The drum beat for an immigration reform measure that includes LGBT families just got much louder.
Earlier today, 60 Members of Congress - led by Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) - released a letter calling on Congressional leaders, and the White House, to support an LGBT-inclusive immigration reform bill. The letter, which comes after news that Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is expected to introduce comprehensive immigration reform legislation soon, sends an unmistakable message: Including LGBT families in immigration reform isn't just the right thing to do, but brings votes to the table, too.
Today's statement was the work of the LGBT Equality Caucus, but the diverse list of co-signers represents lawmakers who are also part of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Congressional Black Caucus and Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, too. The diverse line-up of signatories includes Congressman Mike Honda (D-CA), who introduced an inclusive immigration bill last year; Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez (D-NY), who heads up the Hispanic Caucus; and Congressman Mike Quigley (D-IL), whose hometown paper, The Chicago Tribune, first broke the news this morning. They joined 57 other Members in insisting that any future legislation include the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA), a bill sponsored by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) which would end discrimination against LGBT families under U.S. immigration law.
"Currently," the lawmakers wrote, "U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents may sponsor their spouses (and other immediate family members) for immigration purposes. But, same-sex partners committed to spending their lives together are not recognized as 'families' under U.S. immigration law and thus do not have this same right. As a result, tens of thousands of binational families are either already living separately, face imminent separation, or have left the U.S. entirely in order to remain together. This is unacceptable, and we believe comprehensive immigration reform legislation must include a strong family reunification component inclusive of LGBT families."
"No one," they insist, "should be forced to choose between the person they love and the country they call home. It is time that our immigration laws kept families together instead of tearing them apart."
That's welcome news for couples like Judy Rickard and her partner, Karin, who are currently living in France, because Judy is unable to sponsor Karin for permanent residency in the United Staets. Last year, Judy took early retirement from her job in California in order to be with Karin, who is a British citizen. They - like the more than 36,000 other couples currently separated or facing separation - are counting on Congress to tackle immigration reform this year . . . and include families like theirs as part of the process. For all of them, time is of the essence, and today's letter helped move the ball forward not a moment too soon.
Now, the real work begins.
Though President Obama called on Congress to tackle immigration reform in his State of the Union address last month, there is no question that a successful effort will require an all-hands-on-deck campaign. It is why leaders in the immigration movement, like Thomas Saenz of The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), have spoken passionately about the need to bring LGBT families into the fold and build a strong coalition of allies working for passage of immigration reform.
Saenz, who gave the opening night keynote address at the Creating Change conference in Dallas, also hailed today's letter, saying that, "Recognizing how important familes have been to our national development, the central mission of our immigration system has always been to reunify families."
"In order to be true to that core value," he noted, "comprehensive immigration reform must fix our system to include LGBT families. Failure to do so would leave us with a flawed system that continues to tear apart families, contrary to our legal and constitutional traditions."
It is a call echoed by Immigration Equality, which recently expanded its Washington, D.C., office to ramp up efforts on Capitol Hill in support of LGBT-inclusive reform.
"This is the moment," Rachel Tiven, the group's executive director, said. "Introduction of comprehensive immigration reform legislation provides a unique opportunity to win a critical victory for LGBT families, and all families. We will work, non-stop, with our allies in the LGBT Equality Caucus, and the immigration rights movement, to do just that."
"Passage of immigration reform will require every family standing with their neighbors and loved ones to work for change," she added.
Couples like Judy and Karin are hoping voters - both gay and straight - do just that. For them, and so many others, it literally means the difference between living in the country they love, or living in exile to be with their loved one.
The full text of today's letter is available online here. And readers who want to take action in support of inclusive legislation can do so via Immigration Equality's website, by simply clicking here.