Gay Advocates Worry About Being Left Out of Reform
As the debate over immigration reform continues, gay advocacy groups worry that the LGBT community will be left out of the final legislation, Gay City News reports.
The article, by Paul Schindler, reported on a February 20 Manhattan press conference by local and national immigration advocacy organizations to “voice fears” from Latino, Asian-American, and LGBT groups that their concerns were not adequately addressed in the January 28 memorandum from eight U.S. senators of both parties who are taking the lead on immigration reform, the so-called Gang of Eight.
In particular, they are opposed making relief for undocumented immigrants contingent on first bolstering border protection; they are demanding that backlogs that can keep families separated for decades be addressed; and they want family unification provisions of immigration law expanded from benefiting citizens to helping permanent residents keep their families together, as well.
But for Rachel B. Tiven, the executive director of Immigration Equality, which advocates for LGBT immigrants, there is another “critical priority,” namely that any immigration reform legislation incorporates “language classifying the same-sex permanent partners and spouses of American citizens as family members in a way that allows them a path to citizenship on par with that of different-sex spouses.”
The group estimates there are 36,000 binational same-sex couples living in the US.
The principle Tiven raised is embodied in the Uniting American Families Act first introduced years ago by West Side Democratic Congressman Jerrold Nadler. Though Nadler, with the support of allies on Capitol Hill, including the Hispanic Congressional Caucus, told Gay City News he has been assured by leading House immigration advocates that UAFA will be part of any comprehensive bill, it is not spelled out specifically in the Gang of Eight memo. The day after release of the memo, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, one of the Gang, warned that incorporating it into a Senate bill, expected to be drawn up by late March, would kill reform efforts.
Tiven criticized the memorandum and its authors for “failing to address same-sex partners.”
“Those who are pretending to be our friends and those who clearly are not are trying to scare us that the borders are not secure when they are and that putting gay and lesbian families in the legislation will weaken the bill, which is not true,” she said. “Don’t let people scare you into a bad deal. Don’t let legislators blame others for their cowardice.”
After the press conference, Tiven expressed concern that the fanfare about bipartisan compromise at the time of the Senate memo’s release could militate against adding provisions like UAFA to the bill as it is written in coming weeks. At this point, she believes the best shot for incorporating Nadler’s measure is in the legislation’s first draft, because the Gang of Eight could be motivated to resist amendments in the Judiciary Committee or on the Senate floor.
The moderator of the press conference, Chung-Wha Hong, who heads the New York Immigration Coalition, pressed Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), one of the Gang of Eight, to be more available to “local” advocates.
Hong told Gay City News, “He has to remember that he represents New York and is a national leader. We are his biggest asset. If he wants our help, he needs to respond to the efforts of his constituents.”
But Schumer’s office rejected the idea that he has been unresponsive back home.
[Schumer spokesman Max] Young said, “These claims are simply not based in reality. Senator Schumer not only just met two weeks ago with Chung-Wha Hong, the New York Immigration Coalition’s executive director, last week we informed them that we were looking forward to meeting with the group and offered a complete briefing on the issue. In addition, Senator Schumer over the last weeks has met with scores of the individual members that make up the group.”
Heather Morgan, a New Jersey-born marketing director for a non-profit organization who is a key person in the same-sex immigration issue, attended the press conference but did not speak publicly. In 2011, Morgan married Maria del Mar Verdugo, a marketing executive from Spain who has been in the U.S. on a work visa for the past three years.
The women, who live in West Harlem, would like to start a family but cannot do so unless Verdugo can be assured of staying in the US and being able to work to supplement the family’s income. They are one of five plaintiff couples in Immigration Equality’s lawsuit against the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which denies their marriage federal government recognition.
“We live every day with the uncertainty that tomorrow she will lose her job and I would have no legal recourse to sponsor her,” Morgan said. “The most disheartening part is that New York has come so far. Politicians we sent to Washington have a clear mandate from the citizens of New York about our right to marry, but are using us as bargaining chips.”