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Could UAFA pass as a floor amendment to immigration reform?

LGBT groups support bill despite exclusion of bi-national gay couples

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Chuck Schumer, Charles Schumer, New York, United States Senate, Democratic Party, gay news, Washington Blade
Chuck Schumer, Charles Schumer, New York, United States Senate, Democratic Party, gay news, Washington Blade

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has raised the possibility of UAFA as a floor amendment. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

In the wake of a Senate committee decision to exclude bi-national gay couples from immigration reform, LGBT rights supporters are turning to a possible floor amendment as a way to salvage inclusion in the bill.

LGBT groups working on the issue — Immigration Equality and the Human Rights Campaign — told the Washington Blade they’ve asked Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) to offer the language as an amendment when it comes before the full Senate as expected this month.

Steve Ralls, a spokesperson for Immigration Equality, said discussions are underway to push for a floor amendment along the lines of UAFA, which would enable gay Americans to sponsor their foreign partners for residency in the United States, but a lot depends on the case before the Supreme Court challenging the Defense of Marriage Act.

“I can tell you if the immigration bill is moving toward a vote before we have a Supreme Court DOMA ruling — or after we have a bad Supreme Court ruling — a floor option is something we very much want to look at,” Ralls said. “We’re kind of in two competing timelines here; it’s not entirely clear how quickly the immigration bill will move forward for a vote, and we don’t know exactly when we’re going to have a Supreme Court ruling.”

Bombarded by accusations on his Facebook page that he betrayed the LGBT community by asking the Senate Judiciary Committee to hold off on the amendment, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) in response raised the possibility of a floor amendment.

“I’ve been a lead sponsor of the Uniting American Families Act for a number of years and I believe and desire that its principles should be included in the immigration bill,” Schumer writes. “There will be an opportunity to add it to the bill on the Senate floor.”

But none of the groups involved say they’ve received commitments from Leahy that he’ll introduce the amendment on the Senate floor, nor has the Vermont senator publicly committed to offering the amendment.

Jessica Brady, a Senate Judiciary Committee spokesperson, said she doesn’t have anything to offer in terms of public commitment for offering UAFA as an amendment on the floor.

“I’m going to have to refer you back to Sen. Leahy’s comments in the markup, when he said he would continue to fight to take discrimination out of the law,” Brady said. “He didn’t specify if he would offer an amendment on the floor.”

Moreover, finding the 60 votes on the Senate floor to end a filibuster on UAFA is significantly more difficult than obtaining the simple majority needed for passage in committee.

Assuming all 54 members of the Democratic caucus support UAFA — and the votes from Sens. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), Mark Landrieu (D-La.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who don’t support marriage equality, are in question — five Republicans would need to vote “yes” in addition to Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), the only GOP co-sponsor. The Democrats are now short one vote following the death of Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.).

Ralls said finding the necessary 60 votes to end a filibuster on the Senate floor will be “tough,” but he expects Schumer and other Democrats in committee who couldn’t bring themselves to vote for amendments out of fear of losing Republican support for immigration reform to find support for a measure for bi-national couples on the floor.

“I think all of the Democrats on that committee who told Sen. Leahy not to offer the amendment last week owe to our families and they owe it to Sen. Leahy to find the path to 60 votes if we need them to get us there,” Ralls said.

The White House has talked about the possibility of UAFA as a floor amendment to immigration reform once it reaches the Senate floor. Under questioning from the Washington Blade on Friday, White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest said he thinks “there is an amendment process on the Senate floor where this could be considered, so I don’t want to predict the outcome at this point.”

On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Schumer said he expects the immigration bill to see action soon on the Senate floor — meaning the question of whether UAFA will be introduced as a floor amendment will have to be answered soon.

“We’re going to put immigration on the floor starting on June 10. I predict it will pass the Senate by July 4,” Schumer said. “We’re hoping to get 70 votes — up to 70 votes, which means a lot of Republicans.”

