Tuesday, May 21, 2013


Well, it finally happened today. After nearly four months of angst and intrigue, comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) passed the US Senate Judiciary Committee today. However, there was a catch. And for many LGBTQ families, it's a brutal one.

In a bipartisan vote of 13 to 5, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved a broad overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws Tuesday evening, sending the legislation onto the floor, where the fight is expected to last through June.

The move came as the committee reached a deal on one of the final snags threatening the legislation — and agreed to hold off on another particularly controversial amendment, which would have added protections for same-sex couples. [...]

The most moving part of the committee process, which stretched over five days and 301 amendments, came late Tuesday, when Senator Patrick J. Leahy, the Vermont Democrat who leads the committee, revealed that he would not offer a controversial amendment allowing United States citizens to apply for permanent resident status, known as a green card, on behalf of their same-sex partners.

Mr. Leahy, according to advocates for gay rights and for immigration, was under pressure from Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York and an author of the measure, as well as from the White House, not to offer this amendment. Though both President Obama and Democrats in the bipartisan group support protections for same-sex couples in the bill, Republicans in the group have warned that such provisions would lead them to abandon the legislation entirely.

So tonight, many progressives have mixed feelings. On one hand, CIR is moving forward. But on the other hand, many are deliberately being left behind. HRC President Chad Griffin released this statement (via Towleroad) moments ago.

"As we come together as a nation to tackle our broken immigration system, it is deplorable that a small number of Senators have been able to stand in the way of progress for lesbian and gay couples torn apart by discriminatory laws. Instead of working to achieve common-sense solutions, Senators Graham, Flake, McCain and Rubio threatened to derail the entire immigration bill to appease a small but vocal group of anti-gay social conservatives that will do anything to stop progress for lesbian and gay couples. We are extremely disappointed that our allies did not put their anti-LGBT colleagues on the spot and force a vote on the measure that remains popular with the American people. We will continue to work hard to include bi-national same-sex couples as the bill moves to the floor and remain committed to the underlying principles of inclusive and comprehensive immigration reform. We owe it to the estimated 267,000 undocumented LGBT adults and estimated 24,700 LGBT bi-national couples living in the U.S. today to get the job done."

As we've discussed before, Senate Gang of 8 Republicans have threatened to abandon their own bill of LGBTQ immigrants receive assistance from this bill. And apparently, this threat was enough for Gang of 8 Democrats to force Senator Leahy to abandon his own amendment. He can still introduce it on the Senate floor, but it's unclear whether UAFA has the political juice to be revived on the floor.

Several Democrats decided to sacrifice LGBTQ equality in the Senate CIR bill in hopes that the bill passes with strong bipartisan support. They also did so in hopes that the US Supreme Court will essentially take care of binational LGBTQ families for them by striking down DOMA (which presently prevents the federal government from recognizing marriage equality). And now, they're starting to receive blowback from activists.

Yet while Senate Democrats were forced into an incredibly difficult spot, House Republicans will soon be forced into their own uncomfortable position. Will they allow any CIR bill to pass their chamber?

It’s increasingly looking like House Republicans will eventually face a clear choice on immigration: bring up and pass the Senate bill, mostly with Democratic votes, or take the blame for killing comprehensive immigration reform. [...]

On the House side … well, the best the House bipartisan group can do on key issues is to agree to disagree for now. Meanwhile, Democratic leaders have backed away from the House bipartisan effort because it is too conservative for them, while Republicans still haven’t committed to moving any full comprehensive bill —and with conservative outside groups adding to the pressure,the math of the House will require leaders of both parties to be on board for any House-authored bill to succeed.

In other words, it still appears that the only bill that could win in the House would be something passed by a strong bipartisan vote in the Senate.

As I’ve said before, then the key players will be mainstream House conservatives, who will have to decide who to offend: anti-immigrant voters in Republican primaries, or Latino and other voters who want reform. Many of those conservatives will vote against the Senate bill if John Boehner brings it up, but he won’t do that without their (private) support.

Earlier this year, Reps. Joe Heck (R-Henderson) and Mark Amodei (R-Carson City) signaled willingness to embrace CIR. We may soon see the day when they will have to decide whether to match their words with action. And of course, Speaker Boehner is again wedged between the sane supermajority and the insane 21st Century Know Nothings. Any guesses as to which side he will take?

At this point, we're seeing plenty of wedges, ditches, and hurdles as CIR moves on in Congress. Yet at the same time, it keeps moving forward. Can it finally pass the full Congress? Or will the bill soon be wedged to death?

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