Most of the controversial measures in the Senate's immigration reform bill are about loosening current laws — increasing the number of visas for both high- and low-skilled workers, creating a path to citizenship for the 11 million people already here. But one important fight in this week's dizzying array of amendments to the bill is simply about extending current laws to gay people. Straight citizens and legal residents can sponsor a spouse for a green card. Gay people can't do that, because of the Defense of Marriage Act. Even when they're legally married. (Above, Takako Ueda faced deportation in 2011 despite being married to Frances Herbert under Vermont law.)
That means Democrats would be using the immigration bill to undo one of the effects of DOMA. Republican Sens. Marco Rubio and Jeff Flake have both said the gay rights amendment would kill the immigration bill, while Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy denies that. But Leahy has been working on immigration rights for gay couples for more than a decade. Leahy tried to include it in 2009, but immigration reform failed that year. Leahy's bill wasn't included in George W. Bush's 2007 bill, which also died, due to Republican opposition. This year marks the first time Leahy's proposal has come up when DOMA actually looked threatened.
The Supreme Court looked ready to strike down the law in March. And while both elite and public opinion has moved swiftly towards supporting gay marriage, only a couple of Republican senators support it. Does that mean Leahy's bill has a better chance? Or a better chance to kill the whole thing? Senators who want immigration reform think they have a better chance of getting their bill through the House if 70 or more senators vote for the bill, Politico's Carrie Budoff Brown reports. There is a lot of overlap between Republicans who oppose immigration reform and those who strongly oppose gay marriage. A senator reportedly told the White House, "Guns, gays and immigration — it's too much. I can be with you on one or two of them, but not all three." What about two in one bill?
Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin said Sunday that senators haven't reached an agreement yet on same-sex couples. President Obama endorsed allowing gay people to sponsor foreign-born partners Friday, but said, "I'm not going to get everything I want in this bill and Republicans are not going to get everything they want."
While immigrants in gay relationships wait for the Supreme Court's ruling on DOMA, which is expected sometime next month, their lives have gotten a little easier. Last year, the Department of Homeland Security decided that same-sex couples would be included under new rules that delayed the deportation of undocumented immigrants who did not have a criminal record. Immigration officials are allowed to consider "ties and contributions to the community, including family relationships" when deciding whether to stop someone from being deported.
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