Uniting American Families Act update

(11 am. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

On Monday afternoon, I posted a diary discussing the Uniting American Families Act. It also got Front Paged here (thanks, benign overlord administrators) I also received an excellent e-mail about the issue.

I titled the diary “The gay rights bill you don’t know about.” I should have checked some tags first. Heh.

At any rate, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a very informative hearing on the bill Wednesday morning.

To recap, UAFA does one simple thing. It would allow American citizens to sponsor same sex partners for immigration just like married couples. The Senate bill is sponsored by Patrick Leahy of Vermont while the House version is sponsored by Jerrold Nadler of New York. Follow me below for a recap of the hearing.

First, a note on the legislative process would be helpful. Wednesday’s session was simply a hearing. The bill did not advance today. In fact, the ranking member Jeff Sessions requested the record be held open for a week. This means that the members of the committee have a week to add information to the official record. However, the important part — the public airing of the issue — happened Wednesday. Don’t expect any movement at least until next Thursday’s Executive Business Meeting.

If you want to watch the hearing, the two hour video is posted here. Yes, I watched the whole thing. Hint: Skip over the first 23 minutes. This was originally a live webcast, but the hearing started 23 minutes late.

Leahy is the chair of the committee (which certainly helped the bill get a hearing) and Jeff Session is the ranking member (and only Republican member of the committee who showed up for the hearing). Here’s some of the highlights (not in order) from the hearing.

Leahy: The chairman started off the hearing by acknowledging that the central argument against UAFA. is the possibility of fraud. In other words, two people (OMG perhaps two men or two women) might pretend to be committed just so that the non-citizen can get a Greed Card. “That (fraud) has always been an issue,” Leahy said, adding that he has every confidence in immigration officials can handle the issue.

Sessions: Unsurprisingly the Senator from Alabama argued that UAFA “amounts to a redefinition of marriage” and we can’t have that in light of the Defense of Marriage Act. He also made the fraud argument, but not very well. In fact…

Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies
: Vaughan has past experience with immigration issues. She actually made a decent fraud argument. She pointed out that immigration officials rely heavily on documentation when making decisions about a two people’s relationship. (Incidentally, employers and close family members can also sponsor immigrants for citizenship.) The huge variety of marriage certificates issued in the United States and abroad alone makes it hard enough to separate the legitimate unions from fraud. Interestingly she suggested repealing DOMA, which would cover not just immigration issues, but all manner of federal benefits for same-sex couples.

Senator Chuck Shumer
: Senator Shumer is also a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and chair of the Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security. The subcommittee is working on a comprehensive immigration reform package this year and he hopes to incorporate UAFA into any such reform. He countered the fraud claim with statements he has heard from immigration officials:

They say what truly engenders fraud is the current broken system which lamentably places bi-national same sex couples in the dilemma of being torn apart or breaking the law.

In other words, the current system encourages gays and lesbians to fake an opposite sex marriage just to obtain a green card in order to be with the people they really love. Yes, there will always be fraud. It shouldn’t matter who you love as the most important thing is that families are able to be reunited in the same country. For everyone looking to get a green card though, there is a long waiting list to actually get one as the Government only releases a certain amount of cards per year. The quicker people are able to submit their applications, the quicker they may be reunited with their family. To have a better idea of when this reunion could take place, applicants can take a look at the Visa Bulletin to see what the estimated time of their green card is. People shouldn’t have to fake who they love just to be able to obtain entry into another country.

Obtaining a green card after months or maybe years of going through the application process and having to face potential heartache will eventually be a relief. Holding this green card can help you and your family to start a new life in countries like the United States of America. This type of document is like gold dust and so it is important that you do everything you can to keep it safe, as if you don’t, you will have to replace resident card so that you are able to continue living in the country legally. It can be worse for people who are having to fake who they are to even get this type of document. “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” Shumer advised, meaning that no bill will eliminate fraud, but this bill will solve a lot of problems.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler:

What this unequal policy means is that tens of thousands of gay and lesbian Americans face a terrible choice between leaving the country to be with the person they love or remaining here in the United States and separating from their partner. Or, given the law in the other country, it may be impossible for the two partners to be together in either country. This runs directly counter to the goal of family unity, which is supposed to be the bedrock of American immigration policy.

Full statement here.

Nadler has introduced this bill nine times. That’s persistence.

Roy Beck: Mr. Beck represents Numbers USA. I swear this is the argument this guy made. His organization justifies xenophobia reduction of the number of green cards issued on environmental and economic grounds:

But nearly every new adult permanently added to the U.S. population through immigration legislation would be a potential competitor to unemployed and underemployed American workers. And every new immigrant increases the total U.S. carbon footprint and ecological footprint (and, because of increased consumption once they arrive here, increases the global footprints, as well).

