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February 27, 2009

Partner immigration bill has better chance this year

Washington, D.C.--Two lawmakers want the partners of gays and lesbians to be able to immigrate to the United States as married couples can, and have introduced bills to make it happen.

Currently, only legally married spouses are permitted to sponsor their wives or husbands for immigration. This often makes it impossible for bi-national same-sex couples to stay together in the United States.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a Democrat representing Manhattan, introduced H.R. 1024 in the House on February 12, and Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, introduced the nearly identical S. 424 the same day. Both measures are known as the Uniting American Families Act of 2009.

They will add the phrase �or permanent partner� after �spouse� to every section of the Immigration and Naturalization Act that applies to legally married couples. The change would apply only to same-sex couples.

�Permanent partner� is defined as a person age 18 or older, who can prove a domestic partner relationship and is unable to marry their partner because they are the same sex.

Countries that already allow gays and lesbians to sponsor their partners for immigration include Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Israel, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

There are approximately 40,000 same-sex couples in the United States threatened by the inability to sponsor partners for immigration, according to the latest Census figures cited by Immigration Equality, which lobbies for LGBT people and people with HIV. Of those, 45 percent are raising children, and a significant number are caring for elderly parents. The average age of the partners is 38.

Nadler is a long time champion of immigration equality, having introduced similar bills in every congressional session since 2000. Until 2007, they were called the Permanent Partner Immigration Acts.

In 2004, Leahy began introducing companion bills in the Senate.

There has always been support for the legislation among lawmakers in both chambers who are gay affirming.

The current House bill has 84 cosponsors at press time, including the three openly gay Reps. Barney Frank of Massachusetts, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and Jared Polis of Colorado. Ohio Reps. Dennis Kucinich of Cleveland and Betty Sutton of Akron are also original cosponsors.

There are 14 original cosponsors in the Senate including Ohio�s Sherrod Brown.

All of the sponsors in both chambers are Democrats. The number of sponsors has changed little in the nine years since the measure was first introduced.

It has never gotten very far, especially in the post-September 11 anti-immigration environment.

Both bills have been assigned to each chamber�s Judiciary Committee. The Senate panel is expected to consider it.

Leahy chairs that committee in the Senate. Michigan�s John Conyers, who is also a cosponsor, chairs it committee in the House.

Congressional staffers speaking on background say that, especially in the House, the climate for passing the measure is the best it has ever been.

However, they also concede that the bill may not get much attention due to other priorities, including the economy. This has taken the time needed to reach out to members for support, making the bill�s passage �uncertain.�

The measure, which is fairly short, could also be attached to other legislation.

Nadler�s press secretary Ilan Kayatzsky said the bill is �critically important,� and said Nadler is �more hopeful than ever that the bill will move through the House.�

Nadler has long called the measure �simply a matter of common sense and fairness,� adding that the current situation is �tearing apart committed and loving couples just because of who they love.�

During the presidential campaign, Barack Obama indicated qualified support for act, but added on his Human Rights Campaign questionnaire, �I also believe that changes need to be made to the bill to minimize the potential for fraud and abuse of the immigration system.�

The �potential for fraud and abuse� argument is most often cited by opponents of the measure.

It is not clear whether or not the measure as written will satisfy the president. As a senator, Obama was not a cosponsor of the measure.

The White House did not respond to questions by press time.




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