May 19, 2010 at 3:35 pm EDT | by Erwin de Leon
We must be vigilant on immigration reform

The Uniting American Families Act, which seeks to end inequalities in current U.S. immigration laws that leave lesbian and gay Americans unable to sponsor a partner or spouse for residency, is particularly important to bi-national families and their supporters. So when Immigration Equality held a conference call last Friday to share the latest developments on efforts to pass the bill, it drew a crowd.

But Julie Kruse, Immigration Equality’s policy director, confirmed things aren’t looking good for the bill. Due to the current political climate in which incumbents fear retaliation from their constituents, and the fact that Congress’ working days are numbered, no movement on immigration legislation is expected until after November. It’s more likely that financial regulation and climate change will be tackled in the months ahead.

Kruse said in an e-mail, though, she’s not ready to throw in the towel. She noted that recent developments such as Arizona’s anti-immigrant law have been game-changers in recent days on Capitol Hill.

She wrote that “there is a window of opportunity, albeit a short one, to tackle this issue this year. And there are champions in Congress who are pushing for that to happen. The chances of legislation passing before the mid-term elections grow slimmer the longer Congress delays action. But the important thing for our grassroots, and your readers, to know is this: It is imperative that we keep up the pressure on lawmakers until they do act. Now is the time to be outspoken and to urge lawmakers to tackle this issue.”

Another game changer has been the immigration reform framework released by Sens. Harry Reid, Charles Schumer and Robert Menendez at the end of April. It includes key provisions of the Uniting American Families Act which puts bi-national gay couples and their advocates in a good position.

“We are no longer supplicants,” Kruse said. “We are no longer asking to be included.”

Proponents of UAFA now have the psychological and strategic upper hand. Procedurally, it will be harder to amend or take out pro-LGBT language so long as our allies remain in the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Democrats have control of the Senate.

A participant during the teleconference raised a concern many of us share: the undue influence Roman Catholic bishops and other conservative leaders have on our legislators. While the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has expressed its concerns over the inclusion of gay couples in the Reid-Schumer-Menendez framework, it has not come out swinging as it did over abortion funding in the health care bill. Bishop John Wester, head of the Bishops’ committee on migration, has been quoted as saying, “It is way too early to say what is or not a deal breaker. I do feel, however, that this provision represents an emotional and long debated issue that should not be in this bill. We have worked long and hard on immigration reform and this will make the job all the more difficult.”

Moreover, Kruse contends that if the Catholic bishops were to oppose immigration reform, they’d be hard pressed to explain to their millions of followers, many Latino and foreign-born, why they are sacrificing the well-being of these faithful over a measure of equality to far fewer same-sex couples.

Kruse notes that it’s important to remember that “there is a large, diverse coalition of religious leaders — including those from the Methodist, Episcopalian, Jewish and other communities — who continue to champion an inclusive immigration reform measure. The people of faith who support us far out-number those who oppose us. Those faith communities understand, as we hope the bishops and evangelicals will in the end, that an immigration reform bill which helps millions of families can be inclusive of LGBT families, too.”

Immigration reform legislation will happen, and as long as we keep the momentum, it will include our families. We need to be vigilant; to continue putting pressure on senators and representatives; to support groups like Immigration Equality; to work with other leaders and organizations in the immigration reform movement; and to make sure that pro-LGBT and pro-immigrant candidates win in November.

You can follow Erwin on Twitter at @ErwindeLeon.

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