A bipartisan group of lawmakers has agreed on the outlines of a basic immigration proposal, but hasn’t addressed the issue of LGBTQ couples.
Right now, the Defense of Marriage Act prevents same-sex couples from sponsoring their foreign partner’s citizenship. In many cases, this pushes couples to spend months of the year apart, and forces others to return to their home countries where they may be subject to abuse because of their sexual orientation. The Department of Homeland Security’s current immigration guidelines instruct agents to take same-sex relationships into account when deciding who should be deported, but there is no ultimate guarantee over whether they can stay.
UCLA’s Williams Institute estimates that there are as many as 40,000 same-sex bi-national couples in the United States.
While the initial “Gang of Eight” plan does not mention LGBTQ couples, the White House has announced intentions to include them. Their proposal gives same-sex partners of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents the ability to seek a visa.
Sen. John McCain has called inclusion of same-sex couples in a final immigration bill “not of paramount importance at this time.”
“We’ll have to look at it,” McCain said during an interview on CBS. “We’ll have to gauge how the majority of Congress feels, but that, to me, is a red flag that frankly, we will address in time.”
The issue could be resolved by including the Uniting American Families Act in final immigration legislation. This bill gives gay couples the same rights as heterosexual couples in immigration procedures, allowing American citizens or permanent residents to petition for a partner’s legal immigration to the United States.
The Congressional Hispanic Caucus supports including same-sex couples in an immigration reform package, citing “the unity and sanctity of the family, including the families of bi-national, same-sex couples, by reducing the family backlogs and keeping spouses, parents, and children together.”
“If my wife happened to be originally from Brazil and we got legally married in the state of New York, I would not be able to bring her in with a path to citizenship to the United States, because our marriage is not recognized by the federal government,” Aisha Moodie-Mills, an advisor for LGBTQ policy and racial justice, said during host Melissa Harris-Perry’s Saturday panel. “That’s really the core of this, that the Defense of Marriage Act essentially prevents our marriages from being recognized as equal to everyone else’s.”
Immigration lawyer Michael Wildes argued that beyond the need to keep families together, there is a strong economic argument for building a way for same-sex couples to legally stay together in the United States. “There are people that have not built their businesses on your soil because of the disrespect their same-sex partner receives,” he said. “They cannot adjust their status or become permanent residents if they are here.”
Wildes continued, “The government recognizes our military now in same-sex partnerships and allows a band-aid to give them a J1 VISA to come over to the United States, or they’ll give a long-term business person a visa to be here and then their partner in life will get a visitor’s visa. That person then cannot work themselves. We are shooting ourselves in the foot.”
Some of these issues may be resolved when the Supreme Court rules on cases concerning California’s Prop. 8 measure and the Defense of Marriage Act in June.