Push for Parity

Congressional caucus calls for inclusive immigration reform

by Will O'Bryan
Published on February 10, 2010, 10:54pm | Comments

The Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus last week made a fresh push for immigration equality in a letter to five national leaders. In the Feb. 2 letter, not widely circulated till Feb. 9, the 60 signatories urged the president, leaders of the House and Senate and two key committee chairs to support LGBT families in immigration reform.

"In truth, no immigration reform bill can be called 'comprehensive' unless it includes all Americans, including those who are LGBT," the letter states. "No one should be forced to choose between the person they love and they country they call home. It is time that our immigration laws kept families together instead of tearing them apart."

The letter from the caucus, co-chaired by Reps. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Jared Polis (D-Colo.), all of whom are gay, comes as Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) prepares his own immigration legislation. Schumer, as chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security, was a recipient of the caucus's letter, as was Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), chair of the House's counterpart subcommittee. Along with the president, the letter was also addressed to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

"It's a clear statement to Schumer and other leaders that there are a number of members who want [immigration reform] to be LGBT-inclusive," says Steve Ralls, director of communications for Immigration Equality, an organization advocating for equal treatment of LGBT and HIV-positive people in immigration policies. The organization is based in New York, with an office in D.C.

Among those 60 caucus members signing the Feb. 2 letter was Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) who has been fighting for such reform for a decade. His bill is the Uniting American Families Act. Similarly, a comprehensive bill from caucus member and signatory Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.), the Reuniting American Families Act, is also LGBT-inclusive. Closer to home, D.C.'s Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) and Rep. James Moran (D-Va.) were among the signatories.

Why, however, all 81 caucus members were not part of the letter might be chalked up to plain old politics.

"For many members of Congress, immigration is a tricky issue," says Ralls. "That 60 members are saying, 'We support this effort in immigration reform,' is very significant.

"To put it in perspective, sign-on letters on a number of other issues circulate through Congress. This particular letter has more signatories than virtually any recent effort -- period."