December 25, 2009 at 2:58 am EST | by Chris Johnson
New immigration reform bill excludes LGBT families

Rep. Jerrold Nadler said he considers a new, alternative immigration reform bill that lacks provisions for LGBT families ‘a starting point in the long drive toward comprehensive immigration reform.’ (DC Agenda photo by Michael Key)

An alternative immigration reform bill introduced last week in Congress lacks sought-after language for LGBT families, but advocates of the provision remain optimistic the bill’s sponsor will support inclusion in future legislation.

Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) introduced the bill — titled the Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America’s Security & Prosperity Act — in the U.S. House along with more than 90 other Democrats.

Because the legislation would, among other things, offer a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, the measure is seen as a more liberal alternative bill that would set the tone for comprehensive immigration reform legislation next year.

But Gutierrez’s bill lacks a provision that would allow LGBT Americans to sponsor their foreign partners for residency in the United States. Advocates had been pressuring Gutierrez to include such language, which is seen as necessary to stop the U.S. government from keeping apart more than 36,000 LGBT bi-national couples.

Steve Ralls, spokesperson for Immigration Equality, said his organization is disappointed the lawmaker didn’t include this measure in his bill. Still, Ralls noted that he remains optimistic Gutierrez will support the provision in the path toward immigration reform.

“We are extremely disappointed, and we pushed very hard to have our families included, but I do take Congressman Gutierrez at his word that when the issue begins to move early next year that he’s going to stand with us,” he said.

In response to a query on why the bill excludes this language, Gutierrez said in a statement that he’s “committed to fighting for a bill that fixes our broken immigration system for as many people, and as many families as possible.”

“The process I am committed to being a part of in Congress will, I hope, address the unacceptable situation that lesbian and gay bi-national couples live under every day,” he said.

Advocates are hoping upcoming comprehensive immigration reform legislation will include a provision for LGBT bi-national couples. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) is expected to introduce the House legislation next year while Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) is expected to introduce the Senate legislation.

Additionally, standalone legislation already introduced in the House and the Senate — known as the Uniting American Families Act — addresses the issue. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) sponsors the legislation in the House and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) sponsors the legislation in the Senate.

An original co-sponsor for UAFA in the House, Gutierrez said his “commitment to ending discrimination against [LGBT] immigrants and their families has not diminished in any way.”

“Everyone’s goal should be a comprehensive immigration reform bill that includes a commitment to all families and honors our history as a nation of immigrants,” he said. “That is my goal, and it is inclusive of the [LGBT] community, too.”

Ralls noted many of the co-sponsors for Gutierrez’s bill are the same as the sponsors for UAFA and that he’s optimistic these lawmakers “will stand with us when the crafting of the working bill happens.”

“Congressman Gutierrez has been very clear throughout this process that, at the end of the day, when Congress takes up a multi-issue immigration reform bill, that he’s going to support our inclusion,” Ralls said.

In a statement, Nadler called Gutierrez’s legislation “a starting point in the long drive toward comprehensive immigration reform” and cited other opportunities to include UAFA in this legislative effort.

“I will continue to work with Reps. Gutierrez and Lofgren, as well as Senator Schumer, during this dynamic process,” Nadler said. “Comprehensive immigration reform will not truly be comprehensive if it excludes LGBT immigration rights, and I will not stop until those rights are a reality.”

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

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