Full prepared remarks here.

Got that? We’ve rehashed the “they’re takin’ our jobs” arguments here plenty of times, but the environmental argument is novel. Never mind that many immigrants are coming from countries with much worse environmental records than the United States and that the Obama Administration is actually interested in improving our record. That dude who just moved here from El Salvador is using too much electricity generated by U.S. coal plants.

To their credit, Numbers USA does not care about immigrants’ sexual orientation. They just want fewer immigrants in the United States — 75 percent fewer greed cards issued to be exact, according to the testimony. They also have a whole webpage called “No” to Immigrant Bashing. It’s something, I suppose.

Julian Bond: Bond is the executive director of the NAACP and a legendary civil rights leader. He assured the committee that the NAACP views gay rights as a civil rights issue. Additionally, NAACP sees the family unit as the bedrock of immigration, even if that includes same-sex couples.

Shirley Tan
: Ms. Tan is a resident of Pacifica, California. She is the mother of 12-year-old twin boys and is in a committed 23-year relationship with an American woman. If UAFA does not pass, Ms. Tan will likely be deported to the Philippines. She would have to leave her children and partner behind in California. Senator Diane Feinstein has sponsored a “private bill” that would extend the time that Tan can stay in the United States, but UAFA is the key to keeping this family together.

Gordon Stewart: Mr. Stewart is an American citizen living in London so that he can work for his employer, Pfizer, and be with his partner. He could live in New York and work for Pfizer’s American headquarters but the man he loves is too important. In Mr. Stewart’s own words:

I am an American citizen living abroad simply due to the fact that our country’s immigration laws forced me to leave the United States to be the with my partner, Renalto, the person I love.

Renalto (I think I spelled that right) is Brazilian and cannot even get a tourist visa to come to the United States. Brazil and the United Kingdom have a versions of UAFA provisions. However, emigration would mean one or both of these gentlemen would have to decide between their families and their partner. That’s not a decision anyone should have to make. Additionally from Mr. Stewart’s testimony, America’s loss is definitely Britain’s gain in this case. (As an aside, Stewart’s testimony indicated that Pfizer is one of the most LGBT-friendly companies in the country.)

Arlen Specter: Our newest Democrat on the hill took over the chairmanship when Leahy had to leave. He voiced his support for UAFA.

Sessions ended with submitting into the record opinions from Focus on the Family and the Eagle Forum. He also noted that the Catholic Church is opposing UAFA. What do they have to say?

Eagle Forum:

Suzanne Bibby is mobilizing our anti-amnesty and pro-family allies and is drafting Eagle Forum’s statement on S. 424, “The Uniting American Families Act of 2009.” This is a bill designed to allow visas to be issued for same-sex partners. Colleen and Suzanne are working on this and many other issues, including: health care, patent reform and hate crimes.

Thanks, Suzanne. This is mighty pro-family of you.

The Catholic Church:

Bishop John C. Wester of Salt Lake City, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Migration, expressed the Committee’s support for the Reuniting American Families Act (S. 1085) introduced May 20. He did so in a June 2 letter to Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ).

The Act proposes reforms to the family-based immigration system that would allow immigrant families to more quickly reunite in the United States.


“Unfortunately, however, while the bishops support many of the provisions in the Reuniting Families Act, your decision to include in the bill the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA), which would provide marriage-like immigration benefits to same sex relationships, makes it impossible for the bishops to support this year’s version of your bill.”

So they only care about helping straight immigrants. Stay classy, guys.

I couldn’t find a Focus on the Family statement about this, but presumably Dobson and company will not support any legislation that legitimizes teh gay. There’s like three Bible passages forbidding it. Never mind the hundred of passages about loving and accepting others.

So what can we do next? Immigration Equality has an online petition and tips for contacting Congress. HRC has a resource page. The Google is your friend on this.

More importantly, contact Congress. Here are the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. The House Judiciary Committee also has jurisdiction. Specifically, the Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security, and International Law Membership will likely consider both UAFA and broader immigration reform.

Here is the way to contact the House committee staff directly and here is the Senate Committee contact information. The Senate committee has separate contacts for the majority and minority. If anyone contacts the minority, let me know how that works out.

Finally, you can always contact your own Senators and Member of Congress even if she or he is not on the committee. Reference both this bill and discuss including the concept in any future immigration reform package. This will be a whole lot more effective than signing an online petition anyway.

Note: This will turn Orange Thursday afternoon during whatever lunch break I get.


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