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.