Steve Ralls

Standing Up for LGBT Families in This Congress, This Year

Filed By Steve Ralls | November 18, 2010 6:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Action Alerts, Living, Politics
Tags: binational couples, comprehensive immigration reform, constitutional rights, immigration, Immigration Equality Action Fund, LGBT families, Robert Menendez, Uniting American Families Act

As the 111th Congress moves into its final weeks, the LGBT community has rightly recognized that the window for legislative victory on issues important to our movement is quickly coming to a close. And yet, while repeal of the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" ban has also rightly been a focus of LGBT advocate and allies, another issue with an immense impact on our families has now appeared on the lame-duck radar, too.

immigration_reform_now.jpgOn Tuesday, Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) announced that he had met with President Obama - and spoke with Congressional leaders - about the possibility of moving his comprehensive immigration reform bill forward before Congress goes home. Menendez's bill, the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2010 (S.3932), contains a number of measures to fix our country's broken immigration system. Among those is the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA), which would end the discrimination LGBT families face under current immigration laws, and allow LGBT Americans to sponsor their foreign-born partners for residency in the United States.

For the LGBT families who are facing separation or exile, time is - and always has been - of the essence. Immigration Equality's attorneys are hearing from more and more couples who are now separated, or exiled, because they cannot remain in the country together. In fact, in recent days, I have personally spoken to numerous couples who have already applied for residency in Canada, and are now preparing to leave the U.S. so they can remain together. There is no doubt that, for these families, passage of UAFA cannot come quickly enough.

In the bigger picture, though, passage of inclusive reform offers a very significant leap forward for all of rights, too. Passage of the Menendez bill would, indeed, mark the first time that LGBT couples receive federal recognition as a family. That, in turns, breaks down a huge wall that has long separated LGBT Americans and countless federal benefits.

In short, UAFA (either as a stand-alone measure, or as part of a larger bill, like the one sponsored by Senator Menendez) helps not only LGBT binational families, but every LGBT family, too. By mobilizing the LGBT and progressive communities behind this bill, and building support for consideration in the lame duck Congress, we can strike a blow against laws that have rendered LGBT couples invisible at the federal level.

Yesterday, the Immigration Equality Action Fund launched a national push to build support for the Menendez bill. The organization asked its supporters to call their Senators, and urge them to co-sponsor - and support passage of - Senator Menendez's bill.

In order to be successful, though, we need more than just binational families, and the wider circle of those impacted by this issue, to speak up now.

Senator Menendez told reporters on Tuesday that the White House is "ready and willing" to work on moving the bill forward. It is imperative that everyone who believes in federal equality for our families stand with Menendez - who stood strong against opposition from far-right voices and included LGBT families in his bill - by ensuring our own movement is ready and willing to push forward, too.

Just as repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" sends a strong signal that our country's largest employer cannot discriminate against those who have so courageously fought and died for our nation, passage of UAFA will be an unmistakable message that our families demand to be recognized by our federal government, too.

There is no doubt that the window of opportunity for moving forward, before lawmakers end their current Congressional session, is short. But if our community neglects to take advantage of it, we miss a critical opportunity to rally behind a bill that will not only ensure LGBT binational families aren't torn apart . . . but that will set the stage for huge advances for every LGBT family, everywhere.

To find your Senator, and ask them to support Senator Menendez's LGBT-inclusive immigration reform bill, click here and visit the Immigration Equality Action Fund online.

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I'm curious about one thing. When you write "Immigration Equality's attorneys are hearing from more and more couples," it makes me curious to know: do IE's attorneys actually act on behalf of these couples? Does IE actually offer attorney services to, for instance, these binational couples?
I'm curious because I was under the impression that IE does *not* have attorneys who actually act on behalf of clients. Or, do you mean, attorneys who serve as consultants for IE? If I'm wrong, I'd be glad to corrected.

Yasmin, I know from personally working with immigration equality, that YES they do have their own atty's. They have worked with me on trying to get my partner back to be with me. they filed all the paper work and even brought me to DC to meet them and to take me to capital hill to meet several congressmen.The Atty's there are true professionals. So yes they have a full legal staff and they try to help anyone that ask. ROI

Let me correct you, Yasmin . . . because you are absolutely wrong.

Immigration Equality has an in-house legal team that provides direct assistance to binational couples, detainees and asylum seekers. Indeed, we have added two additional attorneys to our staff in the past two months, bringing our total legal team to seven full-time staffers. They provide legal counsel and representation to couples and individuals like Roi (who wrote in above), and they also manage our network of pro bono attorneys as well.

As Roi, and other Immigration Equality client, can verify, we offer numerous legal services, and free legal counsel, to countless LGBT immigrant families.

I've met some of IE's clients and attorneys working for the org. Their stories are heartwrenching and I pray for the time that IE - and their lawyers - are no longer needed because LGBT-positive immigration reform finally happens.

Sadly, I think that's still a long way off. :(

Steve Ralls as well as the LGBT binational community know me well as a staunch critic of Immigration Equality; I resent IE's inability to advocate for UAFA as a stand alone and believe that their strategy has UAFA trapped in Comprehensive Immigration Reform. How can Menendez get his Bill through, if Guiterrez has yet to include us in his House version - which he said he would do? They have 15 days of session to get UAFA through, not tied in with Amnesty, Biometrics and Border Control. I hardly believe the waste in asking us to call for CIR during lame duch, when we can insist on it together with the DREAM ACT as a standing together, where no other issues cause our demise in deal making. The contradictions that Ralls makes are significant. If you go to IE's site at NO time have they called for UAFA as a stand alone in this session. In Fact in their most recent official release Tivens is asking GAYS to support Dream Act because it will help LGBT youth. That is not her mandate from binational couples and to ignore UAFA for its place as an equality bill, is unconscionable. The truth is I said this would happen on June 4th 2009 and I hate to say I was right. IE sold us out to the broader Immigration Community. Read this in context with all their postings over th past yer and you will be shocked.
They do a lot of great asylum work mostly referring out to pro bono attorneys. They turn away binationals all the time. I know because the community calls me!read my piece on LEZGETREAL; you can enter UAFA Immigration equality and hit search all my articles will come up. Greencards for same sex couples lowest priority would be a good one to read