Senate minority threatens to derail immigration bill if it protects LGBT families

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The application for a green card by marriage cannot be filled out by a binational same-sex couple.

LGBT groups are reaffirming support for comprehensive immigration reform following reports that some senators have threatened to derail legislation if it is amended to include protections for binational LGBT families.

“The idea that lesbian and gay couples are the barrier to a bipartisan immigration reform agreement is an offensive ruse designed to distract attention away from the failings of Congress – a body that refuses to come together on popular and common-sense solutions to a host of our country’s problems,” said Chad Griffin, president of the Human rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT civil rights group.

In April, a bipartisan group of U.S. Senators, known as the Gang of Eight, introduced a massive 800-plus page immigration reform bill. It did not contain protections for binational LGBT families, prompting criticism from civil rights advocates and some Senate Democrats.

Earlier this week, the four Republicans in the Gang of Eight – Marco Rubio of Florida, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Jeff Flake and John McCain of Arizona – affirmed in closed-door negotiations on the bill that they do not want to include protections for LGBT families.

"There’s a reason this language wasn’t included in the Gang of Eight’s bill: It’s a deal-breaker for most Republicans," Flake said, according to The New York Times. "Finding consensus on immigration legislation is tough enough without opening the bill up to social issues."

Griffin said a handful of lawmakers are trying to portray LGBT equality as a “hot-button” controversial issue at a time when a majority of people support equality, as well as a broad coalition of religious institutions, labor organizations, businesses and civil rights groups.

Griffin said, “This bluster is nothing more than a political maneuver designed to divide the pro-reform coalition and at the same time appease a small but vocal group of social conservatives that will do anything to stop progress for lesbian and gay couples. The LGBT community will not stand for Congress placing the blame of their own dysfunction on our shoulders.”

In a joint statement, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, GLAAD, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, United We Dream and Queer Undocumented Immigrant Project said: "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. That pathway would provide at least 267,000 LGBT undocumented people the opportunity to become full participants in our economy and our democracy.

"We do not believe that our friends in the evangelical faith community or conservative Republicans would allow the entire immigration reform bill to fail simply because it affords 28,500 same-sex couples equal immigration rights. This take-it-or-leave-it stance with regard to same-sex binational couples is not helpful when we all share the same goal of passing comprehensive immigration reform that provides a path to citizenship.

"We all deserve a chance to live with dignity, to pursue our dreams, and to work for a better future and better quality of life.

"Our current immigration system is broken. It dehumanizes, scapegoats and vilifies all immigrants, including LGBT immigrants, and their friends and families. Comprehensive, compassionate immigration reform is an urgent priority for our nation and the LGBT community."

Estimates put the number of LGBT adult immigrants in the United States at 1 million, with about two-thirds of them documented and one-third not documented. Also, there are an estimated 32,300 LGBT binational couples in the United States. These couples, unlike heterosexual couples, cannot marry in many states and the federal government doesn’t recognize any same-sex couples.

LGBT groups, according to the statement, want reform to:

• Provide a pathway to citizenship.

• Ensure that family unity remains 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 establishing oversight mechanisms to ensure border agencies uphold basic civil and human rights protections.

• Ensure immigrant members of the LGBT community are not relegated to permanent second-class status.