Statement by NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell

(San Francisco, CA, April 17, 2013)— Today, a bipartisan group of Senators who have been working on a plan to fix the current broken U.S. immigration system released their long-awaited proposal for comprehensive immigration reform legislation. The bill, called the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, presents a massive overhaul to many aspects of our current approach to immigration. The plan provides a pathway to citizenship for undocumented people, including an expedited process for DREAMers, creates new types of visas, and requires the government to clear the high backlog for family-sponsored visas.

There are nearly 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, including at least 267,000 who are also lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT). The legislation introduced by the Senate has a number of provisions that will dramatically improve the system and provide a path forward for undocumented immigrants, including those who are LGBT.

The legislation creates a 13-year pathway to citizenship for undocumented people currently in the U.S. People will be able work while they access this path, which includes a three-year application process and a 10-year waiting period. The legislation includes a streamlined, five-year process for DREAMers.

The legislation also puts an end to the draconian requirement that asylum-seekers must file asylum requests within one year of entering the U.S., which has had a particularly negative impact on LGBTQ asylum seekers.

While this legislation makes many significant improvements to the system, there are also serious shortcomings with the plan. The bill does not contain the crucial principles of the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA), which would provide a mechanism for U.S. citizens to sponsor their same-sex foreign partners for citizenship. It also makes several significant cuts to the family sponsorship visa process, including eliminating F4 visas, which allow U.S. citizens to sponsor their siblings for citizenship. While an exception exists that will allow current citizens to continue the process to sponsor their siblings, eliminating this category will make it harder for immigrants to keep their families together, and will have a disproportionate impact on Asian-American and Latino families. Additionally, while the bill provides a pathway to citizenship, the path laid out in this legislation is unnecessarily long and tied to an overly harsh enforcement plan that is unnecessary in light of our current border security. Finally, this proposal creates inexcusable barriers to accessing healthcare. Under this plan, immigrants and their families would be unable to access subsidies and tax credits to purchase healthcare coverage through the Affordable Care Act (ACA) or receive benefits through Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) during the 10-year waiting period. The result is that low-income immigrant families would be unable to get any health coverage for at least 10 years.

NCLR has joined other organizations in a campaign endorsing principles in support of humane and meaningful immigration reform. Learn more about the principles and the organizations that have signed on so far at LGBTDREAMersStories.com.

Statement by NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell, Esq.:

“It is very gratifying to finally see movement toward an overhaul of our broken immigration system. Many elements of immigration reform that are crucial for fixing our immigration system are part of this bipartisan proposal. We are pleased that this proposal includes a pathway to citizenship, strong protections for DREAMers and their families, and important changes to the asylum process. However, several key provisions miss the mark or are missing entirely from the draft bill.

It is unacceptable that low-income immigrants and families will be barred from accessing the benefits of the ACA, Medicaid, and CHIP for 10 years. Access to healthcare is a crucial right, and barring people from affordable care will cost lives. No one should have to wait 10 years to see a doctor.

Further, we believe that family unity must remain at the heart of the immigration system and are disappointed that this bill falls short of protecting that core value. While we are extremely troubled that the current bill excludes UAFA principles, we remain confident that we will be able to add protections for same-sex binational couples to the final version of the bill. We will continue to work closely with equality movement leaders and Senate members to improve the current draft plan, and to protect the ability of citizens to sponsor their same-sex foreign partners, siblings and other family members for citizenship so that immigration remains a way to keep families together and not tear them apart.”