By Cody Lyon
On a cold night this past February, around 20 New Yorkers gathered in an upper west side brownstone to view and offer support to filmmaker Sebastian Cordoba and his latest project, a documentary film called “Through Thick and Thin.” The movie details the uncertain plights of seven bi national gay and lesbian couples, who, under current U.S. immigration laws, often face devastatingly difficult choices, including if and how to stay together.
The film takes on added relevance after Federal legislation was re introduced this past week in Washington that seeks to address the issues illustrated in the film.
Unlike heterosexual bi-national couples who can choose to get married, and then legally sponsor their spouse for immigration purposes, the legal options available for gay and lesbian bi national couples are virtually non existent, often resulting in daunting choices with uncertain outcomes.
“You meet somebody and you fall in love, maybe you move in together and then you both realize, that perhaps you’ll either have to move, or even worse, separate” said filmmaker Cordoba of a current common scenario among bi national same sex couples in the United States.
But, this past Tuesday May 8th, New York Representative Jerrold Nadler re-introduced the Uniting American Families Act, or UAFA, formerly known as the Permanent Partners Act or PPIA. If UAFA were passed into law, a new option would be opened for such couples.
UAFA would provide a mechanism under the Immigration and Nationality Act that allows U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents in bi national same sex relationships to sponsor their foreign born partner for immigration benefits to the United States.
Under the UAFA, to qualify as a permanent partner, a person would have to show commitment, financial interdependence, exclusivity, the inability to marry in a manner that is “cognizable” under the Immigration and Nationality Act as well as the absence of blood relationship.
As current immigration law now stands, bi national same sex couples in the United States are sometimes forced to relocate to the country of the foreign partner, if that country offers immigration benefits to same sex partners, or, face long periods of separation or even still, face what some would say is a cruel and imposed breakup
“The most cruel form of anti-gay discrimination is to physically separate a couple from one another” said Rachel B. Tiven, a lawyer and Executive Director at Immigration Equality, a national organization that seeks to end discrimination in U.S. immigration laws.
She says current U.S. immigration laws create a situation by which the benefits of American citizenship are being denied because of one’s sexuality.
“The end consequence is that they lose the person they love the most in the world” said Tiven of scenarios where couples are forced to separate.
In 2006, after his organization Human Rights Watch compiled a 196 page report on the plight of same sex bi national couples in the United States, Scott Long, Director of the organization’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights program, said that “Discriminatory U.S. immigration laws turn the American dream into a heartless nightmare for countless U.S. citizens and their foreign partners.”
In the same report, Human Rights Watch noted that U.S. immigration policy has deeply rooted anti-immigrant policies where sexuality has long played an exclusionary role. For instance, from the McCarthy era until 1990, U.S. law barred foreign born lesbian and gay people from immigrating into the country.
Around 35,820 of the 594,394 “unmarried” same sex couples counted in the 2000 United States census included one U.S. citizen, and one non-citizen. According to a report by Gary J. Gates, Phd., at the Williams Project on Sexual Orientation at The University of California in Los Angeles, 79 percent of those bi-national couples include a foreign partner who comes from a country that does not provide immigration benefits to same sex couples.
Currently, 19 countries recognize partners of same sex couples for immigration purposes, including, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Israel, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, Spain Sweden and the United Kingdom.