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LGBT groups respond to Gang of Eight's immigration bill

LGBT civil rights activists say the immigration bill offered on April 16 by the bipartisan Gang of Eight marks the beginning of a long battle for justice. The legislation contains some key provisions sought by LGBT civil rights leaders, but lacks specific proposals to protect an estimated 40,000 binational families in which same-sex marriages or partnerships are not recognized by the federal government.

In a statement released mid-day April 17, Felipe Sousa-Rodriguez, co-director of the GetEQUAL activist group, offered his analysis on the immigration reform bill:

"Our broken immigration system has created a moral crisis. Thousands of families have been separated, millions of families have waited years to be reunited in the U.S., and workers have been abused. This bipartisan effort at reform is a first, powerful step to start the process of honoring our legacy of immigration in our country.

"LGBT immigrants have a lot of stake in this bill. The lift of the one-year filing bar for asylum will help hundred of thousands of immigrants coming to our country who are escaping homophobic and transphobic nations. The detention reforms will help us prevent some of the abuses currently happening in the detention system. We are excited that approximately 267,000 LGBT undocumented immigrants will have a pathway to citizenship. We are also celebrating the current version of the DREAM Act contained in this legislation, which is the most progressive version ever introduced.

"We still have a lot to do in order to improve this bill. The allocation of resources to border enforcement will harm local border communities and will almost certainly lead to more deaths of migrants seeking a better life. We are extremely disappointed on the elimination of family visas and various triggers contained in the bill. And, of course, we are committed to fighting hard so that the Uniting American Families Act – which will allow binational same-sex couples to remain in the United States without fear of deportation – will be added to the bill via amendment in committee."

Sousa-Rodriguez's is a binational relationship, and he describes himself as a DREAM Act beneficiary.

He said, "The inclusion of UAFA is about the recognition of our families and the end of a century-old exclusion of LGBT families in our community. Last night, as pieces of the bill's text began to surface online, I held my husband tightly – knowing that the Gang of Eight had excluded our family from the Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill. I know exactly what 40,000 families felt this morning when they saw that the Uniting American Families Act was not included in the bill. Our community has fought hard for full recognition under the law in this country and our struggle for equality has not ended, but only just begun."

At the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest LGBT civil rights group, president Chad Griffin said, “The bill … brings us one step closer to the historic immigration reform this country desperately needs. From a groundbreaking pathway to citizenship, to a lasting solution for the young DREAMers hopeful for a future in this country, to much-needed reform for asylum-seekers, this bill will change millions of lives for the better.

"But as immigration reform reaches the Senate Judiciary Committee, there is work left to do. As drafted, the bill omits reforms that would end discrimination against tens of thousands of binational gay and lesbian couples."

The chair of the judiciary committee, U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, is a supporter of the United American Families Act. Also, the UAFA has bipartisan support –  Republican Susan Collins of Maine is a co-sponsor.

Griffin said, "Failing to act on UAFA would stand in stark contrast to this bill’s unprecedented inclusivity. As we stand at the crossroads of history, leaving anyone out weakens the moral authority of this once-in-a-generation legislation. No one should be forced to live in the shadows of society."

For the record …

The Gang of Eight that drafted the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act includes: U.S. Sens. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.; John McCain, R-Ariz.; Dick Durbin, D-Ill.; Lyndsey Graham, R-S.C.; Robert Menendez, D-N.J.; Marco Rubio, R-Fla.; Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and Jeff Flake, R-Ariz.

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