The office of Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) received on Thursday via hand delivery 6,500 petition signatures from LGBT rights supporters urging him to include bi-national gay couples as part of comprehensive immigration reform.
The signatures — collected over the course of one day — were the result of the efforts from the LGBT grassroots advocacy group GetEQUAL in coordination with the pro-immigrant organizations Presente.org, DRM Action and Uniting We Dream.
According to the LGBT group Immigration Equality, Schumer is the only one of the 10 Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee who hasn’t committed to supporting amendments that would include bi-national couples as part of immigration reform. Given Republican opposition, Schumer’s vote will be necessary for a majority vote in committee to amend the larger bill.
Felipe Sousa-Rodriguez, co-director of GetEQUAL, personally handed the names to Schumer’s staff on Thursday as part of a group of about a half-dozen activists.
“It’s interesting because he’s making a political mistake,” Sousa-Rodriguez told the Blade. “The whole reason why this is even happening is because of Latinos, and Latinos hold the key to the White House. But 64 percent of voters support the inclusion of same-sex couples in immigration reform and 59 percent of Latino voters support same-sex marriage. Latinos have turned a page, the country has turned a page, but D.C. keeps being stuck in the ’90s.”
A Brazilian native who’s married to a U.S. citizen, Sousa-Rodriguez is an undocumented immigrant who came to the United States at a young age and would be able to gain citizenship through a marriage-based green card application if the immigration reform included the provision for bi-national couples.
Cesar Vargas, executive political director of DRM Action Coalition, represented pro-immigrant groups who want to see the inclusion of bi-national same-sex couples as part of a reform bill pending before the Senate.
“During 2012, we worked during the campaign season to ensure that the Latino community was heard and to ensure that Democrats and positive-minded Republicans were on board [with immigration reform],” Vargas said. “But … we fought for immigration reform for all families, not to exclude anyone else. So, that’s one of the things that we want to send to Sen. Schumer that New York voters and Latinos from New York are demanding immigration reform for all families and not just for a few.”
The staffer who received the signatures on behalf of Schumer was Veronica Duron, who embraced Sousa-Rodriguez when he came into the office because the two knew each other before she started work with the senator.
Duron noted that Schumer is a co-sponsor of the Uniting American Families Act as a standalone bill, but couldn’t say the senator could commit to a vote to include the measure as part of immigration reform at this time.
“I don’t know; that’s the question we’ve been asking,” Duron said. “In every scenario, how we can possibly have UAFA in the bill and still get it to pass on the floor? And so, we’re trying to come up with best scenario possible to get it in the bill and still get it to come to the floor and get 60 votes.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee will on Monday begin considering family unification issues relevant to immigration reform, which would include two amendments filed by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) for bi-national gay couples. Consideration of family unification issues is likely to continue for the period of that week.
One of the amendments mirrors UAFA, which is for “permanent partners” and the other would be limited to married bi-national same-sex couples. Both measures, according to legal experts, would be inoperable in the event that the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down the Defense of Marriage Act.
Meanwhile, Senate Republicans continue to express opposition to the idea of including bi-national same-sex couples as part of immigration reform. On Tuesday, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a member of the committee and the “Gang of Eight” that produced the bill, tweeted, “If the Judiciary Committee tries to redefine marriage in the immigration bill they will lose me and many others.”
His comments are along the lines of what Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) have said in opposition to the idea of including gay couples in the bill. Additionally, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) made comments to the Washington Blade urging Leahy not to include the pro-gay amendments.
Nonetheless, Sousa-Rodriguez said his organization is focusing its attention on Schumer because his vote is necessary for unanimous support among the Democrats on the committee.
“Sen. Schumer is the only Democrat that hasn’t committed to the inclusion of UAFA into the bill in the committee,” Sousa-Rodriguez said. “All of the other Democrats on the committee already agree that they will vote for UAFA and he hasn’t yet, so that’s why we’re doing this right.”
Asked whether an immigration bill without these LGBT provisions is worth supporting, Sousa-Rodriguez said it would still protect LGBT people — noting that among the 11 million undocumented immigrants are an estimated 270,000 LGBT people — but maintained the package could be better.
“UAFA is key piece of legislation that we want to include in order to protect our families as well,” he said.