On August 18th, 2009, I appeared before the California Assembly’s Judiciary Committee with Ms Gina Caprio, Melanie Nathan, Equality California (EQCA)& Asian American for Civil Rights and Equality (AACRE) to present testimony in support of Assembly Joint Resolution 15 (AJR15). This resolution was introduced by Assemblyman De Leon in support of Uniting American Families Act which if passed in congress will allow an American citizen to sponsor his/her same sex partner for a green card by adding 3 more words, “or permanent partner” after spouse in immigration law.
The resolution passed the committee on a party line vote of 6 – 3 and it is now headed to the floor of California’s Assembly for a vote. If the resolution passed, it would put the state of California on record as supporting UAFA as well as its inclusion in the Reuniting Families Act (RFA) as introduced by Rep Mike Honda.
This issue is very important to me because I am an immigrant from Singapore who met and fell in love with my husband, 14 years ago. Although I am one of the 18,000 couples whose marriage last year is still being recognized by the State of California, my relationship is not recognized or accepted at the Federal level.
I am, however, very fortunate to have managed to secure my green card through employment 2 years ago and am able to stay here and build our family by adopting a beautiful baby from the foster care system. However, our struggle to stay together has endured many twists and turns and our experience is not unique.
According to estimates based on the 2000 census, there are more than 36,000 couples living in the United States who are binational couples. The same study also indicated that more than 30% of them lived in California, and many of them are from our community. It is also imperative to note that the studies does not includes those couples who ran out of options and have left their families and friends behind to live in one of the 19 countries that accepts same sex immigration. For decades, immigration laws in the United States has hinged on the principles of family reunification, but LGBT Families are unfairly discriminated against and excluded from that definition as our relationship are not recognized. Without access to the major pathway to immigration, LGBT couples have few if any other option to keep their families together.
Most of you would have heard the heart-wrenching story of Shirley Tan as it recently received a lot of media attention including an article in April 2009’s issue of People Magazine. Shirley run away from her home country of Philippines after a family relatives who killed her mother and sister and wounded her was released from prison. She came here looking for asylum and fell in love with another Filipino American, Jay Mercardo. They have twin 12-year-old biological children and have been together in a committed relationship for more than 23 years. However, due to this unfair immigration law, where their relationship is not recognized, Jay has no rights as an American to sponsor her partner, Shirley for a green card. (You can read Shirley’s testimony to the Senate’s Judiciary Committee here or watch it on YouTube.) In the eyes of the federal government, they are legal strangers. Shirley was arrested by INS officials in January of this year and was immediately put into deportation proceedings, which almost tore her family apart. With mere days to deportation, Senator Dianne Feinstein introduced a private bill which has the effect of staying her deportation. . This is a rare and complicated process applied in only very exceptional circumstances. However, our representatives cannot be expected to introduce individual bills for over 36,000 binational couples that is in similar situations right now.
The Uniting American Families Act (HR 1240 and S424), if passed, will allow Jay to sponsor Shirley for a green card. There are strict conditions on what is the definition of permanent partner as well as huge penalties (maximum fine of $250,000 and jail terms) for people who are thinking of defrauding the system. This will only give us a seat at the table. Anyone who’s been through it knows that there will still be an investigation and interviews to prevent fraud.
For a long time, same sex binational couples have been in a difficult situation of being forced to choose between love and country. If their options run out, do they break up or do they leave the United States of America? Do they leave behind their friends, families and career to live in exile in one of the 19 countries that will accept them? Heterosexual binational couples can simply apply for an immigrant visa for their spouse by walking into INS and submitting their marriage certificate as proof – a right that is currently denied to the LGBT Americans.
I am thrilled that UAFA has finally found some traction and has been getting increased support from congress. I am also thrilled that Rep Mike Honda has included the language of Uniting American Families Act in his legislation, Reuniting Families Act. It is past time that congress recognizes LGBT Families and includes them in any Comprehensive Immigration Reform.
There has been a lot of push back from certain quarters about including LGBT Families into any immigration reform bill but Rep Mike Honda has made it very clear that any discrimination is wrong. Immigration laws were used to keep APIs from migrating here in the early 1900’s and it is now being used to discriminate against same sex couples and that is simply wrong.
We hope that you will join us in supporting the passage of Uniting American Families Act as well as its inclusions in Reuniting Families Act for Comprehensive Immigration Reform. It is time we stop tearing LGBT Families apart.