Before a cheering audience at a Las Vegas high school, President Obama unveiled on Tuesday his much anticipated plan for comprehensive immigration reform, which includes a provision aimed at ensuring bi-national same-sex couples can stay together in the United States.
In a speech before supporters at Del Sol High School, Obama emphasized the need to pass comprehensive legislation to fix problems in the U.S. immigration code, but didn’t explicitly mention the provision in his plan that would enable gay Americans to sponsor foreign same-sex partners for residency in the United States.
“I’m here because most Americans agree that it’s time to fix a system that’s been broken for way too long,” Obama said. “I’m here because business leaders, faith leaders, labor leaders, law enforcement and leaders from both parties are coming together to say now is the time to find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as the land of opportunity. Now is the time to do this so we can strengthen our economy and strengthen our country’s future.”
Obama’s plan has four major parts: 1) enhancing border security; 2) cracking down on companies that hire undocumented workers; 3) holding undocumented immigrants “accountable” before they earn citizenship by, among other things, requiring them to pay back taxes with a penalty and learn English; and 4) streamlining the legal immigration system for families, workers and employers.
The president’s commitment to bi-national same-sex couples is found under the fourth pillar of his plan under the heading, “Keep Families Together.”
“It also treats 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,” the fact sheet states.
Also found in the fact sheet is a call to pass legislation along the lines of the DREAM Act, which would provide a path to citizenship for young, undocumented immigrants pursuing military service or a college education.
LGBT advocates have sought language as part of comprehensive immigration reform that would enable gay Americans to sponsor a foreign same-sex partner for residency in the United States. Current law could lead to separation for many bi-national same-sex couples — and in some extreme cases deportation of the foreign national in the relationship if they lose their immigration status. Standalone legislation along these lines is known as the Uniting American Families Act.
Rachel Tiven, executive director of the LGBT group Immigration Equality, said LGBT families are “elated” that language for them was enumerated as part of his proposal for immigration reform.
“When the president leads, Congress and the American people join him to stand for equality,” Tiven said. “From the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ to marriage equality, the president’s leadership has been effective, and critical, in winning real change for real families.”
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), the sponsor of UAFA in the U.S. House, also in a statement said he’s pleased Obama included same-sex couples as part of his immigration proposal.
“I commend President Obama for a comprehensive and inclusive proposal to solve some of the most vexing issues in American society,” Nadler said. “For 11 million immigrants who are stuck in the margins of the law, for tens of thousands of bi-national LGBT families caught in immigration purgatory, and for the many seeking to make an honest go at the American Dream, these principles of immigration reform are tremendously important.”
But that elation wasn’t shared by House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), whose Republican majority will have to approve any comprehensive plan before it reaches Obama’s desk.
“There are a lot of ideas about how best to fix our broken immigration system,” said Brendan Buck, a Boehner spokesperson. “Any solution should be a bipartisan one, and we hope the president is careful not to drag the debate to the left and ultimately disrupt the difficult work that is ahead in the House and Senate.”
In his remarks, Obama warned Congress that he would pressure them to pass his own plan if lawmakers cannot come up with a deal on their own for comprehensive immigration reform.
”If Congress is unable to move forward in a timely fashion, I will send them a bill based on my proposal and insist they vote on it right away,” Obama said.
A framework unveiled on Monday by a bipartisan “Gang of Eight” U.S. senators has similar language – although it conditions offering a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented workers to enhancing border security — but has no mention of bi-national same-sex couples.
An aide for Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), a leading Democrat involved in the talks, told the Washington Blade that language for gay couples “is among the many unresolved aspects of the negotiations, which is why it isn’t reflected either way in the outline.” But in an interview with “CBS This Morning,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said the issue isn’t “of paramount importance” and said its inclusion as part of the deal would be a “red flag” for him.
Asked about the absence of this language in the Senate framework during a press gaggle on Tuesday morning abroad Air Force One, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Obama believes it should be part of the package.
“The president believes that it should be included and that should come as no surprise,” Carney said. “As we’ve said all along, this is consistent with the principles he has laid out over the last four years.”