May 8, 2011 | by Chris Johnson
UAFA-inclusive family immigration bill introduced

Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) sponsors the Reuniting Families Act. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

A U.S. House member from California on Thursday introduced family immigration legislation that includes language allowing gay Americans to sponsor their foreign partners for residency in the United States.

Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) introduced the Reuniting Families Act, which has a provision that would protect bi-national same-sex couples as one of its six prongs to keep families together in the country.

During a conference call Thursday, Honda touted his legislation as a means to make U.S. immigration policy more fair for gay Americans and their foreign partners.

“RFA also ends discrimination in our immigration system by allowing same-sex permanent partners to sponsor their foreign national partners for immigration benefits,” Honda said.

The provision allowing gay Americans to sponsor their foreign partners for residency in the United States is identical to other legislation known as the Uniting American Families Act, which is sponsored by Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) in the House and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) in the Senate.

Rachel Tiven, executive director for Immigration Equality, praised Honda for including a provision for bi-national same-sex couples as part of his legislation.

“Separating families has an enormously expensive impact, it is a drain on the economy and separating Americans from their loved ones and forcing them to move abroad because they can’t keep their family together in this country is simply pointless,” Tiven said.

In addition to including UAFA-like language, Honda’s legislation would help shorten the wait times that can keep legal immigrants and their overseas loved ones separated for years. The bill would classify spouses and children of permanent U.S. residents as “immediate relatives” and exempt them from numerical caps on immigration.

“The reality is almost 6 million people are stuck the log jam of our family visa system,” Honda said. “The current system has not been updated in over 20 years, and many family members who apply for visas are not granted admission for decades — and that undermines their economic contributions to our country and encourages some frustrated relatives to resort to illegal migration.”

The Reuniting Families Act has 73 co-sponsors, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) as well as gay Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Jared Polis (D-Colo.). The co-sponsors are all Democrats; no Republicans have signed on in support.

Rep. David Cicilline, another gay lawmaker, isn’t among the co-sponsors. His office didn’t respond on short notice to explain why his name isn’t on the list of supporters.

During the conference call, Honda said he intends his legislation to be a marker to set the tone for debate on larger comprehensive immigration reform legislation in the 112th Congress. President Obama is set to give a speech on Tuesday calling for the passage of legislation to reform U.S. immigration code.

“It’s to also tell our citizens and those with legal permanent resident status to be part of the movement for a comprehensive package for everyone in this country,” Honda said. “I’d like to make sure that we just go through the arc once and just fix all the holes and make sure that this thing we call immigration system … is a better vessel for people that we’re trying to care of.”

Until comprehensive immigration reform can be passed, Honda called on Obama to issue a moratorium to stop the deportation of foreign nationals in same-sex unions who would eligible for married-based green cards if not for the Defense of Marriage Act.

“The president has at his disposal certain kinds of statutory existing powers that he can stay a deportation process,” Honda said. “He can put in a place a situation where folks will be held in abeyance and allowed to work and allowed to continue their lives until such time that we correct our immigration system.”

Last month, Honda was among the 47 U.S. House members, who, along with Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), wrote the Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security Meanwhile to stop the deportations of foreigners in legally recognized same-sex marriages in the United States.

In the 111th Congress, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) sponsored the Senate version of the Reuniting Families Act, but he has yet to introduce this bill this year.

The version of the bill that Menendez previously introduced didn’t include a provision for bi-national same-sex couples, although the legislation was similar in other respects to Honda’s bill. However, at the end of last year, Menendez introduced larger comprehensive immigration reform legislation in which the both the Reuniting Families Act and the Uniting American Families Act were provisions.

Menendez’s office didn’t respond by deadline to a request to comment when the senator would reintroduce the Reuniting Families Act or whether it would include a provision to keep bi-national same-sex couples together in the United States.

Steve Ralls, a spokesperson for Immigration Equality, said he thinks Menendez will likely again introduce comprehensive legislation this Congress that would include both Uniting American Families Act and the Reuniting Families Act.