LGBT groups continue to back reform

Even without the provision for gay couples, LGBT groups are continuing to say they support the measure because it contains other provisions that would directly impact the LGBT community and provide a path to citizenship for the estimated 267,000 LGBT people who are among the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country.

Among the provisions that directly impact the LGBT community is repeal of the one-year deadline on filing for asylum — a deadline that many LGBT asylum seekers in the United States miss because they’re unaware of it or lack the financial resource to meet it — and improvements in immigration detention facilities to benefit transgender detainees.

In a conference call with reporters, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, GLAAD and GetEQUAL highlighted these aspects of immigration reform to bolster its support among LGBT people.

Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, was among those who said the provisions related to asylum and detentions facilities are important to the work done by LGBT advocates.

“We also recognized early that the bill will impact many more LGBT people than simply would be impacted by UAFA,” Kendell said. “We have seen some of the most horrific stories of damage done, discrimination, harassment, terrorizing [involving] LGBT asylum seekers and detention facilities in this country.”

Ralls acknowledged that Immigration Equality continues to support the immigration bill despite discontent over the lack of UAFA-like language in the legislation.

“We’re very disappointed that the bill does not currently include binational families, but as the LGBT organization that speaks to more immigrants than every other group in our community combined, we support the bill, as it includes important provisions that would help many of those individuals, many of whom are our clients, too,” Ralls said.

Fred Sainz, HRC’s vice president of communications, also said his organization still supports immigration reform even without language for bi-national gay couples.

“We are committed to immigration reform,” Sainz said. “Undocumented individuals that happen to be LGBT will immeasurably benefit from immigration reform.”

Meanwhile, the Republican-controlled House has its own “Gang of Eight” working on its version of reform, although the legislation that group of lawmakers produces, as Ralls noted, isn’t expected to include a provision for bi-national gay couples.

“Our strategy all along has been we want to be in the Senate bill, that if a Senate and House bill go to conference, we can rely on our champions in both chambers to make sure that we stay in the bill that reaches the president’s desk,” Ralls said.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), sponsor of UAFA in the House, would likely be the one to amend the bill to include the provision, but given the conservative nature of the House, amending the bill in either committee or the floor to include UAFA seems unlikely.

Ilan Kayatsky, a Nadler spokesperson, said plans for what will happen with the House bill after it’s unveiled by the House “Gang of Eight” are unclear.

“We still don’t know what form or process the House CIR bill will take, so it’s premature to sort out the UAFA specifics just now,” Kayatsky said.

What happens if the Supreme Court strikes down DOMA?

The best hope for bi-national couples may be a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court on pending litigation challenging DOMA, the federal law prohibiting federal recognition of same-sex marriage. The Obama administration has consistently cited this law, and only this law, as the reason why married bi-national gay couples are ineligible for a visa through the marriage-based green card application process.

Moreover, UAFA would no longer be operable for these legally married couples if DOMA were struck down. Even though UAFA provides a path to residency for “permanent partners,” it would no longer provide relief for couples in these states because the law, under Section 2, subsection D, only applies to those who are “unable to contract with that other individual a marriage cognizable under this Act.”

But the situation is murkier for bi-national couples who live in states without marriage equality. Will someone living in Texas be able to sponsor someone as a “permanent partner” or will they have to travel to a marriage equality state, wed, and then apply for a green card through a marriage-based green card application process? What if they cannot leave the state out of financial constraints?

Ralls said the way Immigration Equality interprets UAFA, the law would still have some use in non-marriage equality states even if DOMA is struck down.

“In some ways, it would make it simpler for couples in non-married states, they would not have to travel, they would be able to apply from their home state for their green card,” Ralls said. “So, in some ways, it’s broader and it applies to couples in all 50 states without forcing them to travel.”

Jon Davidson, legal director for Lambda Legal, said he can’t say at this point under what circumstances a bi-national same-sex couple in a non-marriage equality state would be eligible to apply for a visa if UAFA were law and DOMA were struck down.

