LAS VEGAS, Nev. – Gay rights groups and their allies quickly praised President Barack Obama for including LGBT families in his proposal for overhauling the nation’s outdated immigration policy.
In a televised speech on Tuesday, the President declared immigration legislation was one of his Administration’s top domestic priorities and he urged Congress to take action.
“Now is the time,” Obama told an audience at a local high school where most of the students are of Hispanic origin. “Si, se puedo,” some students chanted back, indicating that they believed an overhaul is possible.
“I’m here because most Americans agree that it’s time to fix a system that’s been broken for way too long. I’m here because business leaders, faith leaders, labor leaders, law enforcement, and leaders from both parties are coming together to say now is the time to find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as the land of opportunity. Now is the time to do this so we can strengthen our economy and strengthen our country’s future,” Obama said.
National Center for Lesbian Rights
Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, noted that the White House shortly after Obama’s speech released a factsheet that had more detailed proposals, including a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and the substance of two pieces of legislation that have been particularly important for LGBT immigrants.
"It is clear that after long suffering we may finally see true progress on meaningful immigration reform. In a historic speech [Tuesday], President Obama made clear that he supports an accessible and straightforward path to citizenship, recognition of ALL families and a process for keeping those families together, including same-sex couples and families headed by LGBT parents, and citizenship for DREAMers,” Kendell said.
“This is what we must see. As the process continues, we are committed to assuring that reforms truly provide the dignity, recognition, and fairness the President suggested. We need a plan animated by humanity, not punishment," she said.
In the factsheet, NCLR said, the President included the principles of the DREAM Act, which is legislation that provides a streamlined path to citizenship for young people who came to the country as children and are going to school or serving their country. LGBT DREAMers have played a crucial role in the DREAMer movement, NCLR said.
The factsheet also included the principles of the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA), which gives U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents the right to sponsor their same-sex permanent partners to immigrate to the United States.
Rachel B. Tiven, executive director of Immigration Equality, praised the President for including LGBT concerns.
"LGBT families are elated to have the President's support for an immigration reform bill that includes our families," Tiven said. "When the President leads, Congress and the American people join him to stand for equality.
“From the repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' to marriage equality, the President's leadership has been effective, and critical, in winning real change for real families. As Congress moves forward in crafting legislation to fix our broken immigration system, we look forward to working with the President and our allies on Capitol Hill to pass a bill that ends the discrimination LGBT families face, provides a pathway to citizenship for undocumented people - gay and straight - and quickly integrates young people whose dream is to be fully, legally American," she said.
Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, Lambda Legal staff attorney, also applauded the news.
"We are pleased that the experiences of LGBT families are being addressed by the President's plan. The Obama Administration's plan includes critically important protections needed by millions of hardworking Americans. Those who dismiss the needs of LGBT families and suggest that we can only protect some people but not all are not being true to deeply held American values of fairness,” Espinoza-Madrigal said.
"LGBT undocumented immigrants are among the most invisible of the invisible. Many inhabit a double closet, afraid of disclosing their sexual orientation and/or gender identity and afraid of disclosing that they are undocumented,” he said.
"Our current immigration system is broken. Gross inequities in our country's current immigration system disproportionately harm LGBT people and people living with HIV in extremely grievous ways. Too often, binational same-sex couples and their families are torn apart. We need reform to address these critical problems,” the staff attorney said.
"Since the 1970s, Lambda Legal has been committed to fighting for the rights of LGBT immigrants. Without a path to legalization, LGBT and HIV-affected immigrants who are victims of hate crimes or who experience sexual orientation, gender identity or HIV discrimination or other civil rights violations often are deterred from seeking justice, out of fear of arrest or deportation. Furthermore, many immigrants rely on asylum and immigration relief for protection from persecution in their home countries based on their sexual orientation, gender identity or HIV status,” Espinoza-Madrigal said.
"Today's announcement was a step in the right direction. We are eager to work with our allies and Congress to help move this process forward."
People For the American Way
Michael Keegan, president of People For the American Way (PFAW), said his organization was delighted to see LGBT families included in the plan.
“The President has proposed a common-sense and necessary approach to immigration reform, which includes protections for LGBT families,” Keegan said.
“Any effective immigration reform must include equal rights for LGBT people. Our immigration policies must place a priority on keeping families together, including LGBT families. Too many bi-national, same-sex couples have seen their families torn apart by a federal government that refuses to recognize their relationships. That policy runs counter to our values and weakens us as a nation.
