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Gay Couples Push For Inclusion In Immigration Reform Bill

February 21, 2013 1:16 p.m.


Adrian Florido, Fronteras Desk Reporter

Related Story: Gay Couples Push For Inclusion In Immigration Reform Bill


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: Immigration reform is one of the most complicated issues facing politicians in Washington. It seems like everyone from immigrant rights activists to business owners, farmers, labor groups, and the White House want a say. And there's another group that hopes it won't be lost in the complexities of the immigration debate, gays and lesbians spouses. Adrian Florido just did a story on why LGBT couples are pushing for immigration change in the country.

FLORIDO: Thanks Maureen.

CAVANAUGH: I want of people want to know that one of the surest ways for an immigrant to get a green card is by marrying a U.S. citizen. Not many people know that if you marry someone of the same sex, legal marriage here in the United States, that does not apply to you.

FLORIDO: Right. And that's because of restrictions that were imposed by the defense of marriage act which was passed in the mid-'90s. That act for the purposes of more than a thousand federal benefit ares that come with marriage defines marriage as being between only a man and a woman. And one of those is the rights for a permanent resident to adjust the immigration status of a spouse.

CAVANAUGH: So we're talking about a gay or lesbian married couple where one person is a U.S. citizen, one is not, and do we know how many gay couples might be affected by this?

FLORIDO: UCSD researchers did a study on this, and they estimated there are about 40,000 same-sex couples in which one partner is a U.S. citizen or legal resident, and the other is a foreign national. Some of those partners are undocumented, others are here on temporary work or student Visas, and all of those categories of people risk eventually being separate the because of this restriction.

CAVANAUGH: In your story, you spoke to a couple named William wood and Jesus Rodriguez who are dealing with this very issue. Tell me about their story.

FLORIDO: Jesus and William met in Atlanta in 2009. And they started a relationship. And last year William got into a brought program at UCSD. So Jesus moved out to San Diego to get a head start on settling in. On labor day weekend, he drove into a traffic checkpoint and was caught without a license. He called William who was still in Atlanta from the detention center.

NEW SPEAKER: Yeah, and I had to explain to him, and I said this is what happened, I said oh, my God, I'm not going to get to see you every again. They're going to deport me.

FLORIDO: The reason is because Jesus is undocumented. He overstayed a visa when he was visiting from Mexico in the mid-'90s, but he never told William this because he hoped some immigration reform would pass granting him legal status and allowing him to stay. After his arrest, he hired a lawyer and applied for a stay of deportation. He has a court hearing next month. In the meantime, he and William travelled to Washington DC and they got married.

CAVANAUGH: Now, why would they get married? If gay marriage isn't recognized for purposes of immigration status, why would they do that?

FLORIDO: That was my question. Well, he said they wanted to be ready just in case. And that's because there are a lot of things changing right now. And he's hoping that before he's forced to leave the country and possibly be separated from William, at least one of three things will happen: If an immigration reform bill is passed granting legal status to the nation's 11 million undocumented immigrants, he might qualify to stay that way. But that's obviously a huge sticking point among lawmakers on capital hill, and it's unclear what that would even look like. So they figured if that doesn't happen, but a reform bill did change the rules and give same-sex spouses immigration rights as the president wants, then they had better be married just to be prepared. And there's one more possibility. The defense of marriage act, which restricts gay immigration rights and all kinds of other federal rights for gay couples, was challenged before the Supreme Court and the Court is expected to rule on it by June. If that is overturned and suddenly gay couples gain federal recognition, William might be able to petition for Jesus to stay even if the same-sex language isn't included in the immigration reform bill.

CAVANAUGH: Oh, my goodness. So let's go through this one at a time. Immigration reform, that route, already very controversial. How likely is it that lawmakers, especially conservatives, will be willing to add same-sex immigration rights into the mix?

FLORIDO: This is a huge concern. One of the biggest hurdles facing a reform bill in Congress is is this conservative caucus. The same lawmakers who oppose same-sex marriage and take conservative stances on other social issues. Which is what John McCain who's taking a lead role in immigration reform said when he was asked with this late last month.

NEW SPEAKER: LGBT or border security? I'll tell you what my priorities are. So again, if you're going to load it up with social issues, that is the best way to derail it.

FLORIDO: He thinks including gay rights could derail any immigration reform from happening at all. But LGBT advocates across the country are pushing hard for it to be included.

CAVANAUGH: Is there any indication from the White House that they'll push for inclusion for gays and lesbians couples in an immigration bill?

FLORIDO: The president has included explicit language that would include them. But that bipartisan team of senators that released its own proposal on immigration reform did not. So we can foresee some hashing out needing to be done.

CAVANAUGH: Tell us about the Supreme Court and the defense of marriage act. Wouldn't that alone solve this?

FLORIDO: Most likely yes. I'm not personally familiar with the defense of marriage act. But my understanding is there's several ways the Court could rule on the law. If they did overturn it, it's likely same-sex couples would gain most federal benefits including immigration.

CAVANAUGH: Right. So in the meantime, what does this mean for couples like William and Jesus? &%F0 &%F0

FLORIDO: It means it's sort of a race against the clock. For the nonresident partners of U.S. citizens who are either undocumented or here on temporary Visas, they hope something will change in the law that will allow them to adjust their status before the law forces them to split up. Jesus is hoping one of those three things, legalization, LGBT couple language in the reform bill or the overturning of DOMA will come through and allow him to stay. Obviously he'd like them all to happen F. We have time, there's one quote I'd love to play. He said he decided to overstay his visa when he visited the U.S. and realize said how much easier it was to be a gay man in the U.S. than it was in Mexico, this was in the '90s. And I asked him if he was ever scare have had being deported.

NEW SPEAKER: When you get to a place where you can be yourself and where you can have friends that are gay and don't have to justify to anyone around you because they see you with gay friends and you don't have to worry about explain that anymore, that freedom is bigger than the fear you have of deportation. That was my motivation.

CAVANAUGH: You can read more about the story online at Thanks, Adrian.