The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a sweeping bill reforming current immigration law Tuesday, but LGBT groups expressed disappointment that the measure failed to include protections for same-sex couples.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, opted to withhold an amendment to the legislation allowing a U.S. citizen to sponsor his or her same-sex partner for permanent resident status (also known as a green card). Republican Senators had threatened to vote against the reform bill if it contained protections for gay and lesbian couples, and the White House reportedly urged Democratic lawmakers to scuttle the amendment to increase the bill’s chances of passage in the full Senate.
Democrats on the committee, including Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Leahy, voted to approve the bill without the amendment. Franken called his decision “the definition of a Hobson’s choice”—a scenario in which one is free to choose only one option.
The National Center for Lesbian Rights, GLAAD, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, United We Dream and Queer Undocumented Immigrant Project, Lambda Legal, Equality Federation and the National Center for Transgender Equality reacted with an open letter reiterating their support for inclusive immigration reform.
“We remain steadfast in our commitment to passing compassionate, comprehensive immigration reform that will provide a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented men, women and children living in our country, including at least 267,000 LGBT undocumented immigrants.
“We are disappointed that certain senators threatened the entire immigration reform bill simply because it affords 28,500 same-sex binational couples equal immigration rights. At the same time, we thank Senator Leahy for standing up for these families. A majority of Americans, 53 percent, believe that all consenting adults should have the right to get married and that gender should not play a role in who is considered family.
“It is unconscionable that lawmakers committed to equality and commonsense, humane immigration policy were forced to make a false choice between protecting the rights of same-sex binational couples and keeping a tenuous coalition together. This take-it-or-leave-it stance with regard to same-sex binational couples is not helpful when we all share the same goal of passing comprehensive immigration reform that provides a path to citizenship.
“Beyond the issue of same-sex binational couples, the bill addresses many issues that will particularly benefit LGBT people, such as eliminating the one-year bar on applying for asylum, providing protections for DREAMers and improving conditions for people held in detention facilities. These include important protections limiting the use of solitary confinement and explicitly prohibiting the use of this practice based solely on a detainee’s sexual orientation or gender identity. We will continue to work to improve the legislation as we fight for its passage because this bill is a historic step forward for all immigrants and the LGBT community.
“Our primary goal is to pass a commonsense, compassionate immigration reform bill that puts our nation’s undocumented men, women and children on a pathway to citizenship.
“We desperately need to reform our broken immigration system immediately because it dehumanizes, scapegoats and vilifies all immigrants, including LGBT immigrants. We will continue to advocate and support changes to the bill that will create the most accessible pathway to citizenship possible and allow all undocumented immigrants the opportunity to become citizens, and we will continue to ardently oppose draconian amendments that would make immigrants permanent second-class citizens and create undue hardships along a pathway to citizenship.
“Every day we fail to reform our system, 1,100 families are torn apart. As a nation, we pride ourselves on keeping families united, and our immigration policies should reflect our commitment to keep families together all families.
“We stand firmly that the following principles must be included if we are to truly have comprehensive immigration reform legislation:
· Provide a pathway to citizenship;
· Ensure that family unity is at the heart of immigration law and policy;
· End unjust detentions and deportations;
· Uphold labor and employment standards, and ensure that the enforcement of immigration law does not undermine labor and employment rights;
· Promote a dignified quality of life for border communities by ensuring border agencies uphold basic civil and human rights protections; and
· Ensure immigrant members of our community are not relegated to second-class status with fewer rights and benefits.”