Steve Ralls

A Call for Inclusive Immigration Reform

Filed By Steve Ralls | February 09, 2010 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Action Alerts, Living, Politics
Tags: Creating Change conference, Immigration Equality, immigraton reform, LGBT Equality Caucus, LGBT families, Mike Honda, Mike Quigley, Tammy Baldwin, Thomas Saenz

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.


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Now if only we could help the LGBT community see how intertwined immigration and LGBT issues are. Other than visiting Immigration Equality's website (which is something worthy, don't get me wrong!), how can the average person help, Steve?

The powerful combination of Immigration Equality’s work in DC on the Hill and getting our stories into the press and the ongoing grass roots efforts to write/fax/call/e-mail/visit members of Congress is evident. Everyone needs to join in these efforts – do what you can to help pass the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA) in 2010, and make comprehensive immigration reform truly comprehensive - and inclusive.

Follow Out4Immigration on Facebook and Twitter, take part in the weekly actions through the change.org page, and become active in your State!

This is the latest action in our letter writing/e-mailing campaign that anyone can take part in - it's quick, easy and effective:

http://tinyurl.com/SchumerLofgren

PLEASE help those who have no voice, those LGBT families living apart or in exile overseas, those counting on 2010 being the year they can come home.

out4immigration.blogspot.com

Current United States Immigration laws amount to a situation in which denies two people who love each other the right to exist together. This is not to discount the other 1,138 federal rights are also extremely important - but families who are torn apart face a far greater challenge than other same gender couples who do not receive legal recognition and benefits.

While strict constructionist conservatives may assert that “gay and lesbian people have the same rights as heterosexuals to also marry a member of the opposite sex” - their assertion, if legally tested, would be met with criminal penalties for marriage immigration fraud for a gay or lesbian person to marry and sponsor someone of the opposite sex.

Therefore they are wrong, Supreme Court Justice Scalia is wrong - wrong to the tune of “a $250,000.00 fine for immigration fraud, deportation and five years in prison” wrong. Not that very many gay and lesbian people have any sincere plans to marry the opposite sex, but here is where this supposed "gays have the same rights as heterosexuals to marry EVEN the opposite sex" anti-gay rhetoric also fails the legal litmus test. And I doubt that Scalia or anyone in the anti-gay crowd would stand behind their rhetorical argument, put their money where their mouth is and actually post bail for someone trying to prove their assertion.

Absent the provision for same-gender sponsorship, current immigration law establishes a second-class of American citizens who pay taxes, yet are stripped of any legal right to sponsor anyone of either gender.

To remedy this inequity, gay and lesbian people should either 1) be allowed to sponsor a same-gender partner, or 2) be allowed to enter sham marriages and sponsor an opposite-gender partner and granted both a green card and immunity from immigration marriage fraud prosecution. But there should not be special laws that are designed to deliberately fence all gays and lesbians out of the immigration process.

The anti-gay political rhetoric is that supposedly gays and lesbians “tear apart families”. The false notion that gays and lesbians hurt any family is rhetorical fearmongering agenda-based speculation rooted in political ideology. Government-imposed anti-gay discrimination and homophobia is what tears apart families, these situation are living proof of real families, real kids, in real communities - not phony rhetoric. If the supposed “family-values” conservatives are really pro-family and pro-child, then they need to set up to the plate, put their money where their mouth is, can the rhetoric, stick to their core values of marriage, families and children and stop forbidding and prohibiting other people to have families. But I expect most to continue to pipe out hot-air political rhetoric and abandon their core principles any way that they can justify their argument with guilt-by-association comparisons to the laundry list of irrelevant peripheral situations. The rest of us need to stand up and support these efforts to truly make CIR to be “comprehensive” for all couples, families and their children.

I am the American half of a bi-national couple. The toll current US laws have taken upon my partner and myself are immeasurable. We are forced to live apart and are unable to even visit one another in the States, we must maintain two households, engage in expensive travel (and forego medical treatments in order to travel) among other things. Neither of us can be there when the other is sick, experiences a loss, or just needs a shoulder to cry on. I do not see how, in any way, separating us or couples like us has any positive impact upon our society whatsoever. Please support the UAFA and allow us to be united.

Tom's advice is spot-on: Everyone should be writing to their Members of Congress. We do know that past letter campaigns have been influential in bringing on new supporters for the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA) and its inclusion in immigration reform.

And Bil is correct, too: The LGBT and immigrant communities are intertwined. It is imperative that we work with our allies in the immigrant community to push for immigration reform that helps everyone: gay and straight, single and partnered, undocumented and vulnerable.

The lack of immigration rights for LGBT couples, I believe, is among the most heinous pieces of discrmination our community faces: The government is, essentially, dictating who we are allowed - and not allowed - to share our homes and lives with. And that is unacceptable . . . and should outrage us all.

I cannot understand why this does not simply make the case for UAFA as a Stand alone. How can such a powerful caucus not have the gumshen to get this through congress, on the basis of IN-EQUALITY and not on the basis of IMMIGRATION REFORM.

Why does each member of the caucus take one one other member of Congress and make a deal.

I do not understand why we are entering the complexity (or should I say why we have been cornered into it) of comprehensive immigration reform. Of course we should be included in CIR – but that ought to have been organic.

