CommunityPam's House Blend

Immigration reform – an important (and dicey) topic for the LGBT community

On Sunday, there’s going to be a huge rally on the National Mall for immigration reform, a topic that puts both Dems and the GOP on edge. Fixing a broken system where people going through the legal immigration process is bad enough; the handling of millions of undocumented people — along with those whose VISAs have expired or are in other circumstances where their ability to stay in this country is threatened is almost an insurmountable task.

And there are many LGBTs  in those categories. As Kerry Eleveld at The Advocate asks in her report,

Gay immigrants will be helped by immigration reform, even if it doesn’t allow gay Americans to sponsor their partners. But should you support a bill that excludes LGBT families?

But LGBTs will be in that crowd marching in support of reform, according to Steve Ralls of Immigration Equality.

“Immigration Equality has registered 200 marchers and has also learned that an additional 100 LGBT advocates will be coming to D.C. by bus to join us at the march. “We’re now expecting a contingent of more than 300, standing for LGBT immigrants and families on the National Mall.”

For LGBT people, the immigration debate holds two concerns.

First, an estimated 12 million undocumented individuals live in the United States, roughly 600,000 of whom are LGBT (assuming that about 5% of the population is queer). Those individuals would benefit if an immigration bill laid out a path to citizenship, regardless of whether it included a provision for same-sex partners.

Second, an estimated 70,000 lesbian and gay couples in the country include one partner who is an American citizen and one partner who is an immigrant, according to the Williams Institute, a California think tank. While the immigrant partners in some of these couples have visas and green cards, about 36,000 of those couples include one partner who does not have a current option for obtaining residency – they may have temporary tourist visas or temporary professional visas or may be undocumented. Those couples would benefit specifically from the inclusion of the Uniting American Families Act, which would allow U.S. citizens and green card holders to sponsor their same-sex partners for residency.

The Uniting American Families Act — that’s been the sticking point in this story, since it’s not clear that Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) will fold UAFA into the legislation meant to reform immigration overall. What’s also unclear is the level of queasiness there would be on the GOP side (or at this point, even the Blue Dog Dems) if UAFA were to be included.

Democratic representative Jared Polis of Colorado has been front and center in the House’s debate over immigration and immediately ticks off a list of considerations that are already provoking heated debate – providing a normalization process for the undocumented population, including verification of people through biometrics, augmenting border security.

Those issues are all more controversial than including same-sex families,” said Polis, who has nonetheless signed on as a cosponsor of the House’s comprehensive bill, H.R. 4321, which does not include LGBT families. Polis stresses that the effort must attract some GOP votes, but he still doesn’t see UAFA as a deal breaker. “Many of the Republicans who would be likely to support immigration reform are also Republicans that have a moderate record on LGBT issues,” he said.

But…and this is the big “But” — there are advocates of immigration reform that are staunchly anti-gay. Steve Ralls said that the only group officially in opposition to inclusion of UAFA is the Conference of Catholic Bishops (surprise! not), but there are some immigration groups wary enough of the CCB’s objection to steer away from talk of including UAFA. What a mess. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be contentious — Barney Frank believes that pragmatism is in order.

“This notion of, it’s all we care about, if we don’t get it, we’re going to kill the whole bill – I think that’s a terrible mistake. The Hispanic community has been very supportive of us on a lot of issues. It would be a big mistake if we said we were going to veto a bill that’s very important to them because we can’t get what we wanted.”

There’s a lot more to read in this lengthy article; I urge you to read the rest and come back and wrestle with this topic a bit. I say that because even removing LGBT issues out of it, immigration reform has been incredibly politically contentious; adding the LGBT element only increases the level of difficulty in shaping one’s opinion.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding