www.ambiente.us AUGUST | AGOSTO 2009
Comprehensive, Inclusive Reform|
The Most Important Gift of All
by Steve Ralls
Steve and Joe live in the shadow of the capitol, both literally and figuratively.
The Washington, D.C. couple, who have been together for almost a decade, recently
bought a new home in the city's Columbia Heights neighborhood. Two weeks ago, they
were married in Connecticut. And in early August, they will celebrate their life together
with friends and family who will gather to toast the couple and salute their commitment
to each other.
But there will be no gifts at Steve and Joe's Washington celebration. Instead of
registering at Macy's or collecting appliances and furnishings, they have asked guests
to make a contribution that, they hope, will help them stay together. Despite their strong
commitment to each other, and the life they have built together, Steve and Joe face
separation before year's end because of the country's blatantly discriminatory
Joe is from Indonesia and was recently laid off from his job. Now, he faces the
probability that he will have to leave the country . . . due, in part, to the fact
couple have already hired an attorney to look into the option of moving to Canada in order
to be together.
That move, however, could be prevented if Congress takes up (and passes)
comprehensive immigration reform soon . . . and includes couples like them as part of
that process. So, on August 8, in lieu of home décor or new dishware, the couple have
asked those who will gather with them to celebrate their relationship to make a donation
to Immigration Equality, an organization working to end anti-LGBT discrimination in the
immigration system and include UAFA as part of immigration reform.
A resulting victory could be the most important gift of all . . . and finally bring couples like
Steve and Joe out from the shadows of Capitol Hill.
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that he is gay.
If Steve and Joe were a married (heterosexual) couple, Steve (who is an American
citizen) would likely be able to sponsor Joe for residency in the United States. But
because they are both men, they now face living on different continents, or uprooting their
lives in Washington and leaving America behind.
For them, Congress can't move quickly enough to right this unfathomable wrong. As
lawmakers begin crafting comprehensive immigration reform legislation, they are urging
Congress to ensure that "comprehensive" includes them, too.
In June, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) called a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on
the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA), which would end the discrimination lesbian
and gay binational couples now face. The bill, led by Leahy in the Senate and
Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) in the House, enjoys growing support among
lawmakers; 116 now support it in the House, and 21 Senators are onboard in that
chamber. But President Obama's pledge to fix America's broken immigration system this
year presents a unique opportunity to act now for couples like Steve and Joe.
Both Senator Leahy and Congressman Nadler are steadfast advocates of including their
legislation in the larger, comprehensive bill Congress will soon consider. That advocacy
received another boost earlier this year when Congressman Mike Honda (D-CA) also
included lesbian and gay couples in The Reuniting Families Act, which would fix many of
the problems that so many families - both gay and straight - encounter when navigating
the United States' immigration system.
Steve and Joe are hoping the complete comprehensive immigration reform package will,
at long last, bring couples like them out from the legislative shadows.
An estimated 36,000 lesbian and gay couples would benefit from
immigration reform that includes all families. As the Associated
Press reported over the weekend, many are quickly running out of
time. Some live part of each year abroad. Others are house
hunting because they cannot stay in the country they love. Some,
like Steve and Joe, are making "Plan B's" and hoping against hope
that Congress acts soon.
"I feel like a third-class citizen," Steve recently said in an interview, noting that, unlike
most Americans, he is unable to sponsor his loved one for residency because he is gay.
"We don't have the same rights as heterosexual couples. We also don't have the same
rights as gay couples who are born in this country."
"If we were heterosexual . . . Steve could sponsor me as family," Joe added.
But in the eyes of the United States, Steve and Joe don't count as family, despite all
they've been through together.
Steve met Joe while he was studying in at a university in Pennsylvania. The U.S.
government paid for Joe's PhD program . . . an investment it now stands to lose. When
the economic downturn hit his engineering firm hard, Joe lost his job. Along with it, he
also lost his sponsor, and his pending green card, which was due to arrive
any day. But the pink slip beat the green card, and now, unless he
finds new employment in the structural engineering field soon, Joe will be
forced to leave the country.
"The clock is ticking," Steve said in his recent interview, noting that the
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