New York Times
By Julia Preston
April 30, 2013
This has been a good year for gay rights advocates — with public opinion shifting in their favor and same-sex marriage advancing in the states — but not when it comes to immigration.
An 844-page bill introduced in the Senate in mid-April by a bipartisan group of eight lawmakers includes measures to make legal immigration easier for highly skilled immigrants, migrant farmworkers and those living here illegally. It has no provisions that would help foreigners who are same-sex partners of American citizens to become legal permanent residents.
Gay advocates were sharply disappointed to find that same-sex couples were excluded from the legislation, since the Democrats who wrote it included two of their most consistent champions, Senators Charles E. Schumer of New York and Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the second highest-ranking Senate Democrat. Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the Democrat who is chairman of the Judiciary Committee, where the bill is under consideration, has offered, since as far back as 2003, a separate measure that would allow immigrants in long-term same-sex relationships to obtain residency with a green card.
But in the lengthy closed-door negotiations that produced the overhaul proposal, the four Republicans in the bipartisan group made it clear early on that they did not want to include such a hot-button issue in a bill that would be a challenge to sell to their party even without it, according to Senate staff members. The Republicans are Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Jeff Flake and John McCain of Arizona, and Marco Rubio of Florida.
Many Republicans in both houses of Congress oppose any recognition of same-sex unions.
Now, with the immigration bill scheduled to advance next week toward a vote in the Judiciary Committee, Democrats are in a quandary about whether to offer an amendment that would give green cards to same-sex partners.
Republican sponsors of the overhaul warned on Tuesday that such an amendment would sink the entire measure.
“There’s a reason this language wasn’t included in the Gang of Eight’s bill: It’s a deal-breaker for most Republicans,” Senator Flake said. “Finding consensus on immigration legislation is tough enough without opening the bill up to social issues.”
Under existing immigration law, it is generally a quick and straightforward process when an American citizen seeks a green card for a foreign-born spouse in a traditional marriage.
But under a 1996 federal law that defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman, Americans cannot apply for green cards for foreign spouses of the same sex. In addition, the immigration code does not recognize same-sex partners.
Last Wednesday, about 40 gay and lesbian families from 27 states fanned out across Capitol Hill in a lobbying blitz, hoping to show lawmakers why they cared about the issue.
“I was troubled to hear hesitation from Senate Democrats,” said Rachel B. Tiven, executive director of Immigration Equality, a gay rights group that organized the Washington visits. “When Democrats are falling over one another to say how they support marriage equality, why are they abandoning gay families when actual legislation is on the table?”
Among those knocking on doors in Washington were Ness Madeiros, 35, and her wife, Ginger, 37, who traveled from their home in Minneapolis with their 8-month-old son, Jamie, in tow.
“He was the most amazing tiny little lobbyist,” Ness Madeiros said in an interview together with Ginger. “He did not cry for 10 hours, and we cried in every meeting.”
Ness, an immigrant from Bermuda, said she had lived in the United States on and off for more than a decade, always with legal, but temporary, immigration documents. She said she met Ginger, an American citizen, in 2006 when they were both working at a boarding school in Massachusetts. They were legally married there in 2008.
Shortly after, an effort to obtain a permanent green card for Ness through an employer failed. Ness left for Bermuda, where she remained for two years, the couple said. In 2010 she returned here on a student visa to live with Ginger in Minnesota and study for a master’s degree in psychology.
Without a permanent green card, Ness cannot officially adopt Jamie or share ownership of the house where they live. Her visa is about to expire, the couple said.
“It’s a pretty scary situation for us,” Ginger said. “If something were to happen to me, what is Ness left with?”
Senator Leahy’s bill does not seek to legalize gay marriage. Instead, it would allow an American citizen to petition for a green card for a “permanent partner.” Senator Susan Collins of Maine, a Republican, is a co-sponsor of that bill. “Our legislation would simply update our nation’s immigration laws to treat binational, same-sex permanent partners fairly,” she said on Tuesday.
She and Senate Democrats are looking to Mr. Leahy to decide whether to attach that measure as an amendment to the larger bill. He has not yet tipped his hand.
But in an interview Tuesday with the conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, Senator Rubio was blunt in his assessment of the impact of any same-sex amendment. “This immigration bill is difficult enough as it is,” he said. “If that issue is injected into this bill, this bill will fail. It will not have the support. It will not have my support.”
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