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Federal LGBT immigration bill back in House
by Lisa Keen, Keen News Service
2009-03-01

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Saying that now there's a president in the White House who is not a "guaranteed veto" for the legislation, U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler reintroduced a bill Feb. 12 that seeks to enable gay Americans to sponsor their foreign same-sex partners for legal residency in the United States. U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy reintroduced the companion bill in the Senate.

Speaking to reporters on a telephone conference call, Nadler said it would be hard to say what the "odds" are for the bill—the Uniting American Families Act"—to pass.

Nadler's remarks to reporters were interrupted by a phone call from the White House but, when he came back on the phone, the Congressman said the call was about the stimulus package. An Obama administration aide indicated the White House has not yet weighted in on the legislation. But, as a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination last year, then-Sen. Obama told the Human Rights Campaign that he supported the bill. And Nadler indicated that the change in the White House—and "positive signals" from Democratic committee leaders—has prompted him to make a "serious attempt" at passing the legislation.

Under the current Immigration and Naturalization Act, an American citizen can sponsor his or her opposite-sex "spouse" for a green card, representing legal residency. The Leahy-Nadler bills seek to amend that law to add the words "permanent partner" to those qualified to seek such residency. "Permanent partner" is defined as an adult who is in a committed, intimate, financially interdependent relationship with another adult in "which both parties intend a lifelong commitment."

"The promotion of family unity has long been part of federal immigration policy," said Leahy, in a statement released Thursday, "and we should honor that principle by providing all Americans the opportunity to be with their loved ones."

Leahy estimated that about 35,000 binational same-sex couples live in the United States.

"It is all but certain that many of these couples will eventually be forced to make a choice with which no American should be faced," said Leahy, "to choose between the country they love and the person they love." During the telephone conference call, one couple who lives in Vermont told how the foreign partner cannot get a green card even though the couple obtained a civil-union license in that state. The foreign partner, identified as Janet from the United Kingdom, noted the irony that the cat she brought with her to the United States has legal permission to be here permanently through a "pet visa," but that she, herself, cannot obtain such status.

A woman, identified as Lee from South Africa, said she lives in New York City with her partner and their two sons. She said she lives in constant fear of being deported and separated from her family.

Rachel Tiven, executive director of Immigration Equality, a national organization working to improve immigration law to help LGBT people with foreign partners, wrote president-elect Obama in December. In the letter, Tiven urged Obama to both support the bill and take other actions to help LGBT people in immigration matters. On introduction, the House bill had 74 sponsors and the Senate bill had 12.

2009 Keen News Service

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