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The Same-Sex Stumbling Block to Immigration Reform

1392509_rainbow_flag.jpgSince the immigration reform bill was introduced, several senators have proposed their own amendments to the legislation seeking to enhance the immigration-related rights for their constituents. Senator Patrick Leahy (VT-D) is no exception. Senator Leahy introduced an amendment that, if passed, would have granted gay Americans the right to sponsor their foreign national same-sex partners for a marriage-based green card.

However, Senator Leahy withdrew his amendment from consideration early last week. The Senator stated he did so “with a heavy heart” and that he will continue to strive to integrate same-sex immigration rights into future legislation.

The Same-Sex “Poison Pill”

Although there are currently an estimated 30,000 same-sex couples living in the U.S., and recent public opinion polls state that the majority of Americans support gay rights, Republicans referred to Senator Leahy’s amendment as a “poison pill,” threatening to halt immigration reform in its entirety if the amendment stayed on the table.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, one of the members of the ‘Gang of 8’ who drafted the original bill, stated that he would not be able to convince his South Carolina constituents to support the bill if it contained gay rights provisions. Additionally, faith-based groups that normally promote immigration reform have also been reluctant to continue their support in the face of gay rights amendments.

How Current Immigration Laws Treat Same-Sex Relationships

Under current U.S. law, in order to qualify for a marriage-based green card the couple must present immigration officers with proof that the couple’s marriage is bona fide and was not entered into for immigration purposes. However, even if same-sex couples present this evidence, immigration officers will not approve their green card application because of a U.S. law called the Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”) which defines marriage as the union of one man and woman. It also defines spouse as either a husband or wife of the opposite sex.

Thus, not only will immigration officials not approve a green card case for same-sex couples, but they will also not approve derivative visas for nonimmigrants, (such as H-4 visas, which are for the spouses of H-1B workers).

The LGBT Community Voices Their Disappointment

Gay rights advocates have already begun contacting Senator Leahy and asking him to introduce his amendment as its own bill once the Senate starts its immigration debates next month.

Additionally, a number of democrats have stated that they will no longer be donating to the Big Tent Party until the democrats who are already in office align their actions with their gay rights rhetoric.

The Rant

The immigration reform process has been picking up speed and it is projected that the Senate will vote on the proposed bill in the next month. While this is heartening for immigration advocates, the present exclusion of same-sex immigration benefits is detrimental to many U.S. citizens who are left without options for uniting their families. Continue to check back with ImmigRantings for updates on this and other critical immigration issues.

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Senator Introduces the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act, ImmigRantings, May 6, 2013