In the meantime these very congressional reps should have fought like crazy for us binationals and the egregious inequality we have suffered. This election year presents a missed opportunity which got us here. IE should have led us to a UAFA stand alone - but did not, veering off into the unknown abyss of immigration reform, within the context of a helathcare debacle and an election year??

So now that the Caucus is finally making the argument in such a forceful fashion, having been pushed by the fact that Schumer is planning to exclude us, I say get UAFA passed NOW.

This powerful Caucus ought to first attempt UAFA as a stand-alone in earnest. Before CIR is even announced. It can then be tacked on if need be. But please let us stop waiting for CIR- The argument for us is simple -E Q U A L I T Y first - immigration second.

The same people who told me that intro of a Private Bill was impossible for Shirley Tan are telling us that UAFA can never gain enough traction on its own, without CIR. I do not believe that - not until all the organizations take joint ownership of immigration equality reform. Steve IE must stop playing politics - leave that to the politicians - it is time to play aggrieved activist and work for an all inclusive civil rights movement. Melanie Nathan from www.lezgetreal.com ; binationals@privatecourts.com

Thank you for this article and for your work. I am an out queer white person who has been working as an ally to Latino immigrant communities for the past 6 years. I am proud to say that Rep. Baldwin is my Congressperson. I can't agree more with statements that emphasize the importance of seeing the immigrant community and the LGBT community as overlapping and intertwined. Tragically, it is the intertwining of racism and homophobia that has historically divided and conquered best efforts towards achieving human dignity and equality for all of us.

When I read the last comment, I was distressed.

Why would the word "in-equality" apply only to LGBT persons who cannot access the incredibly limited legal pathways to family based petitions and not to the 12 million plus undocumented immigrants who contribute positively to this country yet live in fear for their families and their lives every day?

If we want equality for ourselves as LGBT people, both U.S. citizens and immigrant, than we would be tragically mistaken to not be fighting for equal rights for the millions of immigrants in this country whose basic human rights are violated each and every day. What about single LGBT undocumented immigrants who have left children behind in their countries of origin who haven't seen them for years? What about undocumented same sex couples who have no pathway to legalization and who could be separated by deportation any day? What about LGBT immigrants who die from lack of health care in detention centers? What about their families? Or do they not count in the fight for "Equality?"

For those of us who are white LGBT people, where are we in the fight against the racism and dehumanization that underlies the scapegoating and fear of immigrants, whether straight or gay?

We cannot expect people to have our backs if we don't take a stand as allies to immigrants who are fighting for equality. If we want to overcome the tragic history of divide and conquer, this is our most urgent work to do.

With that said, please go to

www.reformimmigrationforamerica.org

to sign up for their action alert network in the struggle for Immigration Reform.

Cindy

E-Verify will not expedite the removal of illegal foreign labor across America? Nor will the local police 287 (G) federal training program to capture illegal immigrants around the country. Even the--TRUE--international fence that waits to be built correctly? Or any of the series of immigration enforcement laws designed for the SAVE ACT. But together, including the rescinding instant birthright laws to an illegal alien parent, can and will make a difference to our financial economy, that has been wrecked by unwelcome illegal labor and family members. Our government tells us their is a reduction in the unauthorized population that has settled here. But if the Tucson US Border Patrol agents express that for every--10--people who slip into America, only--ONE--gets apprehended. Or that there is no figure for illegal immigrants who have crept into our nation from Canada. Or having no true accounting of knowing who is departing by plane, ship, how many have ignored the expiration date on their entry visa?

Its all guesswork of how many of the population are here without "THE PEOPLE'S" permission. The government and open border cronies say numbers have dwindled to 10.5 million? But how can they agree on this exact number, when 1200 were detained from a clothing factory in California? Then we have 300 at a meat packing plant in Iowa? Now we have Koch food knowing hiring 161 foreign laborers and have been fined. Bear Stearns the now extinct financial house, estimated a number between 20 and 30 million. But whatever the number they still need to be removed? They broke our laws and therefore deserve not to be rewarded, Those politicians on either side who have pandered or taken money from open border lobbyists, should starting at mid-term election be ejected from office. We need to find fair lawmakers who believe in the working man and women first, not attributing to the businesses who buy their loyalty? Years have passed since true immigration enforcement and that was President Eisenhower in 1954, empowered the Immigration And Naturalization (INS) now remade as ICE to remove about one million illegal immigrants from the southwestern states.

Thousands left by their own accord, so as not to take the risk of being arrested and buses, trains and vehicles, hassled thousands back across the border. This proves it can be done? Then with a permanent, super-refined operation of E-VERIFY mandated throughout America--BY ATTRITION--can influence businesses to use it, or face serious consequences. Don't let open border pundits influence you that its full of errors. Visit the local Social Security office for work clearance. Opponents never explain in their diatribe, that this is a very easy solution. WE CAN WITH THE WILL OF THE MAJORITY OF THE AMERICAN PEOPLE, OPEN UP JOBS FOR AMERICANS TAKEN BY ILLEGAL LABOR. WE CANNOT AFFORD ANOTHER AMNESTY OR THE CONSEQUENCES OF MILLIONS OF MORE ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS ACCESSING GOVERNMENT ENTITLEMENTS. Learn what you can do at NUMBERSUSA & JUDICIALWATCH or call your federal representative at 202-224-3121. A good example of state politicians ignoring their commitment to their legal residents, is the near bankrupt state of the--SANCTUARY STATE of California.

No copyright on my commentary. Distribute Freely. American jobs for American workers?

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