Effort to Include Gay Partners Threatens Immigration Bill

by Kilian Melloy
Wednesday Jun 3, 2009

As competing visions for immigration policy collide in Congress, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has demonstrated the church's scorn for same-sex families once again by ditching immigration reform and the associated issues of social justice as viewed in one version of pending legislation, rather than support anything that smacks of family equality for devoted gay and lesbian couples.

A June 3 article in Politico reported on how the church-affiliated organization had dropped its support for the bill in question, called the "Reuniting Families Bill," rather than give support to families suffering enforced separation due to existing policies that refuse to recognize partnerships between same-sex couples.

The move echoes those of Catholic charities who have abandoned efforts to place children in need of adoption rather than conduct themselves in accord with state laws barring discriminatory treatment of same-sex families looking to provide a child in need with a stable, loving home environment.

The Bishops' group sent a letter to sponsor Mike Honda, a Democratic congressman from California, claiming that the inclusion of language in the bill to provide for same-sex couples "would erode the institution of marriage and family by according marriagelike immigration benefits to same-sex relationships, a position that is contrary to the very nature of marriage, which pre-dates the church and the state."

The process for such erosion of marriage by extending legal protection to the committed partners of Americans and legal resident aliens was not detailed, but no one in the faith community seemed to want to know how such damaging effects would be propagated.

Instead, that general line of thinking seemed to be adopted wholesale and without critical analysis by others in the faith community.

The article cited the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference's leader, Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, as deriding the effort to protect same-sex families threatened by exiting immigration policies.

Rodriguez characterized the measure as a "slap in the face to those of us who have fought for years for immigration reform," and predicted that "the very broad and strong coalition that we have built on behalf of comprehensive immigration reform" among evangelical faiths would collapse at the prospect that same-sex couples might derive some benefit from the bill.

That, in turn, might derail immigration reform altogether: said Rodriguez, "Good luck trying to pass comprehensive immigration reform without the faith community behind you."

Honda stood up for the principle behind the bill, saying that the needs of gay and lesbian families "are easily discarded as part of the process" of government.

Said Honda of the treatment that gay and lesbian families receive under existing law, "It's too big of an issue to me for it to be treated this way."

The article noted that the bill coincides with a push, called Reform Immigration for America, to overhaul laws concerning immigration issues.

Media reports in the wake of the success of Proposition 8, the California ballot initiative that rescinded family equality in that state, have noted that Hispanic voters tended to follow the instructions of the Catholic church in voting against the marriage rights of gay and lesbian citizens. The Politico article noted that Hispanic voters supported the revocation of family rights by 53%.

The article also notes that the Catholic Bishops' group continues to support another bill that New Jersey Democrat Robert Menendez sponsored, which also seeks to bring family members of immigrants and citizens to America from overseas--as long as they are not same-sex spouses or partners.

In the case of Honda's bill, consideration is extended for "permanent partners" of either gender. Anti-gay critics object to the measure for reasons of their own, while others worry that such a measure might increase immigration fraud.

Yet another bill to provide for same-sex families has been introduced in the U.S. Senate by Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman, together with New York Democrat Jerrold Nadler.

The Politico article said that one individual expected to testify before the House on the need for Honda's bill is Shirley Tan, whose female partner has obtained legal residency in the United States.

Tan came to the U.S. after her mother and sister were murdered and she herself was hurt by the killer. Tan fears that if she is repatriated to the Philippines, she will be murdered by the same individual, a cousin.

But Tan, the mother of 12-year-old twin sons, was denied residency and then arrested and scheduled for deportation. Democrat of California Dianne Feinstein has sponsored a bill that would allow Tan to remain.

Had Tan and her partner been a man and woman, say advocates for the bill, Tan's partner's residency could have been extended to Tan.

Advocates pointed out that the "permanent partners" bill does not address marriage equality issues, but rather seeks to extend equitable treatment to same-sex families.

Said American Bar Association immigrants rights committee co-chairman Christopher Nugent, "This is not about marriage. This is about parity in immigration law for same-sex gay and lesbian partners," adding that the bill was "about equal protection, about eradication of historic discrimination against gays and lesbians and about keeping families together."

By "historical discrimination," Nugent, who will also testify, was referring to provisions in American immigration law that barred entry to gays and lesbians until 1991.

But conservative critics say that the measure could create new opportunities for immigration fraud.

The Center for Immigration Studies, which is a conservative group, objects to the measure on those grounds. Said the Center's policy studies director, Jessica M. Vaughan, [The bill] does not seem like a serious effort to reform immigration law, because it does not offer a reliable method for officers to make a decision to establish someone's qualifications to apply for this benefit"--in plain English, the bill does not offer a foolproof method for determining that two individuals seeking the entry of one person based on the other's citizenship or legal residency truly are in a committed relationship.

The New York Times, in a June 2 article, related details about Sen. Leahy's bill, the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA).

Sen. Leahy, the article said, is skipping the subcommittee preliminaries and taking the bill straight to the Judiciary Committee. Hearings were set for June 3.

Despite language that would provide citizens and legal residents with the right to petition for residency for their same-sex partners, the bill may well pick up momentum from a number of rallies scheduled to take place this week.

