Commentary: No Surprise, Gays Left Out of Immigration Reform Bill


(Photo: Flickr/mdfriendofhillary)

The Senate Gang of Eight has finally released its much-awaited immigration legislation. The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 is characterized by President Obama as a compromise bill which is largely consistent with his own principles for immigration reform.

The proposed law further fortifies our southern border and bolsters law enforcement, provides a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, creates guest worker programs for low-skilled and agricultural workers, increases the number of employment visas, and eliminates employment and family visa backlogs. It also cuts and limits the number of family visas and repeals diversity visa programs while creating a merit-based visa system based on education, employment, and length of residence in the U.S.

The comprehensive bill excludes LGBT families. Lesbian and gay Americans and permanent residents will still not be able to sponsor their loved ones for permanent residency.

The exclusion of families like mine comes as no surprise. I have been in Washington, D.C. long enough to know that compromises are made and deals brokered when crafting legislation. I am also aware that some constituencies are more influential than others. In order to get bipartisan buy-in, both sides had to give some. The Democratic senators decided that tens of thousands of LGBT families are dispensable. While the LGBT community has sway with Democrats, it was not enough in this battle. There are far more important players to please and the “greater good” to consider.

How do I feel? Anger, certainly. Resigned, mostly. This is how our democracy works. In the coming months, various interest groups and their champions will lobby Congress to make sure that they get something in the final immigration reform package. LGBT organizations and coalition partners will vigorously protest the exclusion of lesbian and gay binational couples. But at the end of the day, we will still be left out in the cold. And President Obama, who includes us in his own reform blueprint, will sign a comprehensive – but not inclusive – immigration law. And, I will be rational, saying to myself that this is a good thing.

Fi2W is supported by the David and Katherine Moore Family Foundation and the Ralph E. Odgen Foundation.

AboutErwin de Leon
Erwin de Leon is a Policy Researcher and writer based in Washington, DC. He writes on immigration, LGBT, and nonprofit issues. You can follow him on Twitter at @ErwindeLeon.