“I don’t believe there is a definition of that term in the bill and the focus has been on creating relief from DOMA, not the range of reasons that might make it impossible to travel to a state where same-sex couples can marry,” Davidson said. “Indeed, if the bill were to pass, a court might interpret ‘unable to contract’ to reference legal inability not practical inability in light of one’s personal circumstances.”

But even with the possibility of a Supreme Court ruling against DOMA that would allow at least married bi-national couples to stay in the United States, Ralls said it’s incumbent upon Congress to act.

“We think DOMA is unconstitutional, and we hope the court agrees,” Ralls said. “But when it comes to advocating for real families who are impacted by this, we’re not willing to put all of our eggs in a basket that hasn’t yet been delivered. I do not want to have to tell our couples, the day after a bad DOMA ruling, ‘I wish we had fought harder in Congress.'”

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Politics

Candidates pledge support for anti-trans policies at second GOP presidential debate

Seven Republican hopefuls took the stage Wednesday night

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Second GOP presidential primary debate (Screen capture/Fox News)

During the second Republican presidential debate Wednesday night, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and former Vice President Mike Pence pledged their support for a national ban on gender-affirming healthcare for minors along with policies requiring schools to forcibly “out” trans students to their parents, while Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis defended the anti-LGBTQ policies in his state.

They were joined on stage at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library’s Air Force One Pavilion by former South Carolina Gov. and U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, U.S. Sen. Tim Scott (S.C.), former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum.

Former President Donald Trump, the party’s frontrunner, was again a no-show- declining to participate, instead campaigning in Michigan meeting with striking UAW autoworkers and other labor leaders.

Responding to debate moderator and Fox News host Dana Perino’s question about Christie’s promise to protect “parental rights” by passage of a federal law, Ramaswamy proclaimed that “transgenderism,” especially in kids, is “a mental health disorder.”

After Perino redirected him back to her question, Ramaswamy said when school officials are aware of cases in which a student may be socially transitioning, they must be obliged to inform parents.

“The very people who say that this increases the risk of suicide by are also the ones saying that parents don’t have the right to know about that increased risk of suicide,” he said, adding, “To affirm a kid’s confusion — that is not compassion, that is cruelty.”

The former biotech executive then promised a federal ban on healthcare interventions for trans youth, relaying an anecdote about meeting two women on the campaign trail who, he says, now regretted the gender affirming surgical procedures they had undergone.

Ramaswamy said the women are now in their 20s but did not specify how old they were when the surgeries — double mastectomies and, in one case, a hysterectomy — were performed.

Genital surgeries are almost never performed on patients younger than 18, per the clinical practice guidelines on the treatment of gender dysphoria in minors, which are supported and considered medically necessary by every mainstream scientific and medical body with relevant clinical knowledge.

“The fact that we allow that to happen in this country is barbaric,” Ramaswamy said, “so I will ban genital mutilation or chemical castration under the age of 18.”

Perino asked Pence how he would protect the LGBTQ+ community as president, noting the rise and escalation of violent attacks documented by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and research showing LGBTQ+ people are nine times likelier to be victims of violent hate crimes.

The former vice president’s description of plans and policies on this front was brief and not terribly detailed. “I’ll stand up for the safety and the civil liberties of every American from every background,” he said before pivoting to affirm his support for rules requiring schools to effectively “out” transgender and gender nonconforming kids to their parents.

“Linn-Marr Community Schools in Iowa had a policy,” Pence said, in which “you had you had to have a permission slip from your parents to get a Tylenol, but you could get a gender transition plan without notifying your parents.”

“That’s crazy,” he said. “We’re going to stand up for the rights of parents.”

He concluded his answer with a pledge that “we’re going to pass a federal ban on transgender chemical or surgery anywhere in the country,” adding, “We’ve got to protect our kids from this radical gender ideology agenda.”

