Will LGBT Amendments Bring Down Immigration Reform?

by Conswella Bennett
Tuesday May 21, 2013

As the Senate Judiciary Committee continues to hammer out a comprehensive immigration reform bill, some raise concern over the LGBT amendments that would positively impact thousands of same-sex couples, but could also simultaneously jeopardize the measure.

The Immigration Reform Bill, formerly known as the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act (S.744), is currently undergoing a markup process in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, the Democratic chairman of the committee, is charged with debating and amending the so-called "Gang of Eight" bill.

As the Associated Press notes, Leahy has prepared amendments that would allow gay Americans to sponsor their partners for U.S. residency, in the same way heterosexual married Americans can. Additionally the LGBT amendments would allow married same-sex Americans to obtain gain green cards for their foreign born spouses.

It’s amendments like these that are giving LGBT organizations hope about bill becoming an actual comprehensive inclusive piece of legislation. Even the partisan conservative gay group, the Log Cabin Republicans, seem to be on the same side as Leahy and other Democrats who are urging for LGBT inclusion.

"We feel [the bill] should add the needs of same-sex bi-national couples," Gregory T. Angelo, executive director of Log Cabin Republicans, told EDGE. "Same-sex bi-national couples should receive the same deference in immigration reform as their straight counterparts." Angelo says immigration reform has always been a hot button topic but it’s imperative that it be addressed.

"The time is now for such legislation that recognizes the same-sex bi-national couples because now more states recognize same-sex marriage," Angelo said. Currently, 12 states recognize marriage equality.

Other LGBT organizations are optimistic about the bill finally becoming more inclusive as well.

"We’re definitely enthusiastic about the prospects to be able to break a broken system," Stacey R. Long, director of public policy and government affairs with the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, told EDGE.

In a press release sent out earlier this month, LGBT advocacy organizations united in order to share their support of the measure.

"Our primary goal is to pass a common sense, compassionate immigration reform bill that puts our nation’s undocumented men, women and children on a pathway to citizenship," the statement by the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, National Center for Lesbian Rights, GLAAD and the Queer Undocumented Immigrant Project, reads. "That pathway will provide at least 267,000 LGBT undocumented people the opportunity to become full participants in our economy and our democracy."

The statement goes on to say that comprehensive immigration reform "is an urgent priority for our nation and the LGBT community" and that the bill must "provide a pathway to citizenship; ensure that family unity remains at the heart of immigration law and policy; end unjust detentions and deportations; uphold labor and employment standards and ensure that the enforcement of immigration law does not undermine labor and employment rights; promote a dignified quality of life for border communities by establishing oversight mechanisms to ensure border agencies uphold basic civil and human rights protections; and ensuring immigrant members of our community are not relegated to permanent second-class status."

Long said it’s a sad reality that undocumented workers live in fear of being deported. Their families are constantly worried that they will be torn apart from their loved ones, which is why Long says improving the pathways to citizenship is key.

According to an April 16 CNN article, "the bill calls for a 13-year path to citizenship for those who entered the U.S. prior to 2012. It would take 10 years for undocumented workers to get a green card, and then another three years to gain citizenship. Along the way, undocumented workers would have to pay a fine and back taxes, and pass a background check. The legislation also mandates that there be no path to legality until it is determined that the U.S. Border with Mexico is secure."

Some argue, however, that undocumented workers are a financial drain on the country. But, Long, referring to a "Center for American Progress" report released last week, says the research shows the opposite.

According to the report, "the economies of each state also stand to gain large benefits if immigrants are put on a path to legal status and citizenship." The report gives a breakdown of the economic gains for 24 states: "The resulting productivity and wage gains ripple through the economy because immigrants are not just workers - they are also taxpayers and consumers. They pay taxes on their higher wages and they spend their increased earnings on the purchase of goods and services including food, clothing, and homes. This increased consumption boosts business sales, expands the economy, generates new jobs and increase the earnings of all Americans."

The documents also state if the 11.1 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S. were provided legal status, then the 10-year cumulative increase in the gross domestic product, or GDP, of the country would be $832 billion. Similarly, the cumulative increase in the personal income of all Americans over 10 years would be $470 billion.

Although, there is momentum behind the bill there are other legislators and religious groups that feel that the proposed LGBT provisions could bring down the bill’s passing.

AP reported earlier this month
that religious officials, like Richard Land, a leader of the Southern Baptist Convention, believe including gay rights provisions to the immigration bill could backfire and kill the measure all together.

"We’re extremely hopeful that this bill will remain an immigration bill and not get tangled up with the issue of gay rights," Richard Land said. "But if it did, if it did, the Southern Baptist Convention would not be able to support the bill."

Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, called the amendments "a divisive distraction that must not derail immigration reform." Additionally, Jim Wallis, head of the Christian social justice group Sojurners, said "this is the wrong place at the wrong time" to discuss marriage equality.

Even half of the "Gang of Eight" (the four Republicans) have criticized Leahy’s LGBT provisions, including Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and say the amendments will destroy the measure.

"If that issue is injected into this bill, this bill will fail. It will not have the support. It will not have my support," Rubio said in an interview.

Long is troubled by the negative feedback and feels that it simply boils down to people having basic human rights. Maya Rupert, policy director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, echoed Long’s sentiments.

"We’re obviously disappointed to hear the rhetoric," Rupert told EDGE. "Honestly, you’re talking about around 38,000 same sex couples. We’re not engaging those. We’re talking about equality."

Another feature of the comprehensive bill that Long is pleased with, is for immigrants - especially those who may be seeking protection because of their closeted sexuality - to be able to seek asylum. Currently, those who come to the U.S. seeking asylum must apply for a visa within one year of arriving in the country. Under the Senate’s "Gang of Eight Bill", that one-year dead-line will be lifted.

The bill will make it easier for the spouses and children of asylum-seekers to gain admission as well, and it will also give the State Department more leeway to designate and move refugees.

Rupert said the goal is to make sure that the bill is as "absolutely inclusive as possible." Of the progress so far Rupert feels it’s a great first start as they continue to work with allies to get the bill passed.

"Immigration reform is long overdue, it’s ill-equipped to serve a lot of people," Rupert added. "These discussions are long overdue." In Rupert’s opinion, immigration reform is a LGBT issue.

"It’s not one provision that impacts the LGBT community, they all do," she said. "We cannot afford to be a single issue. We don’t have just one issue here."

"We’re mobilizing and pulling out the stops to make it happen," Long said of working to get the immigration reform bill passed. "We’re rolling up our sleeves and getting it done."

While a number of LGBT groups remain positive, AP reported on Tuesday that "two people familiar with the Senate immigration deliberations" claim the White House suggested to Leahy that he might not want to push for his LGBT amendments until the bill goes before the full Senate. Although President Barack Obama supports the LGBT inclusive measure, he is still likely to sign the immigration bill if it does not include the LGBT provisions.

Leahy has not said whether he will seek a vote on the provision in the committee. As AP notes, he could bring up the amendments again when the measure enters the full Senate.


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