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Senate committee jettisons LGBT protections in immigration reform bill

Community/Meta Marriage equality

By Jacob CombsVermont Senator Patrick Leahy

In a stunning and disheartening defeat, Democrats in the Senate Judiciary Committee chose yesterday not to include protections for binational same-sex couples in the comprehensive immigration reform bill currently making its way through Congress.

Republicans on the committee had publicly and privately stated that including the measure, known as the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA), would force them to withhold their support from the entire bill.  UAFA would have created a classification of ‘permanent partners’ through which U.S. citizens in binational same-sex relationships could sponsor their partners in immigration proceedings.  A related amendment would have extended immigration protections to married same-sex couples in spite of the Defense of Marriage Act.

During yesterday’s committee markup, four crucial Democrats–all of whom support marriage equality, in theory–spoke of a difficult decision in withdrawing support for the amendment but defended the move in light of Republican threats.  “If we make the effort to make [the protections] part of this bill, they will walk away,” New York Sen. Chuck Schumer said during the hearing. “They’ve said it publicly. They’ve told me privately. I believe them.”

The other three Democrats on the committee who pulled their support of the amendment were Sens. Dianne Feinstein of California, Dick Durbin of Illinois and Al Franken of Minnesota. Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy of Vermont, who had introduced the UAFA amendment in the first place, was the only Democratic Senator who spoke in favor of the measure unreservedly.  “I don’t want to be the senator who asks Americans to choose between the life of their life and the love of their country,” he said when introducing the amendment, but later said he would withdraw it “with a heavy heart” given its lack of support in the chamber.

The committee eventually voted 13-5 to send the comprehensive immigration reform bill to the full Senate.  The UAFA amendment could be considered by the full Senate in June when the immigration reform legislation comes up for a floor vote, although it would likely require 60 votes to pass, making its chances of success exceedingly slim.  The measure could also be taken up as a stand-alone bill, but such a path would also be sure to falter in the face of a 60-vote threshold.

“Despite the leadership of Chairman Leahy, Judiciary Committee Democrats have caved to bullying by their Republican colleagues,” Rachel B. Tiven, executive director of Immigration Equality Action Fund, said in a statement after the vote. “There should be shame on both sides of the political aisle today for lawmakers who worked to deny LGBT immigrant families a vote. Despite widespread support from business, labor, faith, Latino and Asian-American advocates, Senators abandoned LGBT families without a vote.”

LGBT immigration advocates pointed out yesterday as reports surfaced that the Leahy amendments might be tabled that they were essentially burned three times by Democratic Senators on the issue.  “It is important to note,” Immigration Equality’s Steve Ralls told Metro Weekly, “that, when the Senate immigration framework (which Schumer and Durbin helped write) did not include LGBT couples, both Senators assured our families they would be in the base bill. When the base bill (which they also helped write) was not inclusive, they assured us we would receive a vote in Committee.”  Of course, no such committee vote ended up occurring.

The immigration protections debate underscores the vital importance of understanding that, while the LGBT community’s successes on the marriage equality front in the last few months have been remarkable, there are still many issues on which politicians still need to be pushed.  Even though all four of the Democrats in question on the Judiciary Committee support marriage equality, that support did not carry over to support for same-sex couples’ rights when it comes to immigration.  It’s worth asking these senators whether they support LGBT equality categorically, or in words only.

2 Comments

  • 1. Equality On Trial »&hellip  |  May 22, 2013 at 10:09 am

    […] to remain in the United States together, in the “comprehensive” immigration bill. Jacob covered it today, and linked to lots of commentary. Earlier this month, immigration attorney Lavi Soloway […]

  • 2. conranhoxha  |  May 15, 2014 at 4:27 am

    Immigration attorney in California

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