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Gay Couples Push For Inclusion In Immigration Reform Bill

William Wood and Jesus Rodriguez married recently with the hope that a change in federal law will allow Wood, a U.S. citizen, to petition for legal residency for Rodriguez, who is undocumented.
Photo courtesy of Jesus Rodriguez
William Wood and Jesus Rodriguez married recently with the hope that a change in federal law will allow Wood, a U.S. citizen, to petition for legal residency for Rodriguez, who is undocumented.
Gay Couples Push For Immigration Reform Inclusion
Gay Couples Push For Inclusion In Immigration Reform Bill
GuestAdrian Florido, Fronteras Desk Reporter

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.

Gay Couples Push For Inclusion In Immigration Reform Bill
The law that makes it easy for a U.S. citizen to adjust a spouse's immigration status doesn't apply to gay couples, who want that addressed as immigration reform takes shape.

Marrying a United States citizen has long been the surest way for an immigrant to gain permanent residency in the U.S. But under current immigration law, this doesn’t apply to same-sex spouses.

That has complicated the lives of people like Jesus Rodriguez and William Wood, one among an estimated tens of thousands of bi-national, permanent same-sex couples trying to stay together despite mixed immigration status.

Rodriguez and Wood’s romance started in 2009, after they met through mutual friends at a bar in Atlanta. Last year, when Wood got into a master’s program at the University of California, San Diego, Rodriguez’s company agreed to transfer him to its San Diego office, and he moved west before Wood did to get a head start settling in.


But on Labor Day weekend, he drove into a traffic checkpoint without a license. He was arrested. He called Wood from the San Diego police detention center.

“I said ‘Oh my God, I’m not going to get to see you ever again,’” Rodriguez recalled. “And he said why? I said, ‘they’re going to deport me.’ He said ‘why?’”

Rodriguez is undocumented. He overstayed a tourist visa in 1995 when he was visiting from Mexico. But during their three-year relationship, he never told Wood, a U.S. citizen.

“And obviously he couldn’t believe what I was saying. He said, ‘but why didn’t you tell me?’”

Rodriguez had hoped that eventually, a reform package like the one now being discussed in Congress would be approved, and he’d be allowed to stay. But now he had been caught.


With a lawyer’s help, he applied for a stay of deportation. He has a court hearing next month. But in the meantime, Rodriguez and Wood flew to Washington, D.C., to get married.

Not that this would help Rodriguez's situation. The federal rule that makes it easy for the spouse of a U.S. citizen to get a green card doesn’t apply to same-sex couples. That has forced many bi-national gay couples to split up. Rodriguez and Wood decided to get married anyway.

“We wanted to be prepared just in case” an immigration reform bill grants immigration rights to same sex-couples, as President Barack Obama has proposed, Rodriguez said.

He hopes that before he’s forced out of the country, at least one of three things will happen.

If a reform package includes a legalization for the 11 million people in the country illegally, he could qualify for legalization and get to stay in the U.S.

But he knew legalization would be a huge sticking point on Capitol Hill. So he figured that if a reform bill didn’t include it, but did grant same-sex immigration rights like the president wants, Wood could petition for him to stay that way. That’s why they rushed to get married.

There’s a third possibility. The reason same-sex partners don’t qualify for immigration benefits and more than 1,000 other federal benefits is because of the Defense of Marriage Act, which on a federal level recognizes only marriages between a man and a woman.

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule on DOMA’s constitutionality this summer. If it’s overturned, Wood could possibly sponsor Rodriguez even absent an immigration reform bill.

“That’s why it’s very important for either DOMA to be repealed or, in comprehensive immigration reform, every time the word spouse is mentioned, three more words are added: ‘or permanent partners,’” said Amos Lim, a member of a San Francisco-based coalition called Out 4 Immigration.

He and other LGBT activists fear a benefit for permanent partners of the same sex may be an early casualty in the debate over what immigration reform will look like.

Unlike the president’s proposal, the one unveiled by a bi-partisan team of senators did not mention immigration benefits for gay couples. Soon after releasing the proposal, Sen. John McCain said including same-sex immigration benefits could doom an immigration reform bill.

“If you’re going to load it up with social issues, that is the best way to derail it, in my view,” McCain said.

But Lim and activists across the country are sending the message that immigration reform would not be truly comprehensive if