Sean Hannity’s Worst Nightmare: Gay Immigrants

With the media paying rapt attention to the stimulus package these last few weeks, it's easy to forget our representatives and senators also have other legislative priorities.

But today, we're going to look at one of those bills that's lurking in the shadows: The Uniting American Families Act. It's H.R. 1024 in the House, where it was introduced by Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), and S. 424 in the Senate, where Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) sponsored it. As of the time this post was written, the text of the Senate bill was unavailable, though it should be identical to the House version.

The UAFA is intended to end immigration discrimination against same-sex couples where one partner is a non-US citizen. As it stands currently, if an American is in a homosexual, but committed relationship with a foreigner, he or she cannot bring the partner to the United States on a visa. The partner must instead win a green card lottery or have a work permit.

The UAFA, though 20 pages long, has one main effect. Everywhere immigration law refers to spouses, the UAFA adds the words "permanent partner," making the laws and visa opportunities apply to same-sex and heterosexual couples alike.

After the jump, we look at the UAFA's definition of permanent partnership as well as take a look at the bill's history. Sneak preview: This isn't the first time the UAFA has been introduced.

Here's how the bill defines permanent partnership:

      The term `permanent partner' means an individual 18 years of age or older who–

        `(A) is in a committed, intimate relationship with another individual 18 years of age or older in which both parties intend a lifelong commitment;

        `(B) is financially interdependent with that other individual;

        `(C) is not married to or in a permanent partnership with anyone other than that other individual;

        `(D) is unable to contract with that other individual a marriage cognizable under this Act; and

        `(E) is not a first, second, or third degree blood relation of that other individual.

The provisions seem normal, though it's worth taking a look at D and E. D is interesting to the extent that it excludes those who for one reason or another could get married but choose not to — in other words, this definition more or less excludes heterosexuals from benefiting from the UAFA. The last restriction seems odd at first glance — after all, in about half of the states, first cousins can marry. Most likely, it's aimed at preventing fraudulent partnerships.

Speaking of fraud, the UAFA imposes steep penalties for those who lie about partnerships to gain visas: A fine as large as $250,000 coupled with up to five years in prison. A press release on Sen. Leahy's Web site notes the "Uniting American
Families Act would apply the same restrictions and penalties to same-sex
couples that are applied to opposite-sex couples under the Immigration
and Naturalization Act."

But is the UAFA going anywhere? Rep. Nadler has introduced this bill or a variant thereof 6 times since 2000, and Senator Leahy has tried 4 times since 2003. But the UAFA has never made it out of the Judiciary Committee.

Will this effort go any better? There are 80 cosponsors in the House and 14 in the Senate. But in the abortive 2003 attempt, there were 129 and 12 respectively, and it still went nowhere. Even in 2007, after the Democratic takeover of Congress, there were 118 and 18. It still got stuck in the Judiciary Committee.

But whether this attempt goes anywhere or just languishes in committee, we here at Inside Congress Today will be keeping an eye on it.