Proposed Immigration Bill Still Needs Provision for Gay and Lesbian Couples

double_rainbowThe current Senate draft of a comprehensive immigration reform bill contains provisions to help undocumented farmworkers and students, as well as would-be immigrants whose merits earn them a significant number of points — but nothing for gay and lesbians.

In particular, the draft doesn’t address the problem of gay and lesbian couples who are legally married under the laws of the particular U.S. state or foreign country where they registered or held a  ceremony, but nevertheless continue to be denied a marriage-based green card for the noncitizen spouse under U.S. immigration law. (The legal reason for that is the federal Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, which is awaiting an opinion from the U.S. Supreme Court.)

What’s the harm in this? According to testimony to the Senate Committee by Laura Lichter, President of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), “more than 36,000 couples are affected by this form of discrimination, and nearly half of them are households raising children.” Lichter added that, “Many gay and lesbian Americans in binational relationships have aging parents and must make difficult decisions between managing their parents’ health or remaining with their partners. . . Many Fortune 500 companies have lost skilled Americans to foreign competitors because of this issue . . . For many, the limited options mean having to choose between unconscionable separation, a life without lawful immigration status, or relocating the entire family outside the U.S.”

The bill may may yet address such issues, however, according to reports from CQ Roll Call, via San Francisco’s Immigrant Legal Resource Center. The draft Senate bill is currently being scrutinized and marked up by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Several Democrats on the committee have stated that they intend to introduce amendments allowing U.S. citizens to petition for (sponsor) same-sex partners for visas in the same manner that they are legally allowed to utilize for opposite-sex spouses under existing law.

Whether those amendments will survive the entire process of turning the bill into law, however, is in doubt. Some experts believe that they will be removed again in the course of negotiations, in order to ensure the passage of the bill as a whole. Stay tuned . . . .

And by the way, the legal situation is a bit different for couples in which one has undergone sex reassignment surgery, as described in Nolo’s Q&A, “Can a transgender spouse obtain a green card based on marriage to a U.S. citizen?