LGBT Community: Senate Dems 'Betrayed Us' on Immigration

Sen. Chuck Schumer, far right, speaks while flanked by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, center, and committee chairman Patrick Leahy during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on immigration reform and border security April 22 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Getty images)

LGBT Community: Senate Dems 'Betrayed Us' on Immigration

As reform bill passes to full Senate, concerns of gay and lesbian familes are left in the dust

Champions of equality slammed Democratic members on the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday after it succumbed to the pressure of rightwing threats by removing a crucial amendment to the immigration reform package that would have provided inclusion and protection of LGBT members of immigrant and binational families.

The overall bill was ultimately passed, but only after Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the committee's chairman, removed an amendment that included protections and equal legal status for families that include same-sex partners who are non-US citizens.

"I'm committed to ending that discrimination," Leahy said before withdrawing the amendment which Republican lawmakers said would essentially kill the legislation either at the committee level or in the full Senate.

But LGBT activists, tired of their continued exclusion from equal treatment under the law, say the move is just another cave by the Democrats.

"Republicans came after LGBT families, and Democrats didn't stand up," said Rachel B. Tiven, executive director of the Immigration Equality Action Fund which advocates on behalf of the LGBT community in immigration matters.

"There should be shame on both sides of the political aisle for lawmakers who worked to deny LGBT immigrant families a vote," she said.

Though she acknowledge that both Sen. Leahy and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) had voiced strong support for the amendment's inclusion, Tiven said the Democratic leaders on the committee caved to bullying from the GOP and other regressive forces by accepting a "false choice" between LGBT families and immigration reform.

"Senators have lined up in recent months to proclaim their support for marriage equality and LGBT rights," Tiven added. "Yet, given the first opportunity to put their vote where their talking point is, they failed. Our families need deeds, not words."

According to Tiven's groups, an estimated 36,000 couples are raising more than 25,000 children within the United States (with countless others living in forced exile) are unable to sponsor their spouse or partner for residency under current immigration law because of their sexual status.

Lavi Soloway, an immigration attorney and co-founder of the DOMA Project which focuses on immigration for binational LGBT couples, was scathing in his rebuke, putting focus on Schumer and Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) by calling Tuesday's removal of the amendment a "betrayal" by Democrats.

"What's worse," Soloway wrote just ahead of the committee's vote, "there was never any chance that either [Schumer or Feinstein] were planning to go to bat for us. So, for weeks, we endured gay bashing by Republicans over amendments that were doomed to failure in Committee because they lacked the support of cowardly Democrats. This was a foregone conclusion, and it cost us dearly."

He continued:

Remember this when you are rejoicing about the seemingly inevitable momentum we are experiencing as one state after another passes Marriage Equality. Remember this when Facebook is filled with BREAKING NEWS telling you that 54 Senators have declared support for Marriage Equality. Remember this when staggering public polling results show support for marriage equality reaching new highs in places as far as Virginia, and with every demographic, including the oldest Americans. Certainly, this progress should be greeted with elation, but if our elected officials refuse to vote for our lives, for our equality, and for our future, our families will continue to be torn apart. Parents will continue to be separated from their children for years, couples will continue to be forced into exile or separated for many years, and foreign spouses and partners of lesbian and gay Americans will continue to be deported.


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