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Wednesday, 22 September 2010

In the USA, binational couples may be left out of immigration reform

By Paul Canning

On 13 September The Washington Post published a long front-page news story 'Immigration overhaul could leave gay couples out'.

Reform of immigration in America is a key demand of the base of the Democratic party, particularly Latinos who voted overwhelmingly for President Obama - rowing back gains made by Republicans under President Bush. Obama has sited it as a legislative priority.

But it has become immensely controversial during 2010 due to the push by many Republican politicians for 'border control' and the expulsion of all illegal immigrants, who are thought to number many millions. In particular a law in Arizona dubbed the 'papers please' law because it forces police to stop people it suspects of being illegal immigrants has received massive media coverage, divided the country and provoked condemnation by a number of Latin American leaders as 'racist'.

Advocates for change which would benefit binational LGBT couples have decided to include provisions within overall  immigration reform. “No immigration reform measure will truly be deserving of the term ‘comprehensive’ unless it provides equality for gays and lesbians as well,” Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York, chief sponsor of pro-gay reform in Congress, said in July.

However the coalition pushing for reform includes enemies of LGBT, such as the Catholic church and evangelical Christians.

Kevin Appleby of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which last year said the inclusion of gay couples in a House of Representatives bill aimed at reuniting families made it "impossible" for the group to support the measure, told the Post:
[Equal treatment for gay partners of U.S. citizens] introduces a new controversial element to the issue which will divide the faith community and further jeopardize chances for a fair and bipartisan compromise. Immigration is hard enough without adding same-sex marriage to the mix.
Similarly, the president of The National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, told the Post that provisions for gay and lesbian families are the "death knell" for comprehensive reform.
The choice was between excluding gay and lesbian families from an overhaul of immigration laws - or losing out on an overhaul altogether.
The key constituency to changes getting passed are white evangelicals, he added. After years of outreach, Latino evangelicals have formed alliances with white evangelical groups - and those evangelicals are key to getting Republican votes in the House. Including provisions related to gay marriage, Rodriguez said, would prompt white evangelicals to desert the coalition.
Erwin de Leon, an Asian American researcher and LGBT advocate who was interviewed for the piece with his husband, pointed out on his blog that the Post's story ignores the many religious organisations who support pro-LGBT immigration reform.

As well, Timothy Kincaid points out on Box Turtle Bulletin that an under-publicised pro-LGBT legal decision to secure federal recognition for couples married in Massachusetts, which the administration has yet to appeal, may help couples stay in the United States rather than being forced to either seperate or move overseas.
Should the Administration opt not to appeal, then married same-sex couples in at least the State of Massachusetts would have the ability to apply for citizenship consideration in the same manner as opposite sex couples. It would be – for many – a great hardship to relocate to Massachusetts, but for some desperate couples it could be a temporary solution.
The Post points to even bigger difficulties with immigration reform than those caused by some religious groups, namely the rise of anti-immigrant feeling in particular in the right-wing of the Republican Party but also "the popularity of tough new anti-immigration laws in Arizona and other states". Dan Savage writing for The Stranger highlights the politiking and hypocrisy here. No doubt, many of the politicians using anti-immigrant fervor for their own ends would employ 'illegals, but he spots that the Post's piece also talks about:
A prominent and presumably closeted Republican with an illegal Latino immigrant for a boyfriend.
The opposition to the administration on immigration is ironic given that, according to the Christian Science Monitor, deportations are at their highest levels since the 1930s, when there were "quasi-official" deportation campaigns against Mexicans. The newspaper suggests that the administration is stepping up deportations precisely to counter the impression on the right that it is 'soft' on illegal immigrants.

Despite all the bad signs, the biggest group promoting pro-gay reform, Immigration Equality, nevertheless is quoted by the Post as positive that binational couples will secure legal recognition. But others are not.

Immigration lawyer and advocate Melanie Nathan (disclosure; and friend of LGBT Asylum News) reacting to the Post story in LezGetReal slams the strategy of including the provisions for binational couples contained in the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA) in comprehensive immigration reform.
Immigration Equality [IE] took UAFA down the path of Comprehensive Immigration Reform, knowing full well that it was a rough shot.  Had there been no alternative or opportunities along the way to take stock of the strategy that would be a great excuse, but that is not the case. I believe they will have destroyed the future of UAFA unless they change strategy NOW! 
Unfortunately it is IE which has taken the self-described role as the preeminent organization on the topic; and other LGBT groups have bowed to this position. They have steered the strategy and advocacy - Hence the responsibility is squarely theirs!
[IE, it should be noted however, is not the only organisation calling for inclusion in comprehensive immigration reform. The Chicago-based LGBT Coalition for Immigrant Rights is as well.]

Nathan's criticism of IE match those of much of the American LGBT movement towards the large lobbying operations based in Washington DC, who have failed thus far to win pro-LGBT legislative reform during the Obama presidency and Democrat control of Congress - the latest example being the failing to push an end to the exclusion of LGBT from the military through the Senate. (This also stopped the Dream Act, a bill which would give legal status to those who entered illegally by the age of 16 and have finished high school.)

In her reaction to the Post's fears for passage of pro-gay immigration reform, Nathan quotes a year-old post by her citing what she believes has not happened from such lobbyists:
  1. Lack of involvement and utilization of grassroots groups;
  2. Failure to use the stories of bi-nationals as a poignant tool, beyond mere display on websites;
  3. Lack of effective leadership by Immigration Equality organizations– good leaders gather the best brains in the Country and do not make decisions without consultation, alliances, strategies and delegation.
Nathan points to the work of another group, OUT4Immigration, who have been "mobilizing the grassroots in a big way since back in 2009", adding that Immigration Equality should be working with them.

Strategically she calls for a push to get the UAFA passed by Congress during the so-called 'lame duck' session after the November elections "as a stand alone".

At the weekend she announced that a 'UAFA-Parity For American Binationals Summit (UAFA-PABS)' is being organised in October/November which will bring grassroots groups together to call for UAFA's passage.
There will be a panel – the largest ever – of American Partners telling their stories of separation and exile. They will sit at the same table and a film will be made of the event.  There will be other exciting compliments as well. Its time to get our Binationals Home and to stop the USA exile of it own citizens.
We are taking back our rights – this is about EQUALITY and not about Immigration per se.  We support immigration rights for everyone in the USA and sympathize with the plight of all undocumented people in the USA; however we believe that we have been terribly let down by our advocates and lobbyists ....
.... If you are interested in joining the Summit- Please contact Private Courts Inc, via
Same Sex Immigration rights (UAFA), Congress and Lady Gaga

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