Immigration Reform May Include Rights for Same-Sex Couples

In the current immigration efforts, one of the most divisive issues to arise has been how immigration rights should apply to same-sex couples.

According to the Williams’ Institute at UCLA, there are approximately 40,000 same-sex bi-national couples residing in the U.S. More than two dozen countries around the world have an equal immigration system that honors same-sex couples, even if same-sex marriage isn’t legal in some of those countries. It remains to be seen whether the United States will join the ranks of these enlightened nations.

The President has been vocal in securing rights for the LGBT community, and his immigration reform proposals have followed suit. The official White House proposal streamlines the legal immigration system to keep families together, and those families include same-sex couples. Under current guidelines, same-sex couples do not have the same rights when it comes to sponsoring a partner for residency or visas.

The Republican Party wants to continue this disparity. Many Republican senators have spoken out against the inclusion of same-sex couples, believing that LGBT rights have no place in immigration reform, and that pushing the issue could result in Republicans pulling out of the bipartisan discussion or causing the bill to fail. The Catholic Church is also denouncing the inclusion of same-sex couples in immigration reform, despite being a longtime supporters of such reform. Even though Latinos in the United States are predominantly Catholic, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus is actually on board with the President in favor of same-sex immigration.

Same-sex couples could be included in reform  through the Uniting Families Act (UFA), a bill that has been in discussion in the House since 2000 but is finally gaining traction. This bill would effectively give same-sex couples the same rights as their heterosexual counterparts in the immigration process as long as there is proof of a longterm, permanent partnership. The bill has already been reintroduced with bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate, though Republicans who support the bill are fighting against their own party, explaining that the inclusion of equal immigration rights will help businesses, allow for more workers and thus stimulate the economy. Unfortunately, lawmakers against it continue to see same-sex inclusion in immigration rights as too politicizing, and–according to Senator McCain–a “red flag.”

However, Obama and the Democrats are not backing down from including same-sex couples in the reform. In response to McCain’s statement that the addition of social issues is the “best way to derail [the bill]”, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.)–the Democratic senator who reintroduced UFA in the Senate–responded:

I have heard some disparage fairness in our immigration law as a ‘social issue’ that threatens their narrow view of what immigration reform means. Well, to me, the fundamental civil rights of American citizens are more than just a social issue.

As of now, the Obama administration is waiting to see what the Senate and a bipartisan immigration-reform group decides before moving forward with the same-sex couple provision. Earlier last week, Steve Ralls, a spokesperson for the LGBT group Immigration Equality, said that the President’s track record with gay rights makes him optimistic that the right decision will be made.

President Obama spent considerable political capital to see ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ repealed, and he has been an integral part of ensuring [the Defense of Marriage Act’s] defeat. Every recent action he has taken, and the plan he has outlined, indicates to me that we should expect the same for immigration reform.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons