Obama Says He Has “Worked to Improve” the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA)

 by Kathy Drasky

SAN FRANCISCO, CA-February 28, 2008-Leading Democratic presidential contender Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) issued a statement to America’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community today saying that equality for all Americans “is a moral imperative.”

Chief among Senator Obama’s call to end discrimination against gays and lesbians was his mention of having “worked to improve the Uniting American Families Act so we can afford same-sex couples the same rights and obligations as married couples in our immigration system.”

“By including the plight of same-sex binational couples in his statement, Senator Obama shows that he can be a leader who fully grasps the unique and humiliating brand of discrimination gay and lesbian American citizens in a relationship with a foreign partner face on a daily basis,” said Michael Lim, Vice President of the national grassroots organization Out4Immigration, a group dedicated to raising awareness about the discrimination LGBT Americans and their foreign partners face under current US immigration law.

While heterosexual couples in binational relationships-in which one partner is American and the other is foreign born-can solve their immigration concerns through a federally recognized marriage, same-sex binational couples have no such options.

Senator Obama also called for complete repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which prohibits the federal government from recognizing state gay marriage, civil union and domestic partnership laws. As long as DOMA remains in place, the US cannot extend spousal immigration rights to same-sex couples, regardless of their commitment to one another.

A way to avoid creating yet another divisive “gay marriage” debate in an election year, would be the passage of the bill that Obama mentions in his statement-the Uniting American Families Act (H.R. 2221; S.1328). This legislation would add three words-“or permanent partner”-to existing immigration law wherever the word “spouse” appears. This simple act would allow an estimated 40,000 same-sex binational couples currently living legally in the US to make their US home a permanent one. The majority of these couples are biding time while the foreign partner is in the country on a student or work visa. If the visa does not lead to a green card through employment, same-sex binational couples have virtually no chance of remaining together on US soil.

“Senator Obama says ‘It’s wrong to have millions of Americans living as second-class citizens in this nation,’ but if you’re in a same-sex binational relationship, you simply have no status at all,” said Lim. “Every year thousands of gay and lesbian American citizens are forced to choose between the country they love and the person they love. Out4Immigration is heartened that the potential Democratic candidate for president has spoken so positively in favor of the UAFA.”

The UAFA, introduced in May 2007 by Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), currently has 90 co-sponsors in the House and 12 in the Senate.

“Ironically, Senator Obama is not a co-sponsor of this bill,” said Lim. Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Senator John McCain (R-AZ), the other presidential contenders, have not signed on either.

“We hope that Senator Obama’s work to improve the UAFA will lead to his co-sponsorship in the near future,” said Lim.

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