U.S. Immigration Law Inhumane to Same-Sex Couples

Via Human Rights Watch (reposted) Sunday, May. 07, 2006 at 9:10 AM

(Washington, D.C., May 2, 2006) – Thousands
of U.S. citizens and their foreign same-sex partners face enormous
hardships, separation and even exile because discriminatory U.S.
immigration policies deprive these couples of the basic right to be
together, Human Rights Watch and Immigration Equality said in a report
released today.

As Congress debates immigration reforms, it must
end the discrimination that lesbian and gay Americans and their foreign
partners endure under U.S. immigration law. The 2000 U.S. Census
estimated that in the United States there were almost 40,000 lesbian
and gay couples in which one partner is a U.S. citizen (or permanent
resident), and the other a foreign national. This figure does not
include the many thousands of binational couples who have to hide the
fact they are partners, are forced to live apart, or who have been
forced to leave the United States. Under discriminatory U.S. statutes,
these couples have no recognition under the law.

“Discriminatory U.S. immigration laws turn the American dream into a
heartless nightmare for countless U.S. citizens and their foreign
partners,” said Scott Long, co-author of the report and director of the
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights Program of Human Rights
Watch. “As Congress debates immigration reforms, it should end
discrimination against lesbian and gay immigrants as well as their U.S.

The first-ever comprehensive report on the
issue, “Family, Unvalued: Discrimination, Denial and the Fate of
Binational Same-Sex Couples under U.S. Law,” documents how U.S
immigration law and federal policy discriminate against binational
same-sex couples. The 191-page report documents the consequences of
this discrimination and shows how it can separate not only loving
partners from one another, but also parents from children. It also
shows how this policy has destroyed careers, livelihoods and lives.

“Our immigration laws are undermining the traditional American values
of fairness and family,” said Rachel B. Tiven, executive director of
Immigration Equality. “U.S. immigration policy is designed to keep
families together. But the current law targets an entire class of
American families and tears them apart.”

For more than 50
years, family reunification has been a stated and central goal of U.S.
immigration policy. Immigration law places a priority on allowing
citizens and permanent residents to sponsor their spouses and close
relatives for entry into the U.S. Although the system remains
imperfect, riddled with delays that rising anti-immigrant sentiment
only intensifies, U.S. citizens and their foreign heterosexual partners
can easily claim spousal status and the immigration rights that it

U.S. citizens with foreign lesbian or gay
partners, however, find that their relationship is considered
non-existent under federal law. The so-called “Defense of Marriage
Act,” passed in 1996, declared that for all purposes of the federal
government, marriage would mean “only a legal union between one man and
one woman as husband and wife.” Since lesbian and gay couples are
excluded from the definition of “spouse,” U.S. citizens receive no
legal recognition of their same-sex partners for purposes of

Based on interviews and surveys with dozens
of binational same-sex couples across the United States and around the
world, the report documents the pressures and ordeals that lack of
legal recognition imposes on lesbian and gay families. Couples
described abuse and harassment by immigration officials. Some partners
told stories of being deported from the United States and separated
from their partners. Many couples, forced to live in different
countries or continents, endure financial as well as emotional strain
in keeping their relationships together.

“No family should
be forced apart, no matter what the sex is. This is how immigration
laws have affected us,” a woman in North Carolina said, describing how
her Hungarian partner and their children were forced to leave the
United States. “We are separated and without each other…. We just
want to be together, that’s all.”

Many U.S. citizens are
forced into exile in countries where their relationships are
recognized. At least 19 nations worldwide provide some form of
immigration benefits to the same-sex partners of citizens and permanent
residents, while the U.S. still refuses. These include Canada as well
as 13 European countries (Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany,
Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland
and the United Kingdom). On other continents, this list includes
Brazil, Israel, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.

Notably, the report details how current U.S. exclusionary policies are
rooted in a long history of anti-immigrant sentiment, in which fears of
sexuality have played a steady part. From the McCarthy era until 1990,
U.S. law barred foreign-born lesbians and gays from entering the
country. The United States is also one of the few industrialized
countries that imposes a blanket ban on entry by HIV-positive
individuals, a bar that reinforces irrational fears and stigma but does
nothing to protect public health.

Congress should
immediately pass the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA), Human Rights
Watch and Immigration Equality said. The bill, sponsored by
Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT)
would offer binational same-sex couples’ relationships the same
recognition and treatment afforded to binational married couples.

The proposed law would add the term “permanent partner” to sections of
the Immigration and Nationality Act where “spouse” now appears. Thus, a
U.S. citizen or permanent resident could sponsor their permanent
partner for immigration to the country, just as they can now sponsor
such family members as siblings, children or husbands and wives. The
bill was introduced in the current Congress on June 21, 2005; it has a
total of 104 cosponsors from both houses.

In addition to
repealing the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996, Congress should enact
reforms to U.S. immigration law to guarantee respect for the human
rights and labor rights of non-citizens. These reforms should include
measures that end discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual,
transgender and HIV-positive individuals.

The Lesbian,
Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Program at Human Rights Watch,
which is the largest U.S.-based human rights organization, advocates
against abuses based on sexual orientation or gender identity
worldwide. Immigration Equality is a national organization that fights
for equality under U.S. immigration law for lesbian, gay, bisexual,
transgender and HIV-positive individuals.

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