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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, July 16, 2010 - Volume 38 Issue 29
House Dems say 'include Gays in immigration reform'
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House Dems say 'include Gays in immigration reform'

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

In a July 15 press conference, key House Democrats called for comprehensive immigration reform legislation that would include the Uniting American Families Act.

The UAFA would give LGBT citizens the ability to bring their foreign-born partners legally to the U.S.

The featured speakers - Reps. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), Mike Honda (D-Calif.), and Jared Polis (D-Colo.) - said they were confident that immigration reform legislation including the UAFA would pass this year.

They were joined by members of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, Black Caucus, Hispanic Caucus, LGBT Equality Caucus, and Progressive Caucus. In addition, 37 immigrant rights, LGBT, and faith groups attended.

Nadler is the prime sponsor of UAFA in the U.S. House. The bill has 124 co-sponsors, including Washington Democrats Brian Baird, Jay Inslee, Rick Larson, Jim McDermott, and Adam Smith.

Gutierrez introduced the immigration reform bill last December, and - until now - had been reluctant to add the UAFA provisions.

He told C-SPAN's Washington Journal on July 14 that he has 200 votes for his immigration package. That leaves him 17 votes short of a majority.

Gutierrez and other Democrats hope to "sweeten" the legislation and attract more votes by adding provisions to benefit a broader constituency.

"It's the right thing to do. Families should be included, and as we move forward, that should be our guiding principle for comprehensive immigration reform," he told Politico reporters the day before Thursday's press conference. "To use the old adage, the tent is big enough."

Both conservative Democrats and Republicans are skeptical of that strategy, however.

Some observers warn that introducing a controversial issue so close to the midterm elections could exacerbate the immigration debate and erode support from lawmakers in swing districts.

"It adds another dimension to the issue that will be the subject of significant debate," said Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. "For sure, it will enhance the debate."

Nadler told reporters "we should reach out to everybody" to pass immigration reform, but he hoped "evangelicals and others can see they should support [UAFA] too. Because it has nothing to do with the issue of marriage. & The immigration laws of the United States should not work to keep couples separated. It's cruelty."

But Joanna Burgos, a National Republican Campaign Committee spokeswoman, noted that UAFA was opposed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the National Association of Evangelicals, and would scare away some potential supporters.

"If they're trying to appeal to the Hispanic vote, Gay marriage is not the right issue for their socially conservative values," Burgos said. "I think it puts Democrats in Hispanic districts in an awkward position because they are very socially conservative."

On the Senate side, UAFA was introduced by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and has 24 co-sponsors, including Washington's Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), the prime sponsor of the immigration reform package in the Senate, has reached out to evangelical groups who have said they will support immigration reform, but not Gay-rights legislation.

Schumer did not attend the Thursday press conference.

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