Immigration Reform 2013: Gang of 8 Bill Excludes Same-Sex Partners

The Gang of Eight’s bipartisan bill on immigration reform is missing a key aspect: the permission of U.S. citizens to sponsor legal, permanent residence for same-sex partners. Furthermore, federal law still currently defines marriage as a union between a man and woman.

So just what are Democrats supposed to do? Take a back seat on their party’s ethics, or risk crushing the delicate balance of bipartisan cooperation? The key term here is compromise. But a compromise where Democrats bow out threatens to destroy the spirit of not only immigration reform, but equality in America as well.

“When Democrats are falling over one another to say how they support marriage equality, why are they abandoning gay families when actual legislation is on the table?” asked Executive Director of Immigration Equality, Rachel Tiven in the New York Times.

The immigration reform bill, a whopping 844 pages that entered the political scene in April, is meant to facilitate immigration for those already living in the U.S. undocumented and for immigrant skilled workers. However, the Republicans of the group found exclusion of social issue to be the best way to help sell the bill to the GOP. Noted Senator Jeff Flake (R-Ariz), a member of the Gang of Eight, “Finding consensus on immigration legislation is tough enough without opening the bill up to social issues.”

This leaves Democrats with two choices: to leave the bill as is or to push for an amendment.

To not push for an amendment diminishes the voices of gay immigrant families. This reality appears to be recognized by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) who is being looked at as a beacon for change, a well-known champion of LGBT rights and is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. The name of the Leahy’s game-changer is the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA), which would allow for permanent residents of the U.S. or their long-term partners to gain a status of permanent residence the same way a legally wedded spouse would.

If the Senate, however, amends the bill with the inclusion and the House chooses to forgo it, the immigration bill would find itself in a deadlock. However, national executive of the League of Latin American Citizens director, Brent Wilkes, believes that even in such a scenario, the bill still has a chance to grant that stem of equality to LGBT families once the bill(s) hits the conference committee.

“If you haven't specifically excluded same-sex couples, there can be a clarification within the language that says 'yes,' this also applies to same sex couples,” he said.

Immigration reform is important for a number of reasons. Immigrants are a cornerstone to American culture and that it hasn’t flourished without the home base of a family. Not only is immigration reform an economic and political advantage, it is also a humane one. It gives recognition to the parents and children who have made livelihoods in the country and can help keep those families together. Just as we are fighting for equal LGBT rights, what would it say of our progress if shoved aside for our up-coming residents and citizens? 

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Zainab Akande

Born and raised in New York City, Zainab is a University of Delaware alum, currently working on obtaining her M.A. in journalism at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism in New York. http://zainabakande.com/

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