The Republican senator from Maine credited with being a leader in the legislative effort to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” has signed on to legislation that would enable gay Americans to sponsor their foreign same-sex partners for residency in the United States.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) on Wednesday became the 27th co-sponsor of the Uniting American Families Act, saying in a statement the legislation would modify the immigration code to treat bi-national couples the same whether they’re gay or straight. The Human Rights Campaign announced the news in a blog post Wednesday morning.
“This legislation would simply update our nation’s immigration laws to treat bi-national couples equally,” Collins said. “More than two dozen countries recognize same-sex couples for immigration purposes. This important civil rights legislation would help prevent committed, loving families from being forced to choose between leaving their family or leaving their country.”
Under current immigration code, straight Americans can sponsor their spouses for residency in the United States through the green card application process if their spouses are foreign nationals. The same rights aren’t available to gay Americans. Consequently, foreign nationals who are in committed relationships with gay Americans may have to leave the country upon expiration of their temporary visas or face deportation.
Rachel Tiven, executive director of Immigration Equality, told the Washington Blade that Collins’ decision to co-sponsor the legislation demonstrates the problem facing same-sex bi-national couples is something both Democrats and Republicans can work to resolve.
“This is a bipartisan issue, as we’ve seen in the tremendous energy and support around our business coalition, which has more than 25 Fortune 500 companies really talking to Republican offices all the time about why this a business issue for them,” Tiven said. “It really crosses all boundaries because if talented people have to leave the country because of immigration discrimination against LGBT families, that’s a loss for everybody.”
Collins’ newly announced support for UAFA makes her the only Republican in either chamber of Congress to back the legislation. In the House, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), who’s considered the most pro-LGBT Republican lawmaker in that chamber, doesn’t co-sponsor UAFA, even though she’s a co-sposnor of DOMA repeal legislation. Conversely, Collins hasn’t signed on as a co-sponsor to the DOMA repeal bill, which is known as the Respect for Marriage Act.
Her co-sponsorship of UAFA is also noteworthy because in 2010 she was among the “no” votes on another immigration-related bill called the DREAM Act, which would have offered young, undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship if they pursue a college education or military service.
Advocates have sought to include UAFA as part of larger immigration reform legislation that was under discussion during the 111th Congress when Democrats controlled both the House and Senate. But that larger bill never advanced beyond the introduction of LGBT-inclusive legislation that was co-sponsored only by Democrats.