Uniting American Families Act to be Reintroduced in U.S. House
Leaders in the United States House of Representatives are set to announce the re-introduction of the Uniting American Families Act, a bill that would extend to gay and lesbian Americans rights comparable to those already enjoyed by heterosexual citizens who are in committed relationships with foreign nationals.
Under existing law, heterosexual Americans are permitted to sponsor opposite-sex partners for residency within the borders of the United States. But same-sex couples are not accorded the same privileges, leaving bi-national couples to seek alternative means of remaining together--or to face wrenching decisions that force some couples to live apart, and prompt some American citizens to emigrate to nations with more equable laws.
There are currently no federal laws that protect gay and lesbian families, but one statute--the anti-gay 1996 "Defense of Marriage" Act (DOMA)--singles out same-sex families for exclusion from any federal recognition.
The Uniting American Families Act would redress some of the inequalities that same-sex families face, by allowing committed American partners in same-sex relationships with citizens of other countries to act as sponsors for their significant others.
"On Thursday, Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, and Representatives John Conyers (D-MI), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Jared Polis (D-CO), Mike Honda (D-CA), Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), Jackie Speier (D-CA), and others will announce the re-introduction of the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA)," an April 13 press release from the U.S. House of Representatives said.
"This overdue legislation would allow gay and lesbian Americans to sponsor their permanent partners for legal residency in the United States, a right currently enjoyed only by married heterosexuals under immigration law. Because the U.S. does not legally recognize gay and lesbian couples and their children as families, many same-sex bi-national couples are torn apart," the release added.
"Joining the Members will be national LGBT advocates and leaders on LGBT immigration issues, as well as Shirley Tan and Jay Mercado, a same-sex California couple, and their children Joriene and Jashley," the release noted. "The recent immigration plight of the Tan/Mercado family drew national attention and dramatically highlighted the urgency to pass UAFA."
As reported at EDGE, New York-based immigration attorney Lavi Soloway, a founder of both Immigration Equality and Stop The Deportations--The DOMA Project addressed the matter of bi-national couples and the legal hurdles they face in terms of the need to repeal DOMA.
"We are working to expand family-based immigration sponsorship for green cards," said Soloway. "We need action from Congress, for DOMA to be struck down by the Supreme Court. We are facing how to keep families together and raise their children in that situation."
One case in point is that of French-American couple Frederic and Mark, who have been together for 21 years and who have four adoptive children. Frederic has managed to remain in the United States legally thanks to a student visa, but that visa is about to expire. In their early years of their relationship, the men simply traveled back and forth over the Atlantic to spend time together, but now that they are parents the prospect of long separations are even more onerous--and the practicalities of caring for the children make frequent trips to France and back impossible.
The men considered relocating to France, where they could remain together, but even in France the law will not recognize them both as fathers to their children.
"We thought we would go back to France, and tried to get the kids their papers, but the New York personnel just hung up," said Frederic. "They told me that our children meant nothing to them, that they were nobody."
"The government here gives us the right to adopt kids, but they will deport one of the fathers," Mark summarized, going on to say, "if they deport Fred, they are taking him away from his legal children. And if we go to France, although they recognize same-sex relationships, it’s unclear whether they recognize them for immigration rights. There may be a change in the fall, but we’re not quite sure even if children are legally allowed to have two fathers there. One of us might have to give up their legal rights to the children."
Though the re-introduction of the UAFA is sure to generate hoopla, Mark expressed doubt that anything substantive would result.
"It’s a bill they put in the House every year and try to get sponsors," he said. "That’s been going on for over a decade, and they haven’t brought up that bill for acceptance or denial.
"Nothing federally legally has changed in our case. They want to do it, and keep proposing it, but nothing is voted on."
Congressional leaders are slated to announce the bill’s re-introduction at 1:00pm on April 14th at the House Triangle in Washington D.C.