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US: Proposals to include gay couples in immigration bill pulled

BY NATASHA BARSOTTI — “It is with a heavy heart . . . I will withhold the Leahy Amendment 7 at this point.”

And just after 7pm on May 21, veteran Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy, of Vermont, withdrew proposed amendments to grant binational same-sex couples equal standing under the law for immigration purposes, The Washington Blade reports.

Currently, gay Americans cannot sponsor their foreign partners for residency in the US, the report notes. Even if the couples in question are married, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriage.

The Blade notes that in introducing his proposed measures — one would have allowed gay Americans to sponsor their foreign partners for residency; another would have provided for the approval of green card applications for married gay couples — Leahy said he didn't want to be "the senator who asks Americans to choose between the love of their life and the love of their country.” 

A number of queer advocacy groups expressed disappointment with Leahy's Democratic Senate colleagues — namely Chuck Schumer, Al Franken, Dianne Feinstein and Richard Durbin — for not backing Leahy.

The senators, part of the bipartisan Gang of Eight who brought forward the broader immigration reform bill, said they couldn’t support Leahy's proposals for fear of losing Republican support for the whole reform bill. It was eventually passed out of the Senate judiciary committee by a vote of 13 to five.  

While Durbin said it was the "wrong moment" and the "wrong bill" for the amendments, Feinstein said she didn't want Leahy's proposals to "blow this [broader] bill apart," pointing out that the US Supreme Court could strike down DOMA in a matter of months, BuzzFeed notes. For his part, Schumer said it was clear that if the amendments were added, the Republicans would abandon the reform bill. "The result: no equality, no immigration bill, everyone loses," he concluded.

“I’m very proud of Senator Leahy; I’m very dismayed that his colleagues did not stand up with him to talk about the dignity of LGBT immigrant families,” The Blade quotes Rachel Tiven, executive director of Immigration Equality, as saying. “Only Senator Leahy talked about the LGBT immigrants that he represents, who have dreams, too, and who want to see a good bill passed that will help everyone, and who need immigration reform as badly as any other immigrant.”

Another advocacy group, GetEqual, was even more scathing in its criticism, saying that Leahy's colleagues didn't "have the courage or the spine to stand up for what's right." 

"Let me be clear: Senators Schumer, Feinstein and Durbin caved today to the bullying of extreme rightwing Republicans, rather than standing up for the LGBT binational couples they claim to care so deeply about," GetEqual's Felipe Sousa-Rodriguez said. "They are content to buy into the false choice that Republicans created — holding a sorely needed immigration bill hostage in order to cement inequality into law," Sousa-Rodriguez added.

Noting that California is home to more queer binational couples than any other state — some 7,100, Equality California's John O'Connor said those couples have been abandoned. "We are appalled by today's actions and stand with the undocumented members of our community in calling for respect and dignity in immigration reform." 

According to Pink News, queer advocates claim there are 36,000 couples already living in the US who can't get green cards, while there are more living abroad because they can't get visas.

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