Senate committee passes immigration bill lacking protections for LGBT families


The Senate Judiciary Committee on May 21 passed a massive immigration reform bill that includes sweeping changes. But the measure lacks protections for LGBT families that are needed because the federal government does not recognize same-sex relationships.

President Barack Obama had made it clear he supports such protections when he called for immigration reform earlier this year, and many Democrats in the Senate support such protections.

But Republicans said inclusion would destroy chances to pass legislation and damage the delicate bipartisan campaign for reform.

Obama, after the committee action on May 21, issued a statement, “Thanks to the leadership of Chairman (Patrick) Leahy and a bipartisan group of eight Senators, the legislation that passed the Judiciary Committee with a strong bipartisan vote is largely consistent with the principles of commonsense reform I have proposed and meets the challenge of fixing our broken immigration system. The process for considering this legislation has been open and inclusive with multiple hearings, and more than a hundred amendments were considered and adopted, in many cases with bipartisan support. I applaud the Committee members for their hard work, especially ‘Gang of Eight’ members Senators Schumer, Durbin, Graham and Flake.  None of the Committee members got everything they wanted, and neither did I , but in the end, we all owe it to the American people to get the best possible result over the finish line.  I encourage the full Senate to bring this bipartisan bill to the floor at the at the earliest possible opportunity and remain hopeful that the amendment process will lead to further improvements.”

LGBT civil rights organizations also responded, affirming a commitment to supporting immigration reform that provides a path to citizenship but also calling for improvements to the bill on the Senate floor. 

“We are disappointed that certain senators threatened the entire immigration reform bill simply because it affords 28,500 same-sex binational couples equal immigration rights,” read the joint statement from the National Center for Lesbian Rights, GLAAD, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, United We Dream and Queer Undocumented Immigrant Project, Lambda Legal, Equality Federation and the National Center for Transgender Equality. “At the same time, we thank Senator Leahy for standing up for these families. A majority of Americans, 53 percent, believe that all consenting adults should have the right to get married and that gender should not play a role in who is considered family.”

The statement continued, “It is unconscionable that lawmakers committed to equality and commonsense, humane immigration policy were forced to make a false choice between protecting the rights of same-sex binational couples and keeping a tenuous coalition together. 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.”

The civil rights groups want an immigration bill that:

• Provides a pathway to citizenship;

• Ensures that family unity is at the heart of immigration law and policy;

• Ends unjust detentions and deportations;

• Upholds labor and employment standards, and ensures that the enforcement of immigration law does not undermine labor and employment rights;

• Promotes a dignified quality of life for border communities by ensuring border agencies uphold basic civil and human rights protections; and

• Ensures immigrant members of our community are not relegated to second-class status with fewer rights and benefits.

The bill is S. 744, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act.