The passage of a comprehensive immigration reform bill is being threatened by an amendment that strips people of their right to privacy, Republican opposition to amendments that provide equal protection for gay and lesbian families, and a provision that has the potential to create a biometric national database.
The Senate Judiciary Committee is in the process of reviewing 300 amendments submitted to the bipartisan bill. If the bill is passed with amendments that strip people of their right to privacy, and without amendments that grant equal protection to gay and lesbian couples, it will be a flawed bill and we will have further eroded the civil liberties of all Americans.
Immigration reform cannot and should not move forward if on the one hand it seeks to provide an equitable resolution for a flawed immigration policy, while on the other it strips people of their right to privacy and denies people equal protection under the law.
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) has submitted an amendment requiring illegal immigrants to provide DNA samples before gaining legal status. Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D- Vt.) has submitted two amendments that would allow same-sex foreign spouses and partners of U.S. citizens to apply for visas. The bill also calls for creating a "photo tool" that "enables employers to match the photo on a covered identity document provided to the employer to a photo maintained by a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services database."
Immigration reform represents one of the longest battles in the fight for equal protection under the law for same sex union families. The late Richard Adams started the fight back in 1975 when his husband, Tony Sullivan, was denied residency after they were legally married in Colorado.
The Obama administration has done what it can to recognize gay families trapped in the immigration quagmire. The Department of Homeland Security modified its guidelines to include same sex unions in its definition of family when considering residency applications.
However, Republicans are committed to denying equal protection under the law to gay and lesbian couples. The Washington Post reported, "Republicans have said they will not support any bill that provides protection for gay couples" even though the Leahy amendment does not endorse same sex marriage.
The New York Times explained, "Senator Leahy's bill does not seek to legalize gay marriage. Instead, it would allow an American citizen to petition for a green card for a 'permanent partner.'" Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) is one of the few Republicans supporting equal protection for the LGBTQ community. "Our legislation would simply update our nation's immigration laws to treat bi-national, same-sex permanent partners fairly," http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/01/us/politics/push-to-include-gay-couples-in-immigration-bill.html?_r=1&she told the New York Times.
Many Republicans have gone on the record espousing their concern that current immigration laws have split up families. Newt Gingrich stated, "I don't see how the party that says it's the party of the family is going to adopt an immigration policy which destroys families that have been here a quarter century." Unfortunately, that concerns seems to stop short of LGBTQ families.
Many countries support same-sex marriages, including parts of Mexico, as do multiple states in America. If you support keeping an immigrant family whole, including bi-national families, through immigration law then it is a contradiction to state that you don't support the families that include people in same sex unions, unless you believe they aren't families.
Senator Hatch is not just content with stripping gay families of their rights to liberty, freedom and happiness. He wants to strip them and other immigrants of their right to privacy. Hatch's DNA amendment would require immigrants to submit DNA evidence and have a DNA profile kept on record for six years. Hatch described the "DNA profile" process as a means to do a thorough "background check" to "ensure that decisions regarding residency status are made with fullest search of criminal activity and identification available."
You would have to be a libertarian to not see the irony of a Republican proposing to keep a registry of people in the event that they may commit a crime for residency purposes but not for people purchasing a weapon. Remember, criminals are going to sneak into the country anyway so a registry and universal background check just puts a burden on law-abiding immigrants seeking legal residency status.
The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 (S.744) also include a provision requiring an employer to verify the identity of an applicant through the use of a photo matching software. The photo of immigrants would be stored in a database maintained by the Citizenship and Immigration Services. Privacy and civil rights advocates fear that this database could be expanded to contain all sorts of biometric information
Although the bill currently calls for only storing a photograph, it does call for the future "development of specific and effective additional security measures to adequately verify the identity of an individual whose identity may not be verified using the photo tool." It goes on to say, "such additional security measures shall be kept up to date with technological advances" that "provides a high level of certainty as to the identity of such individual." There is no higher level of certainty than DNA.
Proponents of the provision will note that many countries are using biometric technology in their immigration systems. E-Passports in many countries, including the United States are equipped with biometric systems. But privacy experts are more concerned with the long-term implications of such a system. Wired.com wrote that the immigration reform measure "would create a national biometric database of virtually every adult in the U.S., in what privacy groups fear could be the first step to a ubiquitous national identification system."
The immigration reform bill is over 800 pages long and would provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants that have resided in the U.S. prior to December 31, 2011. It includes a Dream Act and an E-Verify system. The comprehensive reform package includes measures to improve border security, the creation of an agricultural worker program, a non-agricultural guest worker program, measures to control the future flow of immigration, reforms to non-immigrant visa programs, and provisions for enhancing interior enforcement of immigration laws.
It has the potential to be landmark legislation, but only if it protects the rights of all potential citizens. Senator Leahy said, "for immigration reform to be truly comprehensive, it must include protections for all families."
A bill that creates a "big brother" registry and denies gay and lesbian couples their equal rights should not be passed. It would be un-American.