Don’t leave LGBT families out of immigration reform

The current immigration bill too narrowly defines the “American family.” It does a disservice to many families — lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) and straight alike.

The Senate bill delivers a two-part blow to immigrant families by restricting siblings and married adult children from family sponsorship categories, and by not giving LGBT couples the option to sponsor each other as family members.

Adding insult to injury, the rights of LGBT couples were intentionally used as a wedge issue during the recent debate by some Republican members of the Gang of Eight as an excuse to walk away from immigration reform entirely.

While the bill does eliminate the decades-long backlogs of family petitions that keep apart many families, especially Asian-American and Pacific Islander families, the proposed system creates additional burdens that dismantle the core idea of family.

LGBT immigrant families especially know what’s at stake with such an overly constrained definition of family.

Take, for example, Erwin and John, who have spent 15 years together. Erwin, born in the Philippines, is on a student visa that will expire once he finishes his current course of study. John, who is a U.S. citizen, wants to sponsor Erwin through the family immigration process.

The story of Satyam and Tonja, who have been married since 2011, presents a similar situation. Satyam is on an H-1B visa, but cannot be sponsored for a permanent visa even though Tonja is a U.S. citizen.

Sadly, the bill now making its way through the Senate would exclude LGBT binational couples such as John and Erwin and Satyam and Tonja from availing themselves of benefits that heterosexual couples already have. As a result, Erwin and Satyam will face potential separation from their spouses once their current visas expire.

Defining a family unit in the narrowest of ways — married heterosexual adults raising children, for example — does not reflect the modern configurations of many American families. We shouldn’t let Congress exclude LGBT couples, brothers and sisters, and married sons and daughters from the definition of a family unit.

As both houses of Congress take up immigration reform, it is important to keep fighting for an inclusive definition of family that protects our rights, captures the true makeup of our lives, and enables all immigrants to thrive.

Ben de Guzman is co-director for programs at the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance, a member of National Council of Asian Pacific Americans (NCAPA). Deepa Iyer is the executive director of South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) and the chair of the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans (NCAPA). The authors can be reached at pmproj@progressive.org.

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