Activists Call for LGBT-Inclusive Immigration Bill

by Michelle Lim

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Sunday April 28, 2013

Members and allies of the LGBT community stood together in a nationwide push for comprehensive immigration reform last April 10. The A10: All in for Citizenship events, held across blue and red states alike, came at the heels of the exclusion of bi-national LGBT couples and their families in the Gang of 8's Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013.

While the Gang of 8's bipartisan Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act contained noteworthy victories such as a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants, including DREAMers, and the repealing of the one year deadline for individuals seeking asylum in the United States from homophobic and trans-phobic countries, the exclusion of the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA) from the base bill rendered it incomplete and disappointing to countless LGBT families struggling with existing crippling legislation.

"I am a DREAM Act beneficiary and in a bi-national relationship. Last night, as pieces of the bill’s text began to surface online, I held my husband tightly --knowing that the Gang of 8 had excluded our family from the Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill," said Felipe Sousa-Rodriguez, co-director of GetEQUAL, a non-profit advocacy group that seeks LGBT political and social equality.

Sousa-Rodriguez said he knew exactly what 40,000 families felt when they saw that the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA) was not included in the bill, adding, "Our community has fought hard for full recognition under the law in this country and our struggle for equality has not ended, but only just begun."

Activists and members of the LGBT community are looking to Democrats Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy or Senator Dick Durbin to introduce LGBT-inclusive amendments to the bill. The inclusion of the UAFA would be a huge step towards reconceiving the definition of American families to include same-sex couples and their children.

Currently, the federal government does not recognize same-sex marriages or civil unions, therefore withholding rights from LGBT families from which their heterosexual counterparts benefit. Immigration law regards bi-national couples -- even those with children -- as legal strangers. For couples such as Kelly Costello and her wife, Fabiola Morales, the battle for immigration reform is a fight to keep their family from being torn apart. The couple, who is expecting twins, were married in Washington, D.C. shortly after marriage equality was passed.

In spite of possessing a student visa and maintaining a legal status in the country, Fabiola, who is undergoing medical treatment for multiple sclerosis only available in the U.S., faces the threat of deportation when her visa expires. Within the parameters of the current bill, Fabiola has no pathway to citizenship despite her marriage and her growing family. However, under the UAFA, U.S. citizens or permanent residents would be granted the right to sponsor their same-sex partners for immigration giving Fabiola the right to be petitioned by her wife, Kelly.

"Failing to include LGBT equality in the bill sends the dangerous message that it is acceptable to continue to discriminate against certain groups of people. Same-sex bi-national couples should not be forced to choose between their love for America and their love for each other," said Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice in support of LGBT-inclusive reform.

Congressman Jim Kolbe lent his voice in support of LGBT-inclusive immigration reform in his testimony to the Senate where he talked about his twelve month separation from his partner, Hector -- a Panamanian immigrant, teacher and Fulbright scholar -- due to his inability to petition Hector for a green card.

Kolbe also indicated that excluding LGBT families in immigration reform reverberates not only within the LGBT community, but also within the nation’s economy through the loss of employees who were forced to emigrate with their deported spouses, recruiting opportunity losses when a job candidate was unable to bring his or her spouse or partner to the US, and the loss of valuable workers to countries with more supportive immigration laws for LGBT couples.

"It isn’t just major corporations that lose out; small business owners are also suffering," said Kolbe. "In Columbia, South Carolina, a restaurant owner with 25 employees recently made the difficult decision to close his business in order to move so he could be with his partner. In Los Angeles, a young entrepreneur who employed 30 U.S. workers shut his doors after his Canadian partner’s visa expired and they were forced into exile."

In an economy that is still struggling to regain stability, job loss has become an issue that affects not only members of the LGBT community, but the wider public as well.

"Our country is changing and our laws must change with it in order to protect all American citizens and their families, and to strengthen our position in an increasingly competitive, global economy," stressed Kolbe.

LGBT members of the community and their allies stand unwavering in decrying an immigration system that has historically denied them of equal rights in favor of a system that will not impose geographical boundaries on families and children that deserve the protection, dignity and respect of the country they call home.

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