President Obama is also showing signs of enthusiasm for immigration reform. The article said that Obama had extended an invitation to Democrats and Republicans alike to "launch a policy conversation," in the words of an official quoted in the article.

The New York Times article reported that language to extend legal parity to same-sex couples was not seen as the major obstacle for immigration reform, however. Rather, an initiative that would grant residency to 11 million currently illegal immigrants is seen as more problematic.

The article noted that a similar initiative on immigration reform was attempted by the Bush administration two years ago, but failed due to opposition from Republicans.

However, this round of immigration reform has found support not only among churches and farmers, but also from labor groups.

Said Leahy of the "permanent partners" provision in his bill, "I just think it's a matter of fairness."

The advocacy group Immigration Equality refutes the idea that extending legal provisions to same-sex partners will lead to immigration fraud.

At its Web site, Immigration Equality takes on that question directly, stating, "The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), currently charged with enforcing U.S. immigration laws, will be able to apply the same standards that it applies to marriages in determining whether a permanent partnership is genuine.

"Permanent partners, like married couples, would be required to prove emotional and financial commitment through documentation such as: jointly owned property; shared child custody; joint bank accounts; joint credit cards; shared insurance policies; evidence of a commitment ceremony; and photographs of shared vacations and holidays with extended family.

"Applicants for permanent partnership benefits would face the same rigorous 'green card' interview as married couples. If the interviewer suspects fraud, the couple would be required to complete a second more rigorous interview in which the couple is questioned separately and the interviewer determines whether the answers are sufficiently consistent.

"Criminal penalties and deportation for fraud provide an increased deterrent against sham marriages, and they should do the same to deter against sham permanent partnerships."

The site's text offered more details, going on to note, "Moreover, as with any family-based petition for immigration benefits, the sponsoring [United States citizen] or [legal permanent resident] will be required to submit an Affidavit of Support on behalf of her or his partner.

"The Affidavit of Support is a binding contract between the sponsor and the government which permits the government to sue the sponsor if the immigrant accesses means-based benefits before working for an aggregate 40 quarters (generally, ten years) or becoming a U.S. citizen. The Affidavit of Support provides another strong deterrent against fraud.

"Finally, like married couples, partners who have been together for two years or less are only eligible to apply for conditional residence. Conditional residency requires an additional interview with immigration officials at the end of the two-year conditional status to show that the couple is still together and that the relationship was indeed bona fide. Conditional residency is another deterrent against fraud."

The site also explains who would qualify under the new law, were it to pass.

"Under the UAFA, to qualify as a permanent partner, a person must be able to show: (a) a relationship with another adult in which both parties intend a life-long commitment; (b) financial interdependence; (c) exclusivity; (d) inability to marry in a manner that is 'cognizable' under the INA ["Immigration and Nationality Act," under which the new regulations would operate]; and (e) absence of close blood relationship."

Immigration Equality also denied that the "permanent partners" provision would be the equivalent to marriage equality.

"A permanent partnership is not equivalent to marriage. The UAFA does not seek to add same sex couples to the category of spouse in the INA.

"Instead, it creates a new category of relationship, permanent partnership, which is recognized under the INA. Although an application for permanent partner status under the INA would be subjected to the same intense scrutiny as a marriage-based application, a successful application would confer no benefits other than immigration status for the foreign national.

"Permanent partnership is therefore analogous to local domestic partnerships that only confer limited, enumerated rights to the couple, such as the ability to include a domestic partner on a health insurance policy."

As to why "permanent partners" provisions are needed, the group offered the following observations: "Many adult gay and lesbian individuals fall in love with a foreign national of the same sex and seek to build a life and family with that individual.

"U.S. immigration law does not recognize same-sex relationships, however, and this discriminatory practice often forces the couple to separate or move abroad in order to stay together.

"The UAFA seeks to fulfill the promise of family unification in the U.S. immigration system by extending immigration eligibility to the foreign-born partners of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent resident partners."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


  • J Bacellar, 2009-06-03 14:47:39

    It seems to me that if this pass Genesio Oliveira And Tim Coco won’t need to keep waiting for Eric Holder to make up his decision. Why Sen. Patrick Leahy did not included them in the hearing since they have helped spread this issue? I guess when Tim Coco, said " GLAD, Immigration Equality and the American Civil Liberties Union all declined to get involved in the case.", he was right. I saw a new video made by Genesio that is wonderful. There he quote The President Obama "You said, "You read about some injustice and you say, Thats not right. Some one should fix that. We realize no one else is going to fix it if you don’t." and Genesio quote: "With all due respect Mr. President, our situation is not right and you should fix it." You Should see that. it is beautiful. Covered in goosebumps.. Does anyone know what happened to them?

  • , 2009-06-04 16:08:47

    Funny thing. When I grew up and went to church every Sunday, I thought Christianity was about loving one another. Turns out, I was wrong. It’s about exclusivity, arrogance, and in general, being very mean to anyone who’s different. Silly me. Thanks to those Bishops for clearing that up.

Add New Comment

Comments on Facebook