Immigration is a hot-button issue in the US, most often for reasons that are purely political rather than practical. On a practical level, though, immigraiton rights have a very human impact and America’s tangled web of immigration policies results in families being kept apart and even torn apart. This is the case for me and Tawn.
Two years ago I wrote about this issue and I’d like to take a few minutes of your day to write about it again, as there is some recent action taking place in the US Congress and if you are a US citizen or resident, we could use your help.
Uniting American Families Act (UAFA)
Under current United States immigration law, an unmarried citizen or permanent resident can sponsor an immigration visa for his or her opposite-sex partner.
Same-sex couples, however, are not afforded this right. Binational same-sex couples (one partner is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, the other a foreign national) make up an estimated 36,000 couples in the US, plus an untold number who, like me and Tawn, now live abroad.
Here’s an important point: Even though same-sex marriage is now legal in a few states, those marriages are not recognized by the US Federal Government including for immigration purposes.
This year for the fifth time, Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) have introduced versions of the Uniting American Families Act (HR 1024 and S.424) in both the House and Senate.
The act would add the term “or permanent partner” to those sections of the Immigration and Naturalization Act that apply to legally married, opposite-sex couples.
The act will afford equal immigration benefits to permanent partnerships – but it will also apply the same restrictions and enforcement standards including steep fines and jail terms for immigraiton fraud.
On June 3rd, for the first time ever, this proposed legislation received a hearing. Senator Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, bypassed the sub-committee process and held a full Judiciary Committee hearing for the bill.
The hearing featured Shirley Tan, a Filipina mother of 12-year-old twins from Pacifica, Calif., who is facing deportation despite having been with her partner for 23 years. Though Tan’s children and partner are American citizens, she cannot be sponsored for residency because her partner is female. Unless Congress takes action to pass UAFA, Tan will be forced to return to the Philippines.
Joining Tan as a witness was Gordon Stewart, Vermont native who was forced to sell his family’s farm and relocate to London to be with his partner, a Brazilian man. Stewart, who transferred his job with Pfizer Pharmaceuticals to the United Kingdom, has been welcomed in that country, where his partner received a visa to be with him. Under U.S. immigration law, his partner was unable to join him in the United States, and Stewart was forced to leave his family behind to be with the person he loves.
Other witnesses included Julian Bond, chairman of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and attorney Christopher Nugent, who represented the American Bar Association (ABA).
Here is an embedded playlist of the witnesses’ testimony, the first two of which are espcially compelling:
Reuniting Families Act (RFA)
Last week, California Representative Mike Honda and New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez introduced the Reuniting Families Act (RFA), an omnibus immigraiton reform bill that address the need to reform America’s family-based immigration system to end lengthy separations of loved ones, promote family stability and foster the economic growth that immigrant families have provided throughout our history. Specifically, the bill:
- Recaptures unused family-based and employment-based visas previously allocated by Congress which remain unused.
- Allows a green card holder to reunite with their spouses and minor children: The bill classifies the children and spouses of lawful permanent residents as “immediate relatives.” This would allow lawful permanent residence spouses and children to immediately qualify for a visa.
- Increases the per country limits of family and employment-based visas from 7% to 10%, eliminating the absurdly long wait times for individuals to immigrate from certain countries like the Philippines, China, and India.
- Allows orphans, widows and widowers to immigrate despite death of a petitioner.
- Ends discrimination in immigration law, allowing same-sex partners to reunite
The RFA is the first time that issues of binational same-sex couples has been included in comprehensive immigration legislation. Effectively, if RFA is passed it would address UAFA’s concerns.
The Democrats have been promising GLBT constitutents that once they control the White House and Congress, our families and our rights would finally be protected. That time is now and despite my feeling that there are also many other important issues which need to be addressed by the President and the Congress, I don’t think they have any good excuse left to not take action. Inequality is not excusable.
I would ask that you consider this proposed legislation and how it impacts people such as me and Tawn and then take the simple step of making your opinion heard.
There are two easy things to do:
- Email your Representative. If you do not know his or her name, you can go to www.house.gov and look it up using your zip code.
- Email your two Senators. If you do not know their names, you can go to www.senate.gov and look them up by state.
Online forms on each Representative and Senator’s website make it easy to quickly submit your thoughts. If you are at a loss for words, the most important thing they need to hear is that you want them to support the Uniting American Families Act and the Reuniting Families Act.
It is time to right this wrong and protect all American families. Please get involved and thank you for your support.
I was asked by Sion to provide a sample letter to your Senator/Representative. Nothing fancy is required; something as simple as this will suffice:
Dear Senator/Representative ______
As your constituent I encourage you to support the Uniting American Families Act (HR 1024/S 424). This act would bring an end to discrimination that results in American families being torn apart, discrimination that has already ended in countries such as Australia, Canada, Germany, France, Israel and the United Kingdom. Permanent, committed bi-national couples where one partner is an American citizen or permanent resident should be allowed the same immigration rights regardless of whether they are a same-sex or opposite-sex couple.