Protect Our Families Now!
Currently, Congress is considering a crucial immigration bill that would make it possible for same-sex bi-national couples to have equal rights to sponsor their international partner for immigration purposes in the United States. Tomorrow—for the first time in Senate history—the Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hear this immigration reform bill that includes members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community—the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA).
I am so proud to announce that NCLR submitted written testimony to Congress in support of UAFA. My thanks go out to Chairman Leahy, Ranking Member Sessions, and members of the Committee for holding this historic hearing on this important legislation. Thank you for the opportunity to submit testimony on behalf of the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the tens of thousands of families affected by the serious problem that this bill would correct. UAFA is a relatively modest bill, yet it is of critical importance to those who need it, for at its core the bill does one simple thing: it allows partners who have built families through love and commitment to stay together and care for one another.
It is unfair and unjust to force hard-working, tax-paying citizens to choose between their country and the person they love just because they are part of a same-sex couple.
One of the basic tenets and core values of our immigration law is family unification—the ability of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents to sponsor their family members for legal residency. However, that ability is categorically denied to U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents who have a same-sex partner. Despite the fact that these families are formed through love, caring, and mutual commitment, same-sex partners of U.S. citizens currently are not considered family for immigration purposes, no matter how long they have been together.
For 15 years, our Immigration Project has provided legal assistance to thousands of immigrants through our helpline, intake service, free monthly legal clinics, and direct representation at the claims and appeals levels. We also provide technical advice and assistance to private attorneys representing LGBT immigrants in proceedings before Immigration Courts, the Board of Immigration Appeals, the Federal Courts of Appeal, and the U.S. Supreme Court.
We are contacted by hundreds of bi-national same-sex couples each year—many with children— where the individuals involved love and care deeply for each other and are desperately seeking a way to stay together in the U.S. as families. Sometimes a family reaches out to us early in the process of seeking a way to remain together in this country permanently. More often, a family contacts us when a looming deadline threatens their family. Sometimes the situation is even direr, such as when one partner must leave the country immediately or has already been forced out or barred from returning. All have one thing in common: they face the prospect of having their family divided simply because they are a same-sex couple. Often, to keep their immediate family together, they are left with no choice but to uproot children or to leave aging parents behind in order to be with the person whom they love and to whom they are committed. The result can also prove financially harsh for families.
This discriminatory treatment of families is inhumane and unfair and must be changed.
As Chairman Leahy wisely stated in his remarks at the introduction of UAFA in this Congress:
“[T]he burdens and benefits of the laws created by the elected officials who represent all Americans should be shared equally, and without discrimination.”
In so doing, the U.S. would join the nineteen other countries that have already equalized the treatment of same-sex couples in the application of their immigration laws: Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Israel, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. Watch Family, Unvalued: Discrimination, Denial, and the Fate of Binational Same-Sex Couples under U.S. Law from the Human Rights Watch.
In keeping with immigration goals related to family unification, these bills simply provide U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents with the right to petition for the ability to sponsor their foreign national permanent partners to immigrate to the U.S.
Love, family and commitment know no geographical boundaries. The enduring bonds of a partner relationship do not come into being at the border, nor do they dissolve there. Americans should not be forced to choose between family and country. Congressman John Lewis, who is a sponsor and supporter of UAFA, has said “rather than divide and discriminate, let us come together and create one nation. We are all one people. We all live in the American house. We are all the American family. Let us recognize that the gay people living in our house share the same hopes, troubles, and dreams. It's time we treated them as equals, as family.”
Congress now has the incredible opportunity and serious responsibility to support families, and to enable them to permanently remain together to exercise their love and commitment for one another.
It is my hope, and that of NCLR, that Congress pass UAFA as soon as possible in order to protect American families.
Subscribe to Kate's Blog: Out for Justice. Drag one of the following components into the window of your feed aggregator: