by Chris Waddling
Special to the Mercury News
The recent case of the deportation order against Jay Mercado's partner, Shirley Tan of Pacifica, and the deportation in 2007 of Tim Coco's partner, Genésio de Oliveira of Boston, make a clear point: Individual, time-consuming, last-ditch private bills such as the ones by U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier and Sen. John Kerry are not a realistic or viable solution to the blatant and cruel discrimination written into U.S. immigration law.
There is a proposal to deal with the larger problem. The Uniting American Families Act would fix a serious omission in our immigration system that blatantly discriminates against gay and lesbian American citizens and their families. It is moving through Congress, but President Barack Obama should make it law now through an executive order.
These Americans are in long term, loving, and committed relationships with foreign-born partners. But because our federal government does not recognize their relationships, an estimated 36,000 Americans around the world are unable to permanently and legally keep their families together in the United States. Thousands have been forced to leave this country, often with their children in tow, to live in exile with the person they love. They leave behind brothers, sisters, fathers and mothers, simply to keep their own nuclear families together.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., is the sponsor of the Uniting American Families Act (H.R. 1024) in the House of Representatives. He says this discrimination is "gratuitous cruelty." Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the sponsor of S. 424 in the U.S. Senate, says that it forces a choice with which "no American should be faced — to choose between the country they love and the person they love." Marriage Equality USA is a national grass-roots organization advocating for access to all 1,138 rights and benefits of marriage for all Americans. We've called on the president to issue an executive order that will bestow just one of those rights, that of immigration sponsorship of one's life-partner, and make the Uniting American Families Act law.
In a statement on the floor of the U.S. Senate in 2007, Obama said, "Where we can reunite families, we should." That's what this act is about. His agenda on the White House Web site commits his administration to fixing "the dysfunctional immigration bureaucracy and [increasing] the number of legal immigrants to keep families together"..." An executive order making the Uniting American Families Act law would be a simple yet powerful way to demonstrate his commitment to family unity and civil rights for all Americans.
In his nascent administration, Obama has already used the executive order 18 times, many of them to right the wrongs of the previous administration. In 2004, Department of Homeland Security spokesman Chris Bentley was quoted as saying, "There are no immigration benefits available to [gays] based on their relationship. With that said, there's certainly nothing that says a U.S. citizen cannot move to another country." A policy of exiling Americans so that they might remain with their partners was as wrongheaded in 2004 as it is today.
One stroke of the president's pen enacting the Uniting American Families Act is all that is needed for all Americans to have the right to live in their country and keep their families intact.
Chris Waddling of San Francisco is binational outreach director of Marriage Equality USA. He wrote this article for the Mercury News.