In an overwhelming show of support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans with partners from abroad, a coalition of more than 400 faith leaders have called on Congress to pass the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA). The letter, first reported by Sarah Posner at Religion Dispatches, comes as Congressional leaders prepare to re-introduce UAFA, which would allow LGBT Americans to sponsor their partners for residency in the United States. Under current immigration law, tens of thousands of families face separation and exile because of discriminatory immigration laws.
The letter, released as part of the Faith Coalition for UAFA assembled by Immigration Equality, includes signatories from virtually every denomination, including Catholic, Episcopalian, Jewish, Methodist and Unitarian clergy and leaders, as well others. The statement is endorsed by faith leaders in red states and blue, and includes individuals from congregations in nearly every region of the country.
"Our diverse faith traditions," the coalition writes, "teach us to welcome and care for our neighbors with love and compassion. Of the many great injustices in this broken immigration system, family separation is one of the most egregious. . . . Immigration policies should make expeditious family reunification a top priority and should include all families as part of that foundation. For us, this is a clear matter of simple justice."
"We endorse the Uniting American Families Act," they conclude, "which upholds the fundamental value of keeping families together."
The coalition's letter follows endorsement of UAFA from groups such as the American Jewish Committee, Call to Action, Methodist Federation for Social Action, the North American Old Catholic Church and the United Methodist Church General Board of Church and Society, among others.
It also comes as a growing number of families impacted by UAFA face imminent separation.
In California, Judy Rickard is now separated from her British partner, Karin, whose visa options to remain in the U.S. recently expired. The two now remain in contact via Skype as they decide how to reunite and remain together. Other couples have already moved abroad. Last month, one Immigration Equality couple were granted residency in Canada after selling their home in Washington, D.C., when one partner lost his work visa as a result of the economic downturn. Despite receiving his Ph.D. with help from a U.S. government-funded scholarship, he and his partner were forced into exile. Another Washington couple - who were recently married - are facing many of the same questions as the American, who leads an Episcopal congregation, struggles to keep his Filipino partner in the U.S. with him.
This week's letter, which continues to garner new signatories, is a tremendous show of support for those couples, and a striking dissent from groups that have worked to exclude LGBT families from immigration reform.
"Frequently politicians and pundits point to large coalitions like the Conservatives for Comprehensive Immigration Reform, which includes leadership from the Catholic Church and the National Association of Evangelicals, as the sole barometer of what 'people of faith' want," Posner wrote. "But the signatories to the Immigration Equality letter . . . demonstrate how the leadership of mainline denominations, Jewish groups, Catholic advocacy groups, and individual clergy offer a pro-equality position. In particular, the inclusion of Catholic organizations like Catholics for Equality and Call to Action demonstrates the split between the church hierarchy and rank-and-file Catholics on the issue."
Last year, Sister Jeannine Gramick, a Catholic nun who recently headlined an Immigration Equality reception in Washington, told Posner that, "I'm a lifelong Catholic. I spend my life hopefully working for justice so that people can look and see there are Catholic people who at least try to be just and try to follow the Gospel," adding that she finds the arguments of those who opposes UAFA, "specious and I think their stand, personally I find it scandalous."
Gramick and others are, as the Faith Coalition statement now demonstrates, in the majority among their own flocks. And their statements, as Posner noted, "are essential."
Shirley Tan, a Filipina mother of twins who remains in the U.S. after receiving a private bill from Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) which stopped her deportation, told Posner in June that she hopes faith leaders will continue to speak out for families like hers. "I hope they will open up their eyes," said Tan, whose own petition to remain in the country was supported by the Catholic priest in her local parish. "There should be change now and equality for everybody. . . . I hope they will realize that love knows no boundaries."
For the full statement by the Faith Coalition for UAFA - and for information on how clergy can join the coalition's advocacy for the legislation - visit Immigration Equality online.