LGBT Groups Continue to Support Comprehensive Immigration Reform Despite Setback

Written by Wendy Barlow on

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The New York Times recently published an article by Julia Preston and Ashley Parker regarding continued LGBT support for an overhaul to the United States immigration system despite the failure to include a key provisions supported by gay rights advocates. The article was published by the New York Times on May 27, 2013 and can be found using the following link: “gay groups support immigration overhaul despite”.

The Senate Judiciary Committee recently passed the bipartisan immigration reform bill after considering more than 300 amendments. However, one key amendment supported by LGBT rights advocates was not introduced for consideration by the Senate Judiciary Committee. This provision would have allowed United States citizens to file immigrant visa petitions on behalf of their foreign same-sex partners allowing the foreign national partner to receive lawful permanent residence (i.e. a green card). The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) prevents United States citizens from petitioning for their foreign same-sex partners even if legally married in a state or country where same-sex marriage is recognized. Under the current immigration system same-sex couples are forced to choose between living apart and traveling to see one another or having the foreign national remain in the United States without legal status. Some couples are fortunate enough to be able to remain together in the United States when the foreign national has other means of obtaining lawful immigration status in the United States such as through long-term non-immigrant visas, employment-based immigrant visas, asylum claims, etc.

Unfortunately, the decision not to introduce the amendment was purely political. The Republic members of the “Gang of Eight” argued that adding the same-sex amendment would have disastrous consequences on the entire immigration reform bill. Senator Lindsey Graham warned Democratic supporters of the provision that “to try to redefine marriage within the immigration bill would mean the bill would fall apart.” The Republican supporters of immigration reform were more concerned with losing support from evangelical Christians and Roman Catholics than drafting an immigration reform bill that provided compassionate, humane and balanced reform.

Though LGBT rights groups were rightfully outraged that the amendment was not even considered, they nonetheless continue to support comprehensive immigration reform. Comprehensive immigration reform would still provide many benefits to members of the LGBT community. Young LGBT immigrants who were brought to the United States as children would be eligible for an accelerated path to United States citizenship under the Senate's immigration reform bill. Illegal immigrants who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender would also be eligible for provisional legal status and eventual United States citizen. In addition, the amendment allowing United States citizens to file immigrant visa petitions on behalf of their foreign same-sex partners could still be considered and added to the overall immigration reform bill during debate.

While the proposed immigration reform bill does not eliminate all the challenges faced by binational same-sex couples, it nonetheless provides many members of the LGBT community with a viable path to legal status in the United States. It is also important to keep in mind that the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling on the federal law that defines marriage for purposes of federal benefits as between one man and one woman may resolve the issue while not threatening to derail comprehensive immigration reform.