Gays Push for Partner Immigration Rights

Matthew B. Stannard and Tyche Hendricks, San Francisco Chronicle, June 6, 2009

As Congress and immigrant advocacy groups gear up for the annual tussle over comprehensive immigration reform, a proposal by San Jose Rep. Mike Honda is opening up a new angle on the debate–one that some groups warn could overshadow years of effort at building consensus.

Honda’s Reuniting Families Act, introduced Thursday, would extend to “permanent partners” the same naturalization rights accorded to spouses under the bill, allowing gay and lesbian Americans to seek legal residency for their immigrant same-sex partners.

“How do you define ‘all families’? Traditional heterosexual families but also permanent partners, recognized as having a legitimate long-term relationship,” Honda, a Democrat, said this week. “It’s a civil rights issue. The idea of being on the outside looking in is something we’re familiar with, it’s un-American.&Nbsp;. . . I want to make sure we do the right thing the first time.”

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Honda introduced his bill, which addresses a range of other immigration issues, in advance of a White House meeting on immigration policy, scheduled for June 17, to which President Obama is inviting congressional leaders from both parties. Hundreds of immigrant advocates converged on Washington this week to show support for comprehensive immigration reform, including legalization of undocumented immigrants and an increase in green cards for family-based immigration.

But Honda’s proposal to extend to same-sex partners the legal residency rights now accorded to spouses has generated controversy within the coalition of groups seeking reform–with some of those groups warning the issue could fracture the movement.

“I do believe it could be a death knell,” said the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. “We won’t support legislation–period–that includes the Honda same-sex component.”

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops this week also criticized Honda’s bill, saying that while it strongly supported reform to help reunify immigrant families, the conference strongly opposed efforts to “erode the institution of marriage and family by according marriage-like immigration benefits” to same-sex relationships.

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“We already know that in order to pass comprehensive immigration reform, we need to engage some of the Blue Dog Democrats, some of the centrists and the moderates,” he said. “If we add on the same-sex component, many of the Blue Dog Democrats are going to say absolutely not, we’re not going to sign on.” The Blue Dogs are a group of conservative Democrats.

Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, which favors limited immigration, said Honda’s proposal could also lead to increased fraud because same-sex couples don’t have the same clear documentation–a marriage certificate–to prove to immigration officials that they have the relationship they claim.

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