Advocates Agree Schumer Not Getting Job Done on Same-Sex Partner Immigration

In the wake of New York Democrat Chuck Schumer’s April 7 statement that a draft immigration reform bill agreeable to him and the other members of the Senate Gang of Eight will be ready this week, advocates for ending restrictions on Americans in binational same-sex couples having their partners or spouses treated the same as married heterosexual spouses under US law are conceding a setback.

Manhattan Democratic Congressman Jerrold Nadler, who for years has led the effort to pass the Uniting American Families Act, which would end that ban, said he now believes the Senate bill will be introduced without UAFA’s inclusion. A wide spectrum of leaders in the immigration reform movement support relief for same-sex couples in any comprehensive package adopted, but the four Republicans in the Gang of Eight, including Arizona’s John McCain and South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham, pushed back hard earlier this year when President Barack Obama’s outline for reform embraced UAFA.

Immigration Equality, an advocacy group for LGBT and HIV-affected immigrants, shares Nadler’s assessment of the state of play.

Nadler and Immigration Equality worked hard in recent weeks to keep pressure on Schumer to make the measure’s inclusion a bottom line in his negotiations with Senate Republicans. Even though Schumer’s office has repeatedly voiced his support for seeing same-sex couple relief in the bill, he apparently will not deliver on that — at least at this stage.

At a March 18 press conference at the LGBT Community Center, Nadler said that Senate Judiciary Chair Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, would “insist” that the same-sex couple provisions be added in an amendment during his committee hearings if they were not already there. Advocates had earlier expressed fear that the Gang of Eight, in order to come to a consensus on a draft bill, would agree to oppose any efforts at amendment. Schumer’s office told Gay City News several weeks ago that no such agreement was contemplated.

Immigration Equality estimates there are 36,000 binational same-sex couples living in the US. The 1996 Defense of Marriage Act prevents even those foreign nationals in a valid marriage with a same-sex American spouse to gain permanent status here. If the Supreme Court strikes down DOMA, on which it heard oral arguments late last month, that barrier would be removed.