Immigration Reform 2013: New Policies Should Prioritize Same-Sex Immigrants


Americans are delighted that Congress and the President have decided to make immigration reform a priority. A bipartisan group of senators, “The Gang of Eight,” led by Marco Rubio (R–Fla.) and Charles Schumer (D–N.Y.) released a framework for immigration reform that includes a guest worker program, border security, and a pathway to citizenship. The details of the bill will be hammered out over the next several weeks. The group has agreed to meet twice weekly with the goal of producing a full comprehensive bill in March 2013.

The bipartisan initiative will consider the impact on families and the economy. It will address social benefits, education, and employment. There will be measures for employers and “Dreamers”; however, the needs of the LGBTQ community are being ignored by the proponents of immigration reform.

Same-sex couples and naturalization reform in support of same sex couples is not a part of the immigration reform package being discussed and that needs to change. Steve Ralls, a spokesman for Immigration Equality, expressed his disappointment in the framework that “did not specifically include lesbian and gay families.” In order to have comprehensive immigration reform you have to make same sex marriage a priority. You cannot have a comprehensive reform bill that discriminates against a segment of the population it seeks to protect and address.

One of the earliest advocates for LGBTQ rights, Richard Adams, passed away in December 2012. His fight centered on changing the U.S. residency laws to include same-sex couples. When he and his partner Tony Sullivan were granted a marriage license in 1975, they filed for residency.  They received a terse, one sentence denial from the Immigration and Naturalization Service, “You have failed to establish that a bona fide marital relationship can exist between two faggots.” Since then, same sex couples have been fighting to overthrow the laws that deny them the same immigration status for foreign spouses as received by opposite sex couples.

The proponents of immigration reform argue that maintaining family cohesiveness is a primary motivating factor. They say maintaining the family unit of immigrants is a national priority of comprehensive immigration reform. President Obama and Rubio have both indicated that breaking up immigrant families is not the answer, but neither is willing to publicly acknowledge that this is exactly what is happening to same sex couples. Same-sex couples who have been lawfully married in other countries as well as in the states supporting same sex couples are routinely discriminated against when applying for a foreign visa for their foreign spouses. The discriminatory effect directly threatens whether families may stay together in the United States.

In October 2012, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano issued guidelines that same sex unions would be given positive recognition in immigration cases. DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano said the new guidelines make it clear that the “interpretation of the phrase ‘family relationships’ includes long-term, same-sex partners.” This would indicate that Napolitano recognizes that the immigration laws are having a contradictory and discriminatory impact on same sex couples. This should be an indication to the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” that comprehensive immigration reform has to include recognition and support for same sex couples and their families.

The bipartisan approach for immigration reform has the support of Republicans, Democrats, and President Obama. Obama who has made immigration reform a priority for his second term and made his own announcement stating that “the ideas I’m proposing have traditionally been supported by both Democrats like Ted Kennedy and Republicans like President George W. Bush.” It includes the support of farmers and labor unions. Ken Barbic, senior director of government affairs for Western Growers in Irvine noted the bipartisan effort is “one of the best signs we've seen in a long time.” AFL -CIO President Richard Trumka said his organization will mount a campaign to support comprehensive immigration reform. “We think everybody ought to have the right to work hard and to progress to citizenship.” 

That right to work hard and progress to citizenship rings hollow if it does not include same sex couples. Obama’s proposal for comprehensive immigration reform includes support for same sex couples. It calls for the treatment of same sex families as “families by giving U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents the ability to seek a visa on the basis of a permanent relationship with a same-sex partner.” In his speech on immigration reform, Obama said, “We’ve got to bring our legal immigration system into the 21st century, because it no longer reflects the realities of our time.”

Same sex couples are a reality of our time and the current immigration laws discriminate against them and destroy their families. In the 21st century, we have the opportunity to address that reality and correct it with true comprehensive immigration reform.