Already, however, the effort is bearing fruit.
“Immigration Equality’s lobbying strategy has worked so far,” reporter Andrew Harmon
wrote in September, “primarily because the organization focused extensively on
building bridges with mainstream immigration groups and faith-based organizations.”
“While national gay organizations historically have paid scant attention to the topic,”
Harmon noted, “. . . Immigration Equality has lobbied key lawmakers and immigration
rights groups” to ensure the bill gains traction.
Now, for Judy and her partner – and countless others – victory finally seems within
And that, after six months in exile, was more than enough to bring tears to Judy’s eyes.
For more information on LGBT immigration issues, visit www.immigrationequality.org.
And, for tools and actions to help pass LGBT-inclusive immigration reform, visit
Immigration Equality’s new Action Fund website,
CLICK HERE for more Steve Ralls
Copyright © AMBIENTE MAGAZINE. Do not reproduce without citing this source
www.ambiente.us MAY | MAYO 2010
The Journey Home
by Steve Ralls
Judy Rickard said the news made her cry.
The California resident, who had been traveling through Europe for six months after
being forced to leave her home in the United States, was sitting in the terminal at JFK
airport on April 29th. She had just made it through customs and spent a harrowing few
hours waiting for her British partner – who was returning to the U.S. with her – to be
granted entry as well. Judy, who cannot sponsor Karin for residency under current U.S.
immigration law, was pacing and worrying that her partner was not emerging from the
customs questioning area.
Then, Karin appeared and Judy breathed her first sigh of relief. The two would be able
to remain together, on U.S. soil, for another six months, before leaving again.
A year earlier, Judy took early retirement from her job so she could leave her own
country in order to keep her family intact. Because Judy and Karin are a lesbian
couple, Judy has no ability to keep her partner in the country, as straight Americans are
able to do. Instead, Karin stays in the United States for half of each year. Then, when
her visa forces her to leave, Judy packs up and leaves with her. It has made building a
home together, to say the least, a little difficult.
So the news on April 29th was a very big deal for both of them.
Safely settled in the JFK terminal, Judy went looking for an internet
connection. When she logged on, the headline stood out on her laptop screen like a
neon “welcome home” sign.
“Senate Immigration Reform Principles Include Lesbian and Gay Families.”
That’s when Judy emailed me to say she had started to cry.
Senate leaders – including Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV),
immigration point-person Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and
Congressional Hispanic Caucus member Robert Menendez
(D-NJ) – had just unveiled a framework for comprehensive
immigration reform legislation which, for the first time, included
families like Judy and Karin.
On page 22 of their 26 page outline for the coming immigration bill, the Senators
pledged that their legislation would “eliminate discrimination in immigration laws by
permitting permanent partners of United States citizens and lawful permanent
residents to obtain lawful permanent resident status.”
In short, the immigrant partners of lesbian and gay U.S. citizens would, at long last, be
eligible to sponsor their loved ones for residency in the United States.
It was hailed as a watershed moment by Immigration Equality, the national
organization working on behalf of LGBT immigrants and their families . . . and the
organization which is leading the effort to include LGBT families in immigration reform.
Calling the framework “an historic step forward for lesbian, gay, bisexual and
transgender binational families,” Immigration Equality executive director Rachel
MIAMI RIVER INN
B. Tiven also noted that, “Our community understands, all too well, the pain of being
punished and singled out for who we are. Our solidarity with the larger immigrant
community is deep, and our resolve to fix our broken immigration system is real. We
will work for a bill that provides a path to citizenship for the undocumented, including
those who are LGBT.”
“Now, it is time to turn these principles into laws,” Tiven said. “We will fight to ensure
that [LGBT families are] an indelible part of the immigration reform bill.”
The framework, Tiven noted, sets the stage for an historic first in the coming months:
Inclusion of LGBT families in comprehensive immigration reform legislation. It also
follows in the footsteps of a family unification bill, introduced in 2009 by Congressman
Mike Honda (D-CA), which was the very first multi-issue immigration bill to include the
LGBT community. And it marks what could be a turning point in a decade-long
legislative campaign – led by Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) in the House and
Vermont’s Patrick Leahy in the Senate – to end the discrimination lesbian and gay
binational couples face under current immigration laws.
The bill sponsored by Nadler and Leahy – The Uniting American Families Act – has
steadily gained support in the last 18 months. A coalition of more than 60 lawmakers,
earlier this year, called for its inclusion in comprehensive reform. And Immigration
Equality has ramped up its lobbying team in Washington to push for its passage, too.
Comprehensive reform, both Immigration Equality and leaders like Nadler and others
have said, is the best and fastest vehicle to get that done.
The journey from the introduction of an inclusive framework to passage of an inclusive
bill, however, is not a short one. The coming months, Immigration Equality has noted,
will be critical in convincing lawmakers to turn their framework into a bill, and in
continuing to grow a diverse coalition of grassroots advocates committed to working
on behalf of LGBT families.