News (USA)

Former congressman cites immigrant partner in Senate committee testimony

Former congressman cites immigrant partner in Senate committee testimony

WASHINGTON — Former U.S. Rep. Jim Kolbe of Arizona on Monday urged a Senate committee to expand its immigration reform bill to include a path to citizenship or permanent residency for immigrant same-sex partner partners, including his own.

Jim Kolbe

Kolbe, a Republican who represented the Tucson area in Congress for 11 terms, has a partner from Panama who had to leave the United States after his work visa expired, reported the Arizona Republic . Under current law, Kolbe could not sponsor his partner for a family reunification visa.

“I know, as the partner of an immigrant how difficult it can be to build a life and protect the system under the current system,” Kolbe told the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is holding a series of hearings on an 844-page immigration reform bill drawn up by a bipartisan group of eight senators.

The bill omitted married gay and lesbian binational couples, leaving out the Uniting American Families Act.

The exclusion leaves an estimated 40,000 foreign nationals caught in limbo because the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) does not provide spousal benefits to same-sex couples.

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“While this is an excellent starting point, I submit to you it is still incomplete. Families like mine are left behind as part of the proposal, Kolbe said. “Our laws should not separate American citizens from their loved ones for such unacceptably long periods of time,” he said.

Kolbe said that he and his partner, Hector Alfonso, will legally marry in May in the District of Columbia. The former congressman was recently appointed by President Barack Obama to serve on his Advisory Committee for Trade Policy Negotiations.

Kolbe, who served in the U.S. House from 1985 to 2007, came out as gay in August 1996 after his vote in favor of DOMA spurred efforts by some gay rights activists to out him. He won reelection that year, becoming the second openly gay Republican to serve in Congress.

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