Thursday, April 16, 2009

It's time to pass Uniting American Families Act

by Amos Lim

This op-ed was published by Bay Area Reporter.

Earlier this month, we learned about the case of Shirley Tan, who has lived in the United States for 23 years ["Bay Area family upended by immigration nightmare, April 2]. Tan, a native of the Philippines, has been in a same-sex binational relationship with an American woman, Jay Mercado, for many years. The couple has twin 12-year-old sons, who are American citizens. But because the United States does not recognize Tan and Mercado and their sons as a family, Tan is about to be deported for overstaying a visa. Her partner and sons – all Americans – can do nothing to stop this.

In another case, we recently heard the story of Tim Coco, a Massachusetts man legally married in that state to Genesio Oliveria, who is from Brazil. Oliveria was deported to Brazil because his American partner cannot sponsor him to stay with him here in the United States. If Coco and Oliveria or Tan and Mercado were heterosexual couples, they wouldn't be living these nightmares – they would be happily getting on with their lives in the United States. These are just two of the stories that have been picked up by the media and have brought some much-needed attention to this issue of same-sex immigration.

Here at Out4Immigration, we get at least one e-mail a week from Americans living in exile with their partners hoping to come back home soon; from Americans facing the real prospect of having to leave the country to be with their partner as they have exhausted all options of staying here together; or Americans seeking help as their partner has been served deportation papers and will be forced to leave the country in a couple of days. All the e-mails are filled with outrage, frustration, and disappointment that as American citizens, these individuals do not have any rights to sponsor their partner for a green card and that they are being forced to choose between their partner and their country.

The Uniting American Families Act (HR 1024 and S 424), introduced in Congress on February 12 by Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-New York) and Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), will address the inequalities in our immigration system that discriminate against gay and lesbian Americans with foreign partners. The bill currently has 97 co-sponsors in the House and 17 in the Senate. The passage of this bill, as Senator John Kerry (D-Massachusetts) said, will "ensure all citizens, regardless of their sexual orientation ... equal protection under the law." It is imperative that Congress passes this bill now, as the safety of the families of American citizens hangs in the balance. In both of the cases described above, the partner of the American citizen suffered extreme violence in the home country from which they fled. Being forced to return to these countries, being separated from the person and people they love in the United States, and rendering the American partner in these relationships powerless points to a serious flaw in American human rights.

President Obama has voiced support for the UAFA during the presidential election last year and he has included equal federal benefits for LGBT couples as part of his administration's agenda. There is the possibility that he could provide a solution and protection for our families with a stroke of a pen by signing an executive order to pass the Uniting American Families Act as law, thus bringing back home our brothers and sisters who have been forced to live in exile and protecting all same-sex binational couples from ever having to make the choice between partner and country.

This week members of Congress are in the midst of the two-week congressional spring recess. Many congressional representatives are in town to listen to our concerns. Please take a minute of your time and call your local representatives and senators to urge them to sponsor the UAFA and to ask Obama for an executive order to ensure the swift passage of this bill.

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