Senator Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.
san diego
Uniting American Families Act reintroduced last month
Same-sex immigration bill gets strong support in House, less in Senate
Published Thursday, 07-Jul-2005 in issue 915
Current American immigration law denies same-sex couples the right to petition for benefits granted to heterosexual couples. The Uniting American Families Act (UAFA- HB 3006), reintroduced last month by Senator Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Congressmember Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., aims to change that inequity. If enacted, the UAFA would amend immigration rules and language by adding the term “permanent partner” next to “spouse” in those sections that allow heterosexuals to sponsor their partners. The UAFA, according to Rep. Nadler, “will help ensure that the U.S. immigration and naturalization code conforms to this fundamental principle [of equality] by treating a gay or lesbian permanent partnership the same as a civil marriage between a man and a woman for visa and immigration purposes.”
Previously named the Permanent Partners Immigration Act, this bill would add the United States to the growing list of countries who recognize same-sex couples for the purposes of immigration. Sixteen other countries already include such language in their immigration laws, including Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, New Zealand, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, South Africa, Sweden, Norway, France, Germany and Finland.
Under the UAFA, a person may qualify as the permanent partner of a United States citizen or legal permanent resident if they are at least 18 years of age, are in an intimate relationship with the sponsoring adult in which both parties intend a lifelong commitment, are financially independent, are not married or in a permanent relationship with anyone other than the sponsor, and are unable to contract in a legally recognized marriage. This last portion addresses the lack of legal same-sex marriages within most of the United States.
The UAFA would also impose harsh penalties for fraud, including up to five years in prison and as much as $250,000 in fines. In addition, if the partnership is dissolved in less then two years, the legal immigrant status of the sponsored partner would be reviewed. The 2000 Census reports nearly 36,000 same-sex binational couples in the United States.
According to Love Sees No Borders, an organization focused on raising the awareness of same-sex binational couples, the UAFA “will bring immigration relief to countless couples around the world.”
Love Sees No Borders co-founder Leslie Bulbuk said, “Seeking both justice and equality is imperative to our community. We can no longer live in the ‘land of the free’ and not be free to live with the ones we love. It is time that the United States lives up to its promise of liberty and justice for all.”
The Human Rights Campaign released a coinciding statement expressing support for the UAFA. “Our laws should bring families together, not tear them apart,” HRC President Joe Solmonese said. “Same-sex … couples are often forced to separate because the government views them as strangers under the law. It is time for the United States to catch up with the growing list of other countries around the world that have instituted fair and consistent immigration policies for same-sex couples.”
Support in the House has increased measurably over time. At the end of each session of Congress, the UAFA has shown significantly more support then the previous version. In 2004 the California Legislature approved a joint resolution in favor of the measure. Love Sees No Borders worked in conjunction with Assemblymember Sally J. Lieber, D-Mountain View, to introduce the resolution, which was sponsored by Equality California and supported by a broad network of civil rights organizations. Sixty-six members of Congress currently support the UAFA.
Despite such gains in the House, the Senate has shown little eagerness and increasing reluctance in supporting the bill. So far only 13 senators are co-sponsoring the bill: Senators Leahy, Jeffords, Kennedy, Kerry, Lautenberg, Corzine, Feingold, Boxer, Dayton, Wyden, Chaffe, Durvin and Murray. New York Senator Hillary Clinton, who is widely expected to run for president in 2008, is conspicuously absent from this list.
Several organizations and corporations have come out in support of such legislation. The Intel Corporation recently commented on the proposed legal changes, “A law such as the [UAFA] will fairly address this work force effectiveness issue for Intel and allow the affected employees to keep their families intact, and allow Intel to maintain a globally competitive and productive workforce.”
The Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union (HERE) also offered a statement in support of the UAFA: “Currently, couples in same-sex binational relationships are unable to sponsor each other for immigration purposes. Sadly, Americans and residents are forced to choose between the country they know as home and the person they love because of this. This is blatant discrimination, and HERE opposes it.”
When support for the UAFA was made public, opposition came from expected sources. The Rev. Don Wildman, chair of the American Family Association, stated that the bill is just another attempt to legalize same-sex marriage. “The liberals,” he said, “are going to try anything and everything they can. This is simply another avenue to try and do that.”

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