May 19, 2007
Let's unite all our families
Posted by: Chris
The new bipartisan immigration proposal under consideration in Congress already has many of the leading candidates from both parties bobbing and weaving for fear of angering their core constituencies. Of course, leading the way in calibrations and calculations is the Democrats' weather vane, Hillary Rodham Clinton. The New York Times reports:
When Mrs. Clinton was asked about the bill in New Orleans on Friday, she avoided stating any precise position and instead highlighted her support for both toughening border security and providing a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.
Clinton's primary problem with the compromise bill is apparently the lesser priority it would place on what has been a central tenet of U.S. immigration laws: family reunification. The new bill introduces a merit-based point system for foreigners wishing to live in the U.S., valuing their contribution to our economy as much or more than bringing families together.
That central change came from the GOP side, showing once again how Republicans in practice can favor the dollar over their cherished "family values." (It's not the first time they've set aside the right wing of the party to ease immigration for talented foreigners and their unmarried, even gay, partners.) Of course the families sacrificed in the current compromise are largely Hispanic, of a generally lower economic class, and Democrat-leaning, so perhaps their "family values" don't count.
As for Clinton, the Times reported she will "try to limit the impact on Hispanic immigrants by offering an amendment to reunite lawful permanent residents with their spouses and minor children by exempting those family members from the visa cap in the bill." The amendment is a good idea, but it also places in sharper relief Clinton's unwillingness to date to come out in favor of the Uniting American Families Act, which would extend to gay Americans the same right to sponsor our permanent partners for citizenship.
In her speeches on gay issues, Clinton talks about "equal rights" for gay couples, but support for UAFA would be a concrete way to put some leadership where her rhetoric is. Like the Republicans who value their whitebread families over brown-skinned immigrants, Clinton has shown a willingness to do more for the huge Latino voting bloc than the much smaller gay contingent. She no doubt has steered clear of UAFA because it represents something of a political "perfect storm": combining gay marriage and immigration, two of today’s most divisive social issues. In reality, UAFA doesn't touch marriage laws at the state or federal level, but of course the conservatives will act as if it does.
That potential powder keg no doubt explains the failure of not only Clinton, but Barack Obama as well, to sign on in support of UAFA, even though both have said repeatedly that gay couples should be “fully equal” except for the name "marriage." We should call them 89-percent’ers. Both Clinton and Obama received 89’s on HRC’s last congressional report card, and UAFA was the only thing keeping them from a perfect score. They’re not alone. By my count there are 17 of these 89-percent’ers in the Senate alone, and five more for whom UAFA is one of only two black marks. Joe Biden, the Delaware senator and presidential candidate, falls into that category.
Only Connecticut Sen. Christopher Dodd and Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich are on board with UAFA and earned perfect 100's from HRC. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who has spoken with particular weight as a Latino candidate on immigration, has said he favors "equality" for gay couples but has so far been silent about UAFA. Ditto Rudy Giuliani, who is unlikely to take any additional pro-gay positions at this point, given the grief he's already getting from conservatives about his past gay rights support.
If Clinton, Obama, Biden and the other 19 senators with otherwise strong gay rights records joined the 13 senators already cosponsoring UAFA, the legislation would gather significant momentum. It's long past time for Clinton and Obama to show some actual leadership on gay rights rather than simply talking a good game.
If they will stand up for Latino families separated by immigration laws — no doubt including thousands of gay couples (like mine) with one Latino partner — then they should stand up for us as well.
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