Immigration equality picks up more Congressional support

Senate and House add co-sponsors, some couples are still skeptical

by Jessica Carreras

Recently, the Uniting American Families Act, a bill that would grant equal immigration rights to same-sex couples in bi-national relationships, made strides forward when four more senators and 16 more representatives joined in cosponsoring the legislation. Supporters of the bill are calling the move unprecedented.

Under current U.S. immigration law, as outlined in the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act, a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident may sponsor a spouse for immigration. However, because same-sex relationships are not legally recognized by the U.S. government, these couples are not afforded the same right - even if they are legally married in a state or country that allows same-sex marriage.

As a result, thousands of couples are forced to leave the country, live in exile or live without their spouse.

UAFA would amend the Immigration and Nationality Act by adding the term "permanent partner" next to "spouse" for immigration to the U.S. Gay and lesbian couples would be subject to the same standards of proof that they are in a committed, life-long relationships, and are financially interdependent.

Among the recently added supporters in the Senate are Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), Bob Casey (D-Penn.) and Maria Cantwell of Washington voiced their support of UAFA, bringing the total number of cosponsors of the bill to 18. In the House of Representatives, the bill has 116 supporters. Sen. Schumer, who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over the bill, brings the number of committee cosponsors to six.

For couples like Marcus and Anton Anderssen of Madison Heights, it is great news to hear - but not enough to sway their skepticism. The couple lives the very struggle that UAFA aims to help: being a bi-national couple. While Anton resides primarily in Michigan, Marcus is a citizen of Italy. Though legally married in Canada, the couple sees each other only while vacationing. Anything more, says Anton, would be considered illegal.

Anton, who was interviewed by Between The Lines in July 2007, is still weary of U.S. immigration, which has put Marcus under investigation in the past for what they considered to be too many visits to America. "We are angry we have so little control over our own fate," said Anton. "Marcus was chased out from the US, where he didn't belong, as was I from Italy. It's a huge slap in the face to experience the cruelty of U.S. immigration law, compared to the more civilized countries like The Netherlands, Spain and Canada."

The couple uses vacationing as a guise to spend time together - a costly and difficult decision. "Our solution has been to meet regularly in the Mexican Riviera," said Anton, "albeit a highly inconvenient commute for both of us."

The couple refuses to move to a different country. To do so would be the upheaval of both of their lives because of an unjust law. Instead, they see other political ways to fight - and see the upcoming election as a chance to make their dream of eventually living together a reality. "We need to elect Barack Obama, a supporter of the act (UAFA), so he can appoint forward-thinking Supreme Court justices to the bench," said Anton.

But in the House and Senate, support is already growing, fueled, some say, by heart-wrenching stories of couples like Marcus and Anton.

Immigration Equality, a national non-profit organization advancing equal immigration rights for the LGBT and HIV-positive community, is the principal advocate for the legislation. They have worked to introduce the legislation, educate members of Congress about the need for passage and document the stories of Americans and their families affected by the issue. "We are thrilled with the number of new cosponsors," said Julie Kruse, Immigration Equality policy director. "Members of Congress agree that Americans should not have to choose between family and country."

Kruse is optimistic that it is only a matter of time before the bill is passed, given the support it continues to gain. "The support of these senators and the increase of support in the House show that this vital legislation is gaining momentum," Kruse said. "When members of Congress meet same-sex partners and their family members face-to-face, the injustice of immigration discrimination becomes clear. This is why we continue winning their support and votes."

Still, Anton and Marcus are doubtful and fear that they may never be able to fully enjoy life together as married couples do. "I do not believe I will live to see the day when we can live together legally," Anton said. "Perhaps the only way most (bi-national) gay couples can stay together like normal human beings is to hide their partners from immigration, the way Jews were hid from the Nazis."

But despite his pessimism, Anton is thankful for the time they do have together. "Marcus and I are fortunate to have the financial resources to meet each other in vacation destinations," he said, "Even if it means 'vacationing' most of the year."

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