By CHRIS JOHNSON
LGBT rights supporters on Capitol Hill are looking to an Illinois congressman for inclusion in his upcoming immigration reform bill that's expected to appeal to more liberal members of the U.S. House.
Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) on Tuesday issued a statement of core principles for his planned comprehensive reform legislation, which includes a belief in family "as a cornerstone of our immigration system."
"Family is the bedrock of our society, and immigration reform must support strong, united families and treat all immigrant families fairly and equally," says the statement. "Right now, our broken immigration system keeps too many American families apart for years and even decades, when they have done everything legally."
The statement calls for immigration rules "predicated on family values" that keep family members together.
Rachel Tiven, executive director of Immigration Equality, said her organization is hoping Gutierrez' strong commitment to means he would include an LGBT provision in his bill.
Specifically, Tiven is looking for a provision allowing gay Americans to sponsor their foreign partners for residency in the United States. Such a measure would be similar to the Uniting American Families Act, a standalone bill pending in Congress.
"We are really, really encouraged by Congressman Gutierrez' principles that came out this week that emphasize that all families need protection and that comprehensive immigration reform is a package that will provide security and safety for all families," she said.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), who introduced a standalone version of UAFA in the House, has been talking to Gutierrez about the importance of LGBT inclusion in immigration reform, according to his office.
Ilan Kayatsky, a Nadler spokesperson, said the lawmaker has been speaking with Gutierrez as well as other lawmakers involved in crafting immigration reform legislation.
"It is clear that no comprehensive immigration reform would truly be comprehensive if LGBT families are excluded," Kayatsky said. "We will continue to do everything possible to pass UAFA and bring justice to bi-national same-sex couples."
Tiven said Immigration Equality also is encouraging Gutierrez to ensure his bill includes LGBT families.
"I can tell you for certain that he has heard from constituents in his own district who have been clear that this affects their families and that care about this a great deal," she said.
Rebecca Dreilinger, spokesperson for Gutierrez, noted in an e-mail that the lawmaker is an original co-sponsor for UAFA, and said he "continues [to] evalutate, along with civil rights and other immigration activists, how to best reach this goal as the immigration debate moves forward."
Dreilinger said Gutierrez is planning to introduce his bill after Thanksgiving. Also expected to produce immigration reform legislation in the House is Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), chair of a House Judiciary subcommittee that oversees immigration rules. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has said he's working on similar legislation in the Senate. Activists also are seeking inclusion for bi-national same-sex couples in these bills.
Tiven said she doesn't know which of the three pieces of comprehensive reform legislation would debut first.
President Obama, who has spoken favorably about the changes that UAFA would enact, has said his administration would pursue immigration reform this year but no action on legislation is expected before 2010, according to the New York Times.