Congressman Luis Gutierrez, who represents Illinois' 4th Congressional District, plans to introduce comprehensive immigration-reform legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives within the next couple of weeks.
LGBT groups are seeking to make sure that it includes protections for same-sex couples and families.
Steve Ralls, director of communications for the Washington, D.C.-based group Immigration Equality, said that he thinks Gutierrez's bill will be a "progressive starting point" for immigration reform. The White House indicated that it would like to tackle the problem of immigration around the end of this year, Ralls said; the Gutierrez bill will be considered alongside a number of other versions authored by members of Congress.
Although he said that Immigration Equality has not received any commitment from Gutierrez, it and other LGBT organizations hope that his legislation will include provisions for the protection of LGBT families. "Our hope is that he will include us," said Ralls, noting that Gutierrez has supported legislation in this regard in the past.
Although a spokesperson from Gutierrez's office declined to comment on the specifics of the bill as it is in the process of being written, she said that the congressman will be available for interviews around the time that he releases the legislation ( slated for Oct. 13 ) .
The specific provision sought by Immigration Equality is an allowance for U.S. citizens to sponsor same-sex partners for residencyputting them on equal footing with opposite-sex couples.
"Gay and lesbian families are either living separately or facing separation," Ralls said. "Forty-seven percent of LGBT binational couples have children … facing the prospect of losing one of their parents."
Such protections are included in several other bills currently before Congress, including the Uniting American Families Act, formerly known as the Permanent Partners Immigration Act. Its major supporters are Sen. Patrick Leahy, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Rep. Gerrold Nadler.
Leahy held a full Judiciary Committee hearing on the bill in June, bypassing the usual subcommittee process to lend the issue greater urgency and visibility. "As comprehensive immigration reform is being written, [ Leahy ] wants LGBT families in that bill," Ralls said, adding that the Uniting American Families Act currently has 117 co-sponsors in the House and 23 co-sponsors in the Senate.
Provisions for LGBT families are also included in a broad immigration reform bill authored by Rep. Michael Honda, who introduced legislation in the House of Representatives in June. Ralls said that Honda's bill, the Reuniting Families Act, appeared to gain Congressional support after details were added to benefit LGBT families.
The version of the bill pending in the Senate has 59 supporters, Ralls said, suggesting that "when you include LGBT families, you gain co-sponsors. The LGBT-inclusive bill is certainly leaps and bounds ahead." Ralls said that Immigration Equality has been working with a number of other LGBT groupsincluding the National Gay and Lesbian Taskforce and the Human Rights Campaignto pressure legislators on the issue.
The Obama administration plans to address the tangle of immigration legislation after some resolution on the healthcare debate is attained, said Ralls. He said that Obama has indicated his support of LGBT families in the past; he anticipates the president's support in the future.
"In the past two years, the playing field has really changed," said Ralls. ( The last attempt at immigration reform, initiated in 2007 by President George W. Bush, failed to pass through Congress. ) He said that there are "lessons to be learned" from the healthcare debateand the apparent healthcare impasse does not necessarily mean trouble for immigration reform.
The "principle of family unification," Ralls said, when applied to LGBT families, is a "natural fit for immigration reform. We must try to keep families together."
More information about Immigration Equality can be found at www.immigrationequality.org .