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Same-sex couples missing from Senate immigration plan

CHRIS JOHNSON | Washington Blade
Tuesday, January 29, 2013
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WASHINGTON — A blueprint for comprehensive immigration reform made public on Monday by a bipartisan group of senators contains no provision for bi-national same-sex couples, despite the push among LGBT advocates to include such language in immigration reform.

The document, the result of ongoing talks between a ”Gang of Eight” after the start of the 113th Congress, would enable a pathway to citizenship for the roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States. But this path to citizenship would be contingent upon tougher border enforcement measures.

From left: Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) at a news conference Monday to announce sweeping legislation to rewrite the nation’s immigration laws.
Photo: J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press

Additionally, young people brought to the country as children illegally — a group that would be eligible for citizenship under the DREAM Act — and seasonal agriculture workers would be given a faster path to legal status.

But the proposal lacks a long-sought provision that would enable gay Americans to sponsor a foreign partner for residency in the United States. While straight Americans can sponsor their foreign spouses for a green card through a marriage-based application, gay Americans are unable to do the same because of the Defense of Marriage Act and because they cannot marry in many places within the country. Standalone legislation that would address the issue is known as the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA).

Rachel Tiven, executive director of the LGBT group Immigration Equality, said she’s “extremely disappointed” that senators didn’t include UAFA as part of their proposal, but said the final die hasn’t yet been cast.

“Today’s framework is just that: a starting point, but not yet a bill,” Tiven said. “We will work non-stop to make sure our families are part of comprehensive immigration reform legislation when it is introduced. Any immigration bill in Congress must allow LGBT people to sponsor their spouse or permanent partner in the same way opposite-sex couples have long been able to under current immigration law.”

The bipartisan group senators who were involved in the talks on the Democratic side were Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.). With exception of Menendez, each of the senators are co-sponsors of UAFA, and Menendez included the language as part of his own version of comprehensive immigration reform legislation. Republicans involved in the talks were Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.)

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