Some of DeSantis’s remarks also touched on the notion that progressive ideas about gender identity are being pushed on American youth in schools.

The governor defended education policies in his state that have been widely criticized as anti-LGBTQ+ and racist, proclaiming that “Our country’s education system is in decline because it’s focused on indoctrination, denying parents rights,” but “Florida represents the revival of American education.”

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Congress

Boebert denigrates, misgenders trans Pentagon official

Comments targeted Assistant Secretary of Defense Shawn Skelly

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Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) addresses a crowd outside of the U.S. Capitol building earlier this year. (Photo Credit: Office of Rep. Lauren Boebert)

U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) denigrated and deliberately misgendered Assistant Secretary of Defense for Readiness Shawn Skelly, the Pentagon’s highest ranked transgender official, during a debate Wednesday over amendments to a defense appropriations bill.

In remarks that stirred outrage from her Democratic colleagues, the congresswoman called Skelly a “delusional man thinking he is a woman” and the embodiment of “woke-ism” before proposing an amendment that would reduce her salary to a dollar.

Skelly served on active duty in the U.S. Navy for 20 years as a naval flight officer before retiring with the rank of commander. Her record of service includes senior positions with the Defense and Transportation Departments during the Obama administration.

“Assistant Secretary Skelly has served in her role admirably, as she has done as her time as a naval officer,” responded U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), stressing each of the feminine pronouns as she spoke.

The second-term Colorado representative countered with more transphobic comments: “if you want to call Mr. Skelly a her, his chromosomes are still XY, and we trust the science over here rather than delusion and playing dress up and imaginary games with our military readiness.”

Boebert is among the more vocal members of an ultraconservative cohort of House Republicans who, in recent weeks, have sabotaged efforts to clear must-pass appropriations spending packages before Oct. 1 to forestall a government shutdown.

Members of the far-right faction have attached to these bills controversial, partisan, and often anti-LGBTQ amendments — effectively dooming their chances of passage by the U.S. Senate amid Democratic control of the chamber.

With respect to the Defense Department spending bill, for example, GOP members have advanced proposals that would defund healthcare services for transgender service members and ban Pride flags from military bases.

On X, U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), chair of the Congressional Equality Caucus, wrote that “Republicans claim to support the military but Rep. Boebert, just spent five minutes misgendering and attacking our Assistant Secretary of Defense for Readiness — just because she’s trans. Ms. Skelly serves our country with honor. I can’t say the same for Boebert.”

The caucus added, “It’s disgusting that a Member of Congress would use their platform on the House Floor to misgender and attack a top-ranking @DeptofDefense official and veteran just because she’s a trans woman.”

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Congress

HRC ad campaign slams ‘extremist’ House GOP’s role in looming government shutdown

Funding deadline is Oct. 1.

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U.S. Capitol (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Human Rights Campaign launched an ad campaign on Monday slamming House Republicans for advancing anti-LGBTQ and other “out of touch demands” rather than working to clear must-pass spending bills before the month’s end to avoid a government shutdown.

In the weeks since Congress returned from the summer recess, opportunities to forestall this outcome narrowed with each passing day as small groups of the GOP conference’s most conservative members obstructed votes, led an open rebellion against House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), and added anti-LGBTQ and other far-right amendments to all 12 appropriations bills, effectively dooming the prospects of their passage by the Senate.

HRC’s announcement of plans to run the six-figure blitz “across major national outlets, cable networks and digital streaming services” included a 30-second ad titled “Grind to a Halt,” which accuses House Republicans of “trying to limit the health care you and your family can access, ban books and flags, and block enforcement of civil rights laws.”

In a statement, HRC President Kelley Robinson said the conservative lawmakers had “hijacked the appropriations process to attack LGBTQ+ communities rather than doing their jobs,” noting that a shutdown would “interrupt critical government services, hurt working families and endanger our national security.”

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