There are roughly 9 times as many LGBT immigrants who will be positively impacted by comprehensive immigration reform as who will be negatively impacted by a CIR bill that does not include UAFA. I am fan of the Williams Institute, but their estimate that less than 2.5% of all undocumented immigrants are LGBT seems woefully low to me. The only reason to keep UAFA out of CIR is to placate Republican's homophobia while the Republicans are presumably playing down their own xenophobia. Would you agree to a sexist compromise on a racist bill? When multiple identities combine and compete against each other, usually everyone loses.

However, a significant part of this issue may be resolved after June 27th if the Supreme Court (as expected) strikes down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act and the Obama administration starts issuing permanent resident visas (i.e. green cards) to legally married same-sex couples. It's unlikely CIR will have become law by then so Senate Democrats should move forward with including UAFA now and wait and see if DOMA is still valid law when they make their final vote on the bill.

President Obama himself (finally!) weighed in on this issue, saying while in Costa Rica yesterday that he supports inclusion of LGBT couples in immigration reform. The Miami Times reports:
President Barack Obama says he supports recognizing gay unions in a broad immigration bill pending in Congress but won't say whether he would sign legislation that fails to do so.
Obama says that recognizing same-sex relationships in the bill is "the right thing to do." But he says it would be premature to telegraph what he will or won't do before lawmakers send him a bill.
Gay rights supporters are pushing for an amendment to the bill to allow gays to sponsor their partners to come to the U.S.
But Republicans, including some who helped draft the bill, have made it clear that amending the legislation in that fashion would cost their support.
I say call the Republicans bluff. There are over 800 pages in the bill which will impact 11 million undocumented immigrants and hundreds of billions of dollars and they are going to blow it up because the bill will allow same-sex binational couples to remain families?

Really? Bring it on.

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