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.