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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
December 23, 2005

New immigration bill is bad for bi-national couples

Washington, D.C.--With immigration quickly becoming the newest salvo in the American cultural war, the House passed the most restrictive anti-immigration bill in modern history, which disproportionably affects gay, lesbian and transgender people and those with HIV.

The Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act passed the House 239 to 182 on December 16 with supporters and opponents from both parties.

The bill is sponsored by anti-gay Wisconsin Republican James Sensenbrenner with 35 cosponsors, one a Democrat. These include newly-elected Ohio Republican Jean Schmidt of Cincinnati. It was introduced only ten days earlier, and rushed through three subcommittees before landing in the House Judiciary Committee, which Sensenbrenner chairs.

In addition to constructing a fence between the U.S. and Mexico, the bill will make it more difficult for all unmarried bi-national families to stay together, and exacerbate the inequalities that LGBT families, who cannot marry, already face in immigration.

New York Democrat Jerrold Nadler, is sponsoring a bill called the Uniting American Families Act, which allows LGBT people to sponsor their partners for legal immigration.

�LGBT partners will be powerless to stop the government from destroying their committed relationships� under Sensenbrenner�s bill, he said.

�This latest anti-immigrant legislation poses an especially grave threat to LGBT immigrants,� said Nadler.

According to the 2000 Census, there are approximately 36,000 bi-national same-sex couples.

Rachel Tiven, who directs Immigration Equality, which works on issues of LGBT equality in immigration, said that a number of the immigrants among those couples are not documented, or have overstayed their visas in order to keep their families together.

Currently, such activity is a civil violation. Sensenbrenner�s bill, however, criminalizes the act of being in the United States undocumented, and extends that crime to the partner and family members, including children, who �harbor� the alien. It subjects the U.S. citizen to imprisonment and seizure of their home and other assets. It also calls for �mandatory detention� of undocumented immigrants.

Non-citizens can be labeled �dangerous aliens� and detained indefinitely in privately-run detention facilities with little accountability for their treatment. The proposed law leaves the definition of �dangerous alien� largely up to Homeland Security personnel.

According to Tiven, this is a concern for people with HIV, including those fleeing persecution due to their HIV status, who may not get adequate medical care and be subject to abuse while detained.

Sarah Sohn, Immigration Equality�s attorney, said that the bill also strips federal courts� ability to review the detentions.

�Even if you are not granted a green card due to a minor problem on the application, the denial is unreviewable,� said Sohn.

The bill also eliminates most asylum eligibility. Persecution based on sexual orientation is currently grounds for asylum.

It also eliminates the Diversity Visa Lottery, which allows for educated people from under-represented countries to randomly win green cards. This was often a last hope alternative for same-sex bi-national couples and transgender people.

The bill creates additional complications for transgender people whose identity and employment documents don�t match their gender.

Sohn said another purpose of the bill is to undermine court decisions that make indefinite detentions impossible.

�Sensenbrenner�s talking points included Ninth Circuit cases [against indefinite detention and for judicial review] as examples of what he does not want,� said Sohn.

Tiven said she expects the Senate version of the bill will be less harsh, but is concerned that many of the extreme provisions will become law.

Ohio�s Deborah Pryce, a Columbus Republican, supports the bill and chairs the conference committee that will reconcile the House and Senate versions.

In addition to Pryce and Schmidt, Ohio Republicans who voted for the bill are Steve Chabot of Cincinnati, Paul Gillmor of Defiance, Steve LaTourette of Painesville, Bob Ney of St. Clairsville, Mike Oxley of Findlay, Ralph Regula of Navarre and Mike Turner of Dayton.

Democrat and Ohio gubernatorial candidate Ted Strickland of Lisbon also voted for the bill.

Ohioans voting against it are Republicans John Boehner of West Chester, David Hobson of Springfield and Pat Tiberi of Columbus; and Democrats Stephanie Tubbs-Jones of Cleveland, Marcy Kaptur of Toledo, Dennis Kucinich of Cleveland and Tim Ryan of Youngstown. Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Sherrod Brown of Lorain also opposed the bill.


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