Written by Matt Graham and edited by Betsy Sauer and Jon Feere
On June 3, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the Uniting American Families Act of 2009 (H.R. 1024, S. 424). Under current U.S. immigration law, citizens engaged in a same-sex partnership with a foreigner have no legal channel to sponsor their partner’s attempt to gain legal permanent residence in the United States. In response, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) have introduced the act in their respective chambers. This is the sixth time a version of the bill has been introduced. From 2000 to 2005, it was known as the Permanent Partners Immigration Act.
Documentation of same-sex relationships is unavailable in most U.S. states and for the vast majority of immigrants to the United States. As CIS’s Jessica Vaughan testified, only about 6 percent of immigrants come from nations that legally recognize same-sex relationships in any form. To compensate for the lack of hard evidence of a relationship, the UAFA sets forth guidelines for determining the legitimacy of a partnership. The applicant in question must be in a “committed, intimate relationship” with the American, establish financial interdependence, have no partnership with any other individual, and may not be a blood relative of the first, second, or third degree.
Shirley Tan and Gordon Stewart were the first two witnesses to testify, each describing their struggle to maintain the type of same-sex relationship covered under the proposed act. Tan, a Filipina housewife, testified that over 12 years after appealing her rejected asylum case, she remained unaware that the appeal had also been rejected until she was arrested one morning. She also expressed her desire to stay in the U.S. with her partner and two children. Stewart, a high-level employee for Pfizer, moved to the U.K. to be with his partner because he could not sponsor him. Each later fielded friendly questions from Sen. Leahy.
Julian Bond, representing the NAACP, was the next witness to testify. He voiced his organization’s support for the bill based on family unification and civil rights concerns. Christopher Nguent, of the American Bar Association, expressed his organization’s support for the bill on the basis that it is a humane, equal, family-oriented policy that serves the economic and cultural interests of the United States.. Roy Beck, of Numbers USA, expressed his organization’s concern that immigration is driving population growth, and in turn causes environmental damage and forces Americans into unemployment.
Vaughan, the last witness to testify, took a number of positions against the bill. She contended that, given the difficulties the U.S. already has with marriage fraud, a bill which legitimized partnerships that have no legal documentation would be even harder to track. “If the goal is to give same-sex, long-term partners equal access to immigration benefits,” she said, “then the target should be the Defense Of Marriage Act.” Leahey responded by assuring Vaughan that the bill would not open the door for more immigration fraud.
Just four of the eighteen committee members (Leahy, Sessions, Schumer, Specter) were in attendance for any portion of the hearing, and no senator stayed for its duration.