According to Immigration Equality, more than 36,000 same-sex couples include a partner who is a non-citizen. And, at long last, at least a few members of Congress are stepping up to the plate to try and make life a little easier for them. In September, 4 more Senators and 18 Representatives signed on to co-sponsor the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA), a legislative proposal to finally level the playing field for lesbian and gay couples when it comes to U.S. immigration policy.
For many bi-national couples, our country's immigration law means more than a long-distance relationship. In many cases, it means keeping families with children apart. In others, it means forcing American citizens to make an untenable choice between the country they call home and the person they love. UAFA, which is now supported by 18 Senators and 118 lawmakers in the House, would end those difficult decisions and bring families together. It's a simple, common-sense solution that would make a world of difference to bi-national couples.
As Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT) recently said, "U.S. immigration law should not force Americans to leave their country and community behind in order to keep their family intact."
Under current immigration law, Americans cannot sponsor their same-sex partners for legal status in the United States. Though 16 other countries have modified their immigration laws to allow such sponsorships, the U.S. continues to deny that right to lesbian and gay couples, forcing yet another discriminatory law onto same-sex families.
"Because of the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman, even same sex couples which have been legally married in Massachusetts, California, Canada, the Netherlands, or Belgium, will not be able to immigrate based on their marriage," Immigration Equality says on its website. "Every day we hear from desperate couples, forced to choose between the partner they love and the country they love, which is why we are fighting to change the immigration law and end this discrimination."
One of those couples is Pamela Hathaway and Lucie Ferrari, who were recently profiled in the Wisconsin State Journal. Pamela, a U.S. citizen, is forced to use Skype to stay in touch with Lucie, who lives in Canada. And though they were legally married in that country earlier this year, the United States refuses to recognize their relationship, forcing them to maintain their marriage while living nearly 2,000 miles apart.
"We try and bring some normalcy to our situation," Hathaway told the paper. "But what's become normal now is really absurd if you think about it."
And, in addition to being absurd, it's also having an impact in Madison, where Lucie taught French before her adopted country told her to leave.
"A lot of kids, after she left, did not even want to take French anymore," said Nina Molina, a French and ELS (English as second language) teacher at Lucie's former high school. "She was great at motivating the kids. That's why we miss her so much."
"There are tragic stories about U.S. citizens being forced to make a choice between leaving the partner they love or leaving this country they call home," Congressman Christopher Shays (R-CT), who supports UAFA, recently said.
"Two people of the same sex can be involved in a loving, long-term relationship and feel no less love for one another than partners in a heterosexual relationship," Shays said in his statement. "Yet our immigration laws do not permit U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents to bring their same-sex partners into the United States."
But all that may soon change.
Julie Kruse, Immigration Equality's new legislative director, recently said in an interview that continuing to tell stories like those of Pamela and Lucie will, she believes, begin to have an impact on Capitol Hill.
"My philosophy of advocacy is bringing the voices of people impacted by policies to Congress and the administration," she said, noting that UAFA is all about what it means to be a true citizen.
"Since LGBT people are prohibited from participating fully in the rights and responsibilities Americans enjoy - the ability to get married, serve in the military, work without fear of discrimination, etc. - I feel we are not really full citizens," Kruse told Ambiente magazine. "That is something LGBT people have in common with many hard-working immigrants and their family members who contribute to our society, pay taxes and value family and community, yet are denied full participation in society."
To learn more about the Uniting American Families Act, and to ask your Member of Congress to become a sponsor, click here.