WASHINGTON -- A last-minute amendment tacked onto the comprehensive immigration-reform bill would provide equal rights to same-gender binational couples, and the nation's leading LGBT advocacy groups are praising Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) for his efforts.
“Seeking equal protection under our laws for the LGBT community is the right thing to do,” Leahy said in a statement Tuesday. “I withheld my anti-discrimination amendment during the Senate Judiciary Committee markup. As the entire Senate turns to debate the immigration bill, the fight for equality must go on.”
The National Center for Lesbian Rights, GLAAD, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, United We Dream and Queer Undocumented Immigrant Project, GetEQUAL, and National Center for Transgender Equality jointly issued a statement thanking Sen. Leahy for tacking on the amendment and criticizing other amendments to the bill:
Late Tuesday, “the Senate cleared its first major hurdle in its effort to pass comprehensive immigration reform, voting on a procedural measure that will allow the legislation to move forward by a vote of 82-15.
“Our nation desperately needs to reform our patchwork of failed and mismanaged immigration policies so that the 11 million undocumented Americans living in our country, including at least 267,000 LGBT immigrants, have a pathway to citizenship.
“Today was also a watershed day because Sen. Patrick Leahy filed an amendment to the legislation that would give 28,500 same sex binational couples equal immigration rights. We thank Sen. Leahy for his courage and leadership and will work with him to pass this amendment.
“According to Latino Decisions, 61% of Latinos support the inclusion of binational families in immigration reform. We know this provision faces a contentious battle, but we firmly believe lawmakers should not be forced to make a false choice between protecting the rights of same sex binational couples and passing commonsense, human immigration policy.
“As we stand up for Sen. Leahy’s amendment that celebrates fairness and equality, we strongly oppose other amendments that have been filed that will place draconian restrictions on a pathway to citizenship. We will not allow poison-pill amendments to stand in the way of much-needed reform.
“The pathway to citizenship in the legislation is already tough, long and must be earned. But it must also be attainable. We oppose Sen. Charles Grassley’s amendment that would delay access to the path to citizenship by not allowing Registered Provisional Immigrants (RPI) to register until the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security certifies to Congress that she has maintained ‘effective control’ over the entire southern border for six months. This amendment could significantly delay even the initial registration process for the 11 million undocumented individuals in this country.
“We strongly oppose Sen. Marco Rubio’s amendment that would require all immigrants to prove they are proficient in English before than can receive permanent legal immigration status.
“And we oppose an amendment by Sen. Joe Manchin that would prevent DREAMers who have completed two years of higher education but are still working on obtaining a university degree from acquiring citizenship on the DREAM track after five years in RPI status. This mean-spirited amendment would discourage talented DREAMers from enrolling in degree programs that match their academic potential by pushing students into shorter programs they are more likely to complete in the permitted timeframe. Since DREAMers will be ineligible for certain forms of federal financial aid and will have to work to pay for college, they could take longer to acquire their degree than average college students, who already take over six years to complete a four-year program.
“We are also fighting for provisions that will particularly benefit LGBT people, such as eliminating the one-year bar on applying for asylum. We oppose efforts to put any timeline on asylum applications.
“We will continue to work to improve the legislation as we fight for its passage because this bill is a historic step forward for all immigrants and the LGBT community. Our primary goal is to pass a commonsense, compassionate immigration reform bill that puts our nation’s undocumented men, women and children on a pathway to citizenship.
“We stand strong that the following principles must be included if we are to truly have comprehensive immigration reform legislation:
· Provide a pathway to citizenship;
· Ensure that family unity is at the heart of immigration law and policy;
· End unjust detentions and deportations;
· Uphold labor and employment standards, and ensure that the enforcement of immigration law does not undermine labor and employment rights;
· Promote a dignified quality of life for border communities by ensuring border agencies uphold basic civil and human rights protections; and
· Ensure immigrant members of our community are not relegated to second-class status with fewer rights and benefits.”