January 11, 2008
The Dems on gay immigration rights
Posted by: Chris
The gay rights group Immigration Equality has provided a useful summary of where the three leading Democrats for president stand on the Uniting American Families Act, a bill now pending in Congress that would extend to gay Americans the same right that heterosexuals have to sponsor a foreign partner for citizenship.
The results won't surprise any regular readers of this blog: Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards all have committed in principle to equal immigration rights and say they support UAFA.
Still, all three also largely dodged the issue until they were put on record in response to the Human Rights Campaign's candidate questionnaire. None of them has signed on as a cosponsor, including Edwards during his Senate tenure. The reason for that, as I've noted before, lies in concerns that UAFA does not do enough to discourage fraud:
Hillary Clinton: While I’m supportive of this proposal in principle, I have been concerned about fraud and believe implementation of this provision could strain the capacity of our Citizenship & Immigration Services.
Barack Obama: As someone who believes that homosexual couples should have the same legal rights as married couples and that our immigration laws should unite families, I support the Uniting American Families Act in concept. But I also believe that changes need to be made to the bill to minimize the potential for fraud and abuse of the immigration system.
John Edwards: I believe that all families should be treated in the same manner by our immigration laws.
Immigration Equality leaves it pretty much at that, but I would add a bit more analysis (imagine that).
First off, Edwards gets credit for not hedging his support for UAFA and for being the only one of the three who actually mentions immigration rights (although not UAFA specifically) on his campaign website. Then again, we know that John Edwards has a problem telling audiences what they don't want to hear, so color me somewhat skeptical that his actual position differs from either of the frontrunners.
Hillary Clinton's position raises the most hackles for me because she cites not only the risk of fraud but the "strain" on CIS to implement UAFA. That is effectively saying there is a price tag for our equality and UAFA might be too expensive. If Clinton believes her own rhetoric about equality, then it should be enough that gay Americans are endowed with the same rights, pay the same taxes and deserve the same services from our government as heterosexual Americans.
Both Clinton and Obama raise the fraud issue, and I know it's a sensitive area for Immigration Equality. The concern is considered overblown, since there is arguably more fraud with gay foreigners using fake heterosexual marriages to be with their American partners, but that's hardly a winning political argument. It's also true that with straight and gay relationships as avenues to U.S. citizenship, the heterosexual variety would be the easier route to fake for most.
Unfortunately for us, our own mistreatment under U.S. marriage laws undermines somewhat the case for UAFA as written today. Heterosexual couples have to marry to sponsor a foreigner, and as we know marriage is an institution with an enormous number of legal and financial entanglements. Those entanglements -- like risking half your assets upon divorce -- are in and of themselves a healthy deterrent for fraud.
One way to address that would be to allow gays to marry; but that would obviate the need for UAFA anyway. Since UAFA is a transitionary measure, there need to be proof requirements of financial and legal interdependence that help to provide some of the fraud deterrence that marriage does automatically. That's what Obama's campaign has said in response to inquiries. Clinton's staff, on the other hand, set up a meeting to discuss UAFA issues and then freaked out when news of it went public. Who knows where they are now.
There is, however, a third way, which would also reduce the need for UAFA, though not entirely. If Congress repeals the portion of the Defense of Marriage Act that prohibits the federal government from recognizing gay marriages, then we could apply for fiancee and marriage visas just like our heterosexual fellow-citizens. All three leading Dems favor repeal of this half of DOMA.
The trick would still be over where to marry, since only gays who live in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New Mexico (long story) can marry as of today. If the U.S. government recognized gay marriages from other countries -- Canada, Spain, Holland, Belgium and South Africa -- that would also help considerably. The DOMA avenue wouldn't be perfect, but it would be a "path to citizenship" where none exists today.
So who is best on gay immigration rights? It all depends on which one you think would act most quickly via UAFA or DOMA to address the issue that Barney Frank has called the political perfect storm: gay marriage and immigration all rolled into one. I think you know who my money's on.
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