“Sen. Menendez would be the best person to talk about the Senate CIR strategy, but my expectation is that we will see an inclusive, all-encompassing Senate bill which incorporates the various other bills, such as UAFA and RFA, into one,” Ralls said.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

9 Comments
  • CIR is not a necessity in the current economic climate. It essentially amounts to gifts to foreign countries and their citizens who believe American laws don’t apply to them.
    The so-called “Dream Act” is a slap in the face to everyone in America, citizen and immigrant alike.
    Instead of reawakening the American Dream it benefits only the children of unregistered foreign nationals who are here illegally. It is a reward for having ignored US law. That will never be popular with anyone but foreign nations and their citizens.
    Families are frequently formed in the US and regardless of their makeup should stay together. But whether they should remain in America as a unit should be dependent on several factors.
    Foreign nationals who serve in our military should be given citizenship along with their immediate families.
    But it is not needed to grant amnesty to everyone who sets boot in the country.
    Rather than these congressmen concentrating on making life easier for foreigners who break American laws, perhaps they would serve their own country better by including Americans in their plans.
    If they want the Dream Act so badly, make it a Dream for everyone.
    Along with provisions for citizenship for illegal foreigners, include 100% government loan financing at 1% or 2% interest with simple terms for all citizens who want to go to college.
    That would cost the government nothing, revitalize the higher education system in America and encourage a smarter populace. It would also boost the economy in ways not yet imagined.
    And include something to avoid kicking our registered foreign students in the teeth by offering permanent status to them for completing college and working for a US company for five years.
    That would make the “Dream Act” a real dream for everyone instead of just foreign nationals.
    Concentrating on the wants and needs of any one race or outside country when Americans could use help means that you congress critters are either counting on all these unregistered foreign citizens becoming Americans before re-election time or you think the American People are just plain stupid.
    Our own civil rights people learned the hard way that you can’t get away with calling people racist if you are yourself. Our laws are not discriminatory because they apply to everyone. If we make exception for certain races or countries then they would indeed be discriminatory.

    • You certainly picked a good screen name. Your rambling is confusing, hate filled, and has nothing to do with the article. Go Back to FOX!

    • Hi my friend ugly amrican…

      DO u believe in love and feeligs?? if u believe then think abt living without ur wife and child for 4 yrs……and then write something ….i am sure ur voice and tone vl be different….i am not in the favour of dream act but certainly in the favour of Reunite family act….this is more rational and human…..We should not waste 50000 visas for dv lottery instead of that just pass the reunite family act…..

    • That is very well said and should be published for more to read and re-read!!!

  • Awesome! So this would possibly make it happen quickly and before UAFA or DOMA repealed?
    Would love to know the chances of this changing as it sounds like it could happen quickly???
    Also foreign partner is that mean you have to have a civil union or marriage or is ‘defacto partnership’ recognised? I ask because we are defacto (4 years) and never wanted the piece of paper unless it’s necessary if you catch my drift…
    Anymore info would be helpful.
    thanks

    • Rachelle,

      Honda’s bill would enable gay Americans to sponsor their foreign same-sex partners for residency in the United States regardless of whether or not these couples are married, in a civil union or have no legal relationship recognition.

    • Hi Rachelle,

      I am following this discussion for a while – and even though it seems like there could be some movement now, you might keep on pursuing other options to keep your family together. Don’t get me wrong, hoping that this is going to happen soon, but I wouldn’t bank on that … (would love to be proven wrong with my assessment btw. ;-) ) Until UAFA is passed (or DOMA repeal): keep fighting (check out http://www.immigrationequality.org)

  • Dear Ugly American.
    I’m an American woman living in Spain with my Spanish wife. After being together for years and living here, I would like to come home and live in the US and of course with my wife. If she were a man, then that wouldn’t be a problem. Since the US federal gov’t doesnt recognize same sex marriages, we don’t have the option to go to the US. Putting immigrant’s rights aside, what about my right as an American to live in my country and live with the person I love and have been with for many years and plan on being with this person in the future? I think your opinions are reactionary and you don’t see the whole picture and every one who is affected. We are following the rules and my wife is not living in the US and we’re waiting here for the law to change over there. So don’t assume that every one affected by these things are breaking the law. Gay people are such a small percentage of the population (2% of men and 1% of women) and gay americans with partners from a different country is an even smaller percentage. So really, it’s not like you have to worry about gay foreigners running rampant through the streets of your wholesome american town.

  • What about the inherent unfairness when if someone that is not from Mexico or the Phillipines who is petitioned by a US citizen parent will get a green card sooner than if someone who is from Mexico or the Phillpines that started the process in 2001! Make everyone wait the same time, num-nuts.

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