February 5, 2013 | by Chris Johnson
LGBT immigration group takes part in White House meeting
Rachel Tiven, Immigration Equality, gay news, Washington Blade

Executive Director of Immigration Equality Rachel Tiven took part in immigration talks at the White House. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Finding a legislative solution to ensure same-sex bi-national couples remain together in the United States is receiving renewed attention as an LGBT immigration group took part in White House talks on Tuesday on comprehensive reform.

President Obama held two separate meetings at the White House on Tuesday to encourage support for his vision for comprehensive immigration reform, which includes — as laid out last week in his plan — a provision that would enable gay Americans to sponsor a same-sex foreign partner for residency in the United States.

The meeting in the morning was with 16 immigration and progressive groups, such as the AFL-CIO, the Center for American Progress, the National Council of la Raza, the National Immigration Forum; the meeting in the afternoon was with 12 business leaders, such as the Goldman Sachs Group, Yahoo!, Deloitte LLP, and the Coca-Cola company.

Rachel Tiven, executive director of Immigration Equality, was among those who participated in the meeting with progressive groups and was the sole LGBT group at the table.

“I think it was really an affirmation of the strategy that Immigration Equality has developed over many years, which is that we wanted to be just as much the LGBT group at the immigration table, as we had already become the immigration group at the LGBT table,” Tiven said.

While straight Americans can sponsor their foreign spouses for a green card through a marriage-based application, gay Americans are unable to do the same because of the Defense of Marriage Act and because they cannot marry in many places within the country.

Tiven said she sought additional comments from Obama on bi-national same-sex couples during the meeting beyond the plan he presented last week, but wouldn’t elaborate because of the off-the-record nature of the discussion.

“I think what’s notable is the president is a busy guy, he doesn’t waste time, so he is committed to LGBT-inclusion because he believes it moves the bill forward,” Tiven said. “The advantage to pushing immigration reform forward is to include LGBT families, so that LGBT people can bring the political power that we brought to ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ repeal, to the landslide on marriage equality that we saw on Nov. 6 and everything else that we’ve accomplished over the past couple of years to comprehensive immigration reform.”

A White House spokesperson didn’t respond to a request for comment on what was said during the meeting about the inclusion of bi-national same-sex couples in immigration reform.

Although Obama has called for the inclusion of bi-national couples as part of comprehensive immigration reform, a Senate framework made public last week by a bipartisan “Gang of Eight” doesn’t include such language. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), one of the Democrats involved the discussions, said the issue of bi-national couples hasn’t yet come up in talks, although Republicans involved have been resistant to the idea — most notably Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who’s called inclusion of the language a “red herring.”

Nadler reintroduces UAFA

On the same day as the White House meeting, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) reintroduced into the U.S. House, as reported by the Washington Blade earlier in the week, standalone legislation that would enable gay Americans to sponsor “permanent partners” of the same-sex for residency in the United States.

“Our Constitution guarantees that no class of people will be singled out for differential treatment – and LGBT Americans must not be excluded from that guarantee,” Nadler said in a statement. “Moreover, any serious legislative proposal for comprehensive immigration reform absolutely must include gay and lesbian couples and their families.”

The legislation has the same degree of bipartisan support that it enjoyed at the end of the last Congress. Reps. Charles Dent (R-Pa.) and Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.) are original co-sponsors. Other supporters are House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), immigration reform advocate Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) as well as the openly LGB members of the House: Reps. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), David Cicilline (D-R.I.), Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and Mark Takano (D-Calif.).

“Discrimination of any kind, including against same-sex marriages, has no place in our nation,” said Hoyer in a statement. “I am proud to stand with Representative Nadler as he reintroduces the Uniting American Families Act to ensure that our laws protect and treat committed bi-national same-sex couples with the respect they deserve.”

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) has said he plans to reintroduce companion legislation in the Senate at a later time. Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) has indicated he’ll introduce next week the Reuniting Families Act, family reunification legislation that includes language for bi-national couples.

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

3 Comments
  • As half of a bi-national couple myself, I hope people like Ms. Tiven understand and realize the nearly impossible predicament that many bi-national couples find themselves in, as they are not able to obtain legal marriage easily or at all. Plus, years of economic and financial hardship, and anxiety from forced separation caused by DOMA has wreaked havoc on us. We've lost good paying jobs, seen our businesses and careers go south because we had to give priority to our loved ones separated from us; we've developed health problems from stress, and so on. My guess is that most bi-national couples have not been able to marry, and most of them are not living together in the United States, because the United States imposes too many barriers to anyone who wished to visit.

    The greatest possible gift could be that once things are set in motion, that our applications could be expedited and made easier for those couples known who have already been waiting in line for years. In fact we have not even been permitted to get into line!

  • Quite a shame that the only LGBT group to be invited =is the group that messed up the strategy for LGBT binationals in the first place. Surele other LGBT groups should have been represented? That said Tiven must take the blame for veering the LGBT immigration equality off course back in 2009 when we had a huge opportunity to advocate during the lame duck Congress consisting of majority in House, Senate and Presidency for UAFA as a stand alone Bill. Bottom line to be in a position now where the bipartisan group of Senators has excluded binational same-sex couples in indicative that her strategy has turned us into the inevitable political pawns in this senseless game. Thank goodness for President Obama, hopefully he will stick by us and refuse to sign a bill that excludes us. Where are the rest of the LGBT groups on this issue – why were you not there? AH , yes of course – ownership by Immigration equality licensed to hijack the strategy..

  • I feel the global community can teach us that gay marriages are a personal matter. That they are completely legitimate in all assessments of family life and marriages. The gay community is international, I feel the LGBT community will be able to take pride one day in welcoming all forms of compliance with American Citizenry and be able to stand tall in the face of confrontation, and say that the family they raised was partial to homosexual activity, with a complete account of the socialization that was involved.

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