As the 111th Congress moves into its final weeks, the LGBT community has rightly recognized that the window for legislative victory on issues important to our movement is quickly coming to a close. And yet, while repeal of the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" ban has also rightly been a focus of LGBT advocate and allies, another issue with an immense impact on our families has now appeared on the lame-duck radar, too.
On Tuesday, Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) announced that he had met with President Obama - and spoke with Congressional leaders - about the possibility of moving his comprehensive immigration reform bill forward before Congress goes home. Menendez's bill, the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2010 (S.3932), contains a number of measures to fix our country's broken immigration system. Among those is the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA), which would end the discrimination LGBT families face under current immigration laws, and allow LGBT Americans to sponsor their foreign-born partners for residency in the United States.
For the LGBT families who are facing separation or exile, time is - and always has been - of the essence. Immigration Equality's attorneys are hearing from more and more couples who are now separated, or exiled, because they cannot remain in the country together. In fact, in recent days, I have personally spoken to numerous couples who have already applied for residency in Canada, and are now preparing to leave the U.S. so they can remain together. There is no doubt that, for these families, passage of UAFA cannot come quickly enough.
In the bigger picture, though, passage of inclusive reform offers a very significant leap forward for all of rights, too. Passage of the Menendez bill would, indeed, mark the first time that LGBT couples receive federal recognition as a family. That, in turns, breaks down a huge wall that has long separated LGBT Americans and countless federal benefits.
In short, UAFA (either as a stand-alone measure, or as part of a larger bill, like the one sponsored by Senator Menendez) helps not only LGBT binational families, but every LGBT family, too. By mobilizing the LGBT and progressive communities behind this bill, and building support for consideration in the lame duck Congress, we can strike a blow against laws that have rendered LGBT couples invisible at the federal level.
Yesterday, the Immigration Equality Action Fund launched a national push to build support for the Menendez bill. The organization asked its supporters to call their Senators, and urge them to co-sponsor - and support passage of - Senator Menendez's bill.
In order to be successful, though, we need more than just binational families, and the wider circle of those impacted by this issue, to speak up now.
Senator Menendez told reporters on Tuesday that the White House is "ready and willing" to work on moving the bill forward. It is imperative that everyone who believes in federal equality for our families stand with Menendez - who stood strong against opposition from far-right voices and included LGBT families in his bill - by ensuring our own movement is ready and willing to push forward, too.
Just as repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" sends a strong signal that our country's largest employer cannot discriminate against those who have so courageously fought and died for our nation, passage of UAFA will be an unmistakable message that our families demand to be recognized by our federal government, too.
There is no doubt that the window of opportunity for moving forward, before lawmakers end their current Congressional session, is short. But if our community neglects to take advantage of it, we miss a critical opportunity to rally behind a bill that will not only ensure LGBT binational families aren't torn apart . . . but that will set the stage for huge advances for every LGBT family, everywhere.
To find your Senator, and ask them to support Senator Menendez's LGBT-inclusive immigration reform bill, click here and visit the Immigration Equality Action Fund online.