Hope springs eternal in a lame-duck Congress—or maybe it’s desperation. Democrats and their supporters, bracing for a more conservative Congress starting in January, are rushing to push legislation through during the few days left in the remaining session.
Immigration Equality is pushing for legislation to enable gay foreigners whose partners are American citizens to stay in this country.
“We’re gearing up,” said Steve Ralls, a spokesman for the group.
They are motivated, he said, by comments from Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), sponsor of S. 3932, a comprehensive immigration reform bill introduced October 1. The bill seeks to address a number of issues, such as stronger border control and a means by which non-citizens in this country can achieve citizenship. Among those issues, too, is the language of the “Uniting American Families Act,” sponsored by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) The Leahy language would amend existing law to allow a U.S. citizen to gain citizenship for his or her “permanent partner.” Current law allows for recognition only of a spouse, and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) prevents recognition of same-sex spouses.
A similar bill exists in the House (HR 4321), but none of the bills have had hearings or committee votes. Ralls doesn’t believe the immigration legislation is a candidate for attachment to some other legislation. So, what drives his optimism?
“My understanding is that, if Senator Menendez can line up bipartisan support the White House is willing to push for it,” said Ralls.
Menendez told reporters Monday that the White House is “ready and willing” to move on the bill but he added that the president “made it clear that he is willing to move forward if there is bipartisan support.”
On Tuesday, President Obama indicated only that he wanted action during the lame-duck session on a smaller piece of immigration legislation known as the DREAM Act, which provides for a way certain foreigners under the age of 36 to obtain citizenship. But Ralls said that, while the gay-related language is not part of DREAM, “Menendez has said that Obama’s commitment is much larger.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid tried to include consideration of the DREAM Act in September, along with repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) in the annual Defense Authorization bill. But Republicans—some of whom were opposed to the immigration language, some opposed to DADT repeal—filibustered the defense spending bill.
“Everyone understands the window here is very short, and there’s already a very full schedule,” said Ralls.
“Passage of inclusive reform [bill] offers a very significant leap forward for LGBT rights in general,” said Ralls. “If approved, it would mark the first time that LGBT couples receive federal recognition as a family.”