During President Obama’s second inaugural speech, he mentioned immigration reform as a goal. He has been criticized by many on the left for failing to move forward any such legislation during his first term. He did, however, make changes in policy that affected the undocumented millions to some extent. He initiated a plan to defer deportation of so called “Dreamers”, undocumented individuals that were brought here as children. Short of immunity, this policy allows qualified immigrants to apply for deferment and a work permit. He also directed the Department of Homeland Security to place LGBT illegals on a low priority status for deportation. There are many more, small but important steps this administration has taken, detailed here by the group Immigration Equality.
But what about real, meaningful change? Does Obama have a chance of passing comprehensive immigration reform during his second term? He seems committed to the idea. During his speech he said, “”Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity; until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country.” But can he get the deeply divided and uncompromising Republican House to go along? The answer is unclear, but the last election did spell out that the growing Latino population does support immigration reform and does NOT support the GOP. If this will affect the Republican controlled House of Representatives remains to be seen. There are many who feel that the Tea Party members, who have been vocal opponents of immigration reform, will not concede. Others feel that if they do agree, a compromise will be struck that will exclude LGBT immigrants from the plan. The only thing a Tea Partier hates more than an immigrant is someone who is gay – citizen or not.
So what are the other possibilities?
One is if the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, is found unconstitutional. Many don’t realize the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) affects gay immigrants in a significant way. Unlike heterosexual couples, gay American citizens who are engaged or married to their same sex partners are not allowed to apply for a Spousal Visa. Late last year. The Supreme Court has accepted two cases relating to same sex marriage. One case, Windsor v. United States, could make a huge difference for binational couples. The case, brought by Edie Windsor, involves ineretance tax. Ms Windsor, who was legally married in Canada to Thea Spyer, was charged over $360,000 in estate taxes after her wife died. A straight widow would not have to pay. The case states that the government cannot treat legally married gay couples differently that straight couples based on the equal protection clause of the Constitution. If the Court decides in favor of Windsor, many believe legally married gay couples can apply for green cards.
Another possibility is the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA). This bill has been has many cosponsors in the House and Senate – recently, some GOP congressmen have signed on as well. This bill would provide same-sex couples in committed relationships (they would not need to be married, since that is a right in only a handful of states) to apply for a green card. Despite bipartisan support, the chances of passing the House during this congress is slim.
So we wait. Some couples, like me and my husband, are lucky. Michael is currently here from Canada legally, on a student visa. So we have time. Other couples continue to live in the shadows or on deportation lists, not knowing if they will need to leave the country together or face being split apart.
There are so many unknowns, but progress is being made. It is only a matter of time before the LGBT community has full equality under the law. But will it be soon enough for many of the 50,000 couples waiting in limbo? Will it be soon enough for Michael and me?
I hope so.
Dan and his husband, Michael operate Homoquotables Greeting Cards. They live in Boulder, CO