Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Support the DREAM Act, But Advocate for UAFA and Equal Immigration Rights for Same-Sex Binational Couples

by Kathy Drasky

I support the DREAM Act. I also support fixing the economy, clean air, ending the war in Afghanistan, repeal of DADT and a woman’s right to choose. But I advocate for only one – and that is to end immigration discrimination against LGBT Americans with foreign partners and the support of the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA). UAFA would add three words to existing US immigration law "or permanent partner" wherever the word spouse appears.

It’s not about gay marriage, although that would be great. If we could achieve marriage equality through repeal of DOMA, and I could make my permanent partner my spouse, then we have achieved the goal of UAFA – to allow gay and lesbian American citizens to sponsor their foreign partner – plus 1,137 other federal rights.

It’s not about comprehensive immigration reform, although America needs to fix this broken system. If UAFA is attached to a larger immigration bill and we keep all families together then our country re-validates the importance of immigrants’ contributions and emphasizes that we truly are a multicultural and welcoming society, ready to play on the global stage as the 21st century progresses.

The DREAM Act, which would allow the children of undocumented immigrants a path to US citizenship if they join the military or complete two years of higher education is a great bill. The people that it would help were small children – in some cases infants - when their parents brought them to the United States. They grew up as Americans – many of them having no idea they were not until they were in their teens and applied for a driver’s license or for financial aid for college and learned they would need a social security number for that.

Some of the young people who would benefit from the DREAM Act are no doubt LGBT. So are some of the people who want to fix the economy and breathe clean air. But – as advocates for a specific cause, we need to draw the line on how we will spend our precious volunteer energy and few spare dollars.

I am a volunteer for Out4Immigration. I run a full-time business and my paying clients need to come first. Some days I have an hour to contribute, others just 5 minutes. All too often I have pushed the work of a paying client into my weekend so I could devote an extra hour or two during the work day to advocate for equal immigration rights for same-sex couples. I am one of the volunteers with a more flexible schedule, without small children to raise – and yet I have to draw a line. Sitting in front of a computer all day, I am bombarded with emails asking for my support to make a phone call, sign a petition, help another cause go viral on Facebook. I could do nothing but online activism all day but then two things wouldn’t get done: my work and my advocacy for UAFA.

UAFA has been a bill in Congress now for 10 years (it was formerly known as the Permanent Partners Immigration Act, or PPIA). As the sun sets on another Congress, we once again watch our hard work (135 House co-sponsors; 25 Senate co-sponsors) evaporate and gear ourselves up for another fight. So many of us feel that the 111th Congress was our best hope in a decade. We had majorities in both Houses and a President who said he was sympathetic to our cause. We even had a successful hearing in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee. It is disheartening to think we have to do this all over again. As a volunteer who has motivated so many others who have come to Out4Immigration determined to raise awareness and make change, I wonder where I will get the energy to keep us moving forward. The one thing I can think of is to focus on achieving the goal that is outlined in UAFA.

Am I selfish because I have drawn a line? Or am I just focused on a very clear strategy. Very few visas last 10 years – but it’s been 10 years since legislation was first introduced to add three words to existing immigration law - "or permanent partner". We need to make advocating for this our number one priority – through any direct channel – inclusion in CIR, marriage equality, standalone bill. We cannot rely on other groups’ promises to have our back or keep waiting for "our turn".

Remember, while we debate this point, another same-sex binational couple examines their hard choices: live apart or up-end lives to the point that they will never be back on the financial, career or family path that you worked so hard for. That you, as an American citizen, are entitled to as part of your "pursuit of happiness".

You can support many things – but I urge all of you to only be an advocate for the one that will keep you standing. Yes, please support the DREAM Act by calling your Representatives in the House and Senate. Ask them to pass the bill – but do not hang up until you have also made sure they understand that you are part of a same-sex binational couple – and the inclusion of the language of UAFA to existing immigration law, the three words, "or permanent partner" wherever the word "spouse" appears, is what’s most important for your family.

Don’t let a day go by without thinking how you can get this message out to Congress in some way.

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