04.14.11

Leahy Introduces Bill To Bring Equality To Lawful Partners In Immigration Law

WASHINGTON (Thursday, April 14, 2011) – Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) Thursday renewed his effort to update U.S. immigration law to permit American citizens to sponsor same-sex “permanent partners” applying for legal residency in the United States.  The Uniting American Families Act of 2011 mirrors legislation introduced by Leahy in the last Congress.  Companion legislation will be introduced in the House of Representatives today by Congressman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.).

Current law permits American citizens to sponsor their spouses for green cards under the family immigration system.  The Uniting American Families Act would extend this right to same-sex couples by adding “or permanent partner” to sections of the Immigration and Naturalization Act that apply to legally married partners.

“A core tenet of our immigration policy is preserving family unity.  Yet gay and lesbian Americans are still forced to choose between their country and being with those they love,” said Leahy.  “I hear from Vermont couples who face this difficult decision every year.  No American should face such a choice.  I hope that my colleagues who supported this important civil rights reform will join me in calling for fairness and equality in our immigration laws.”

The Uniting American Families Act would apply the same restrictions and penalties to same-sex couples that are applied to opposite-sex couples under the Immigration and Naturalization Act.  Any individual found to have entered into a fraudulent, permanent partnership for the purposes of obtaining a visa for another individual would be subject to the same penalties: maximum five-year imprisonment, a $250,000 fine, or both.  The legislation also requires binational couples to provide proof that they meet the definition of “permanent partners” as defined in the bill. 

The legislation is cosponsored by Senators Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Robert Casey (D-Pa.), Christopher Coons (D-Del.), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), John Kerry (D-Mass.), Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).

More than two dozen countries recognize same-sex couples for immigration purposes:  Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greenland, Hungary, Iceland, Israel, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Romania, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.

The text of the Uniting American Families Act is available online.

# # # # #

 

Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.),

On The Introduction Of The Uniting American Families Act

Senate Floor

April 14, 2011

Today, I am reintroducing the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA), which grants same-sex binational couples the same immigration benefits heterosexual couples have long enjoyed.  This is the fourth Congress in which I have introduced this legislation, and I am proud to be joined by 17 Senators, many of whom also cosponsored this bill when it was introduced in the last Congress.  I want to thank Senators Akaka, Blumenthal, Boxer, Cardin, Casey, Coons, Durbin, Franken, Gillibrand, Harkin, Kerry, Lautenberg, Merkley, Murray, Schumer, Whitehouse, and Wyden for joining me as original cosponsors today.

A core tenet of our immigration policy is preserving family unity.  Yet gay and lesbian Americans are still forced to choose between their country and being with those they love.  This destructive policy tears families apart and forces hardworking Americans to make the heart-wrenching choice to leave the country they love and start over in one of the countries that now recognize immigration benefits for same-sex couples.  I hear from Vermont couples who face this difficult decision every year.  No American should face such a choice.   

Over the past decade, Americans have begun to reject the notion that U.S. citizens who are gay or lesbian should not have loving relationships.  As a result of this cultural shift, five states, including Vermont, now allow same-sex couples to get married.  At the end of the 111th Congress, bipartisan votes in both the Senate and the House reversed the Military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, a 17-year-old policy that barred gay and lesbian service men and women from openly serving in the military.  I hope that my colleagues who supported this important civil rights reform will join me in calling for fairness and equality in our immigration laws.

Some opponents of the Uniting American Families Act have argued that it would increase the potential for visa fraud.  I share the belief that all immigration applications should be screened for fraud, but I am confident that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will have no more difficulty identifying fraud in same-sex relationships than they do in heterosexual marriages. The penalties for fraud under this bill would be the same as the penalties for marriage fraud.  These are very strict penalties:  a sentence of up to five years in prison, $250,000 in fines for the U.S. citizen partner, and deportation for the foreign partner. In addition, in order to qualify as a bi-national couple under UAFA, petitioners must prove that they are at least 18 years of age and in a committed, lifelong, financially interdependent relationship with another adult.  The American ideals that respect human relationships and family bonds should not be impeded by fears of fraud, which the immigration agency is very capable of controlling. 

Since I last introduced the Uniting American Families Act in 2009, more than six additional countries have begun to offer immigration benefits to same-sex couples, bringing the total to at least 25 nations.  Some of these nations are our closest allies, including our good friends to the North.  America should join Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greenland, Hungary, Iceland, Israel, Luxembourg, The Netherland, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Romania, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. 

Unfortunately, among developed countries with a culture of respect for human rights and fairness, the United States is falling behind by denying Americans an equitable immigration policy.  I hope all Senators will agree that the United States should not have a policy that forces Americans to choose between their jobs and country, and their loved ones.  I urge all Senators to support this legislation. 

I ask unanimous consent that a copy of the Uniting American Family Act be printed in the Record.

 

# # # # #

Press Contact

David Carle: 202-224-3693