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May 31, 2013

Immigration bill moves without gay measure

Washington, D.C.--The Senate Judiciary Committee on May 21 approved an immigration reform bill, although without an amendment that would have helped binational same-sex couples.

The amendment, called the Uniting American Families Act, was pulled by Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont after his colleagues on both sides of the aisle counseled that bipartisan support for the entire measure could fall apart if it were left in.

The amendment would have treated legally married same-sex couples the same as married opposite-sex couples for immigration purposes, giving foreign-born spouses of American citizens an easier road to citizenship.

Presently, gay and lesbian foreign spouses have to leave the U.S. after their visa runs out, or the U.S. partner must emigrate to live with their spouse.

Leahy, chair of the Judiciary Committee said he received the suggestion to pull the amendment from the White House. It was backed up by Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, another Democrat, who told Leahy he could not support the amendment at the expense of Republican support, which would be necessary to get it through the GOP-controlled House of Representatives.

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, one of the “gang of eight” senators working on immigration reform, told Leahy that the LGBT-inclusive amendment was “a bridge too far,” according to Metro Weekly, a D.C. LGBT newspaper.

In the end, the committee voted 13-5 to send the bill to the full Senate for consideration, without the same-sex amendment.

“As we come together as a nation to tackle our broken immigration system, it is deplorable that a small number of senators have been able to stand in the way of progress for lesbian and gay couples torn apart by discriminatory laws,” said Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin. “Instead of working to achieve common-sense solutions, Senators Graham, Flake, McCain and Rubio threatened to derail the entire immigration bill to appease a small but vocal group of anti-gay social conservatives that will do anything to stop progress for lesbian and gay couples.”

“We are extremely disappointed that our allies did not put their anti-LGBT colleagues on the spot and force a vote on the measure that remains popular with the American people. We will continue to work hard to include bi-national same-sex couples as the bill moves to the floor and remain committed to the underlying principles of inclusive and comprehensive immigration reform,” he continued, pointing to an estimated 24,700 bi-national same-sex couples in the United States.

GetEqual’s co-director, Felipe Sousa-Rodriguez, was less circumspect in his comments on the failure of the amendment.

“Let me be clear: Senators Schumer, Feinstein and Durbin caved today to the bullying of extreme right-wing Republicans, rather than standing up for the LGBT binational couples they claim to care so deeply about,” he said. “Today it became clear that our so-called ‘friends’ don’t have the courage or the spine to stand up for what’s right, and are content to buy into the false choice that Republicans created--holding a sorely-needed immigration bill hostage in order to cement inequality into law.”

“As an undocumented gay man in a binational relationship, I mourn the lack of political courage that our elected leaders showed today - but I still cling to the dream of passing a bill that upholds and uplifts the aspirations of the 267,000 LGBT undocumented immigrants currently living, working and loving within this country’s borders,” he concluded.

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