“We are glad that President Obama recognizes the need to protect LGBT families. We will fight to make sure that all families are recognized in the final law,” Keegan said.
PFAW called a bipartisan immigration plan from the Senate, which would include a path to citizenship, “an important step in the right direction.”
Log Cabin Republicans
Gregory T. Angelo, Log Cabin Republicans interim executive director, said the LCR continues to work to make sure the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA) is part of the current immigration reform package.
“The political reality today is that in nine states and the District of Columbia, there are same-sex married couples, and many of them are bi-national couples who want nothing more than to be citizens of the United States,” Angelo said.
“As it stands, committed bi-national couples are forced to choose: Leave the country and family they love, or stay here illegally. Yesterday, a bipartisan group of Senators took the first step in addressing immigration reform, and with Republican Senator Susan Collins now an official co-sponsor of the Uniting American Families Act, members of both parties are showing that they understand the importance of including legally recognized same-sex partners in this critical immigration reform,” he said.
California Latino Legislative Caucus
California state Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Long Beach), who is openly gay and the chair of the California Latino Legislative Caucus, hailed today’s message from the President.
“I am very excited that there is finally a tangible outline and direction for comprehensive immigration reform and I applaud President Barack Obama’s comments on the importance and need to move quickly. There are eleven million people in this country whose live could be changed and millions of dreams that could finally be achieved through the adoption and integration of people who have for too long been living in limbo,” Lara said.
“One of the biggest downfalls to our broken immigration system is the failure of our state and country to be able to reap the benefits of an educated workforce. These children, whom we are educating now, could be the professionals that could strengthen and revitalize our economy tomorrow. In California, we have facilitated the educating of this community through the Dream Act and through access to financial assistance for higher education. However, the crucial element of incorporating these students into our workforce and a pathway to citizenship that will keep these young professionals here for good is still missing,” he said.
“As a country that is founded by the hard labor and sacrifice of immigrants, today we pay homage to our roots by moving forward and working on fixing a system that is simply not working; for our communities, for our businesses and for our future. Our President is right-now is the time to act on common sense immigration reform. I eagerly await the change in our federal immigration policies to reflect the will of our electorate and I stand committed to working with my colleagues in the legislature to facilitate the implementation of this reform in California,” Lara said.
Human Rights Campaign
Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said the HRC would stand behind the President on this issue.
“Every day, thousands of bi-national same-sex couples are confronted with the uncertainty of immigration laws that treat them as strangers. They face the impossible dilemma of having to choose between love and country," he said.
"President Obama continues to demonstrate his tremendous leadership on behalf of our community by recognizing that fixing our nation’s flawed immigration system must include relief for these loving, committed couples and their families. In addition, by establishing a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, including children brought into this country by their parents, the President’s plan will help millions of individuals at our nation’s margins.”
Felipe Sousa-Rodriguez, National Field Director for GetEQUAL, said his organization wanted more from the President.
Obama included same-sex binational couples in his written framework, and mentioned in his speech a direct pathway to citizenship -- both very important pieces of an LGBT-friendly vision for immigration reform, he said. However, the president also included excruciating enforcement provisions that would cause more pain than gain to the over 11 million undocumented individuals already living in the United States, he said.
The president also has the power “right now” to use his executive power to end the needless stream of deportations of undocumented individuals, he said. On June 15, 2012, President Obama used his executive authority to create the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program for youth eligible for the DREAM Act. Over the past four years, the Obama administration has deported over 1.5 million undocumented immigrants -- more than any other administration.
"We are thrilled that the president is using his moral and political leadership to push for inclusive, comprehensive immigration reform, and we're very glad that his vision for reform includes provisions for same-sex binational couples and a direct pathway to citizenship," he said.
"As a beneficiary of DACA, I know firsthand how one's life is deeply changed by courageous leadership. However, we need President Obama to show real and tangible leadership on immigration issues, and to immediately call for a moratorium on deportations. Hundreds of thousands of LGBT immigrants like myself would benefit from that call in enormous ways while we want for Congress to act," Sousa-Rodriguez said.
GetEQUAL is also asking for President Obama to use his executive power to issue guidance to USCIS in order to hold green card applications from LGBT binational couples in abeyance as immigration reform is being considered by Congress and as the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) -- which bans marriage equality nationally -- is being considered by the Supreme Court. This would protect same-sex binational couples from painful and unnecessary separation from their loved ones.
Ken Williams is Editor in Chief of SDGLN. He can be reached at [email protected], @KenSanDiego on Twitter, or by calling toll-free to 888-442-9639, ext. 713.