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Senate to Hold First-Ever Hearing on Anti-Gay Discrimination in Immigration Law

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For Immediate Release

Steve Ralls
(202) 347-7007

Senate to Hold First-Ever Hearing on Anti-Gay Discrimination in Immigration Law
Wednesday’s Hearing on Uniting American Families Act to Include Filipina Mother of 2 Facing Deportation

JUNE 1, 2009 / WASHINGTON, DC — On Wednesday morning, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold the first-ever Congressional hearing on obstacles faced by lesbian and gay couples under U.S. immigration law. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), chairman of the committee, has scheduled a 10 a.m. hearing on the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA). The bill, sponsored by Leahy in the Senate and Congressman Jerold Nadler (D-NY) in the House, would modify immigration policy to end discrimination against lesbian and gay Americans who want to sponsor their permanent partners for residency in the United States. Such couples are often separated, or torn apart, because current U.S. law does not allow for the same sponsorship rights for lesbian and gay citizens as for heterosexuals.

“Every day, an estimated 36,000 binational couples, nearly half of whom are raising children, are facing separation, or already living separately, because our country refuses to treat them equally under the law,” said Rachel B. Tiven, executive director of Immigration Equality. “These loving, committed families are faced with an untenable choice between the person they love and the country they love. Many are forced to uproot their lives and leave their extended families, jobs and communities behind. It is long past time that Congress fixed our broken immigration system, including this pervasive discrimination against so many families. Senator Leahy’s hearing, coming just as President Obama and Congress prepare to address comprehensive immigration reform, is a step in the right direction.”

Wednesday’s hearing will feature Shirley Tan, a Filipina mother of 12-year-old twins from Pacifica, Calif., who is facing deportation despite having been with her partner for 23 years. Though Tan’s children and partner are American citizens, she cannot be sponsored for residency because her partner is female. Unless Congress takes action to pass UAFA, Tan will be forced to return to the Philippines.

Joining Tan as a witness will also be Gordon Stewart, a native of Vermont who was forced to sell his family’s farm and relocate to London to be with his partner, who is Brazilian. Stewart, who transferred his job with Pfizer Pharmaceuticals to the United Kingdom, has been welcomed in that country, where his partner received a visa to be with him. Under U.S. immigration law, his partner was unable to join him in the United States, and Stewart was forced to leave his family behind to be with the person he loves. Other witnesses include Julian Bond, chairman of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and attorney Christopher Nugent, who will represent the American Bar Association (ABA).

“The cost of discriminating against lesbian and gay families is staggering and personal,” Tiven noted. “Children are being separated from their mothers. Companies are forced to relocate employees or lose their talent altogether. In many cases, Americans must live on separate continents, thousands of miles from their immediate and extended families. All the while, this blatant discrimination could be fixed, and families could be brought together, simply by passing UAFA.”

President Obama has said he supports the legislation. In a statement issued in March, the White House noted, “The president thinks Americans with partners from other countries should not be faced with a painful choice between staying with their partner or staying in their country. We will work closely with Congress to craft comprehensive immigration reform legislation.”

“No reform can be truly called comprehensive,” Tiven agreed, “unless it includes our families, too.”

For more information on Wednesday’s hearing, and the Uniting American Families Act, please visit www.immigrationequality.org

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