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LGBT activists meet about immigration inclusion
by Sam Worley

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At a meeting last month, LGBT and immigration activists urged U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez to include protections for same-sex partners in immigration reform legislation he plans to introduce in the House of Representatives.

Although no promises were made at the meeting, according to Association of Latino Men for Action ( ALMA ) President Julio Rodriguez, community members plan to "continue to dialogue" with the congressman regarding the issue.

Gutierrez represents Illinois' 4th District, which includes portions of Chicago's North and South sides.

President Barack Obama signaled his intention to tackle major immigration reform as part of his first-term agenda; as with healthcarereform, members of the House have been tasked with authoring competing versions. According to Immigration Equality's Steve Ralls, who spoke with Windy City Times last month, LGBT groups hope to see provisions making it possible for U.S. citizens to sponsor same-sex partners for residency—which would put LGBT couples on equal footing as married opposite-sex couples.

Gutierrez is in the process of authoring a major immigration-reform bill, which Ralls said will be a "progressive starting point."

While Ralls has been involved in national activism to pressure legislators to include provisions for LGBT people, local groups have also gotten involved. The meeting with Gutierrez last month included representatives from Center on Halsted, PFLAG, Dignity Chicago, Latino Policy Forum and Boricua Pride as well as ALMA.

"It went pretty well," said Rodriguez—although the group received no commitment from Gutierrez.

Rodriguez said that Gutierrez's apparent reticence was a part of the political process. "It's always a tricky thing if he steps up too soon," said Rodriguez. "It could kill the bill. If you step out too soon, you galvanize another base."

Windy City Times was unable to reach Gutierrez for comment.

On Oct. 13, the congressman released a document outlining the "core principles" of the forthcoming legislation. It made no specific mention of LGBT issues, though it highlighted the principle of family unification as central to the legislation. "Family is the bedrock of our society," the statement read, "and immigration reform must support strong, united families and treat all immigrant families fairly and equally."

Eric Berndt, who was also at the meeting with Gutierrez, said that he is "cautiously optimistic" about the outcome of the legislation. Berndt, a lawyer for Heartland Alliance's National Immigrant Justice Center, said that the congressman is "committed to the immigration rights of LGBT families." Likewise, he said, " [ t ] he LGBT community is prepared to be an ally on immigration issues."

Meanwhile, Rep. Mike Quigley, who represents parts of Chicago's North Side, spoke on the House floor last month to indicate his strong support for LGBT inclusion in comprehensive immigration reform. "In this debate, we've talked about keeping families together," Quigley said, "but we cannot turn a blind eye to the children who have been taken from a family because they have two moms or two dads and one doesn't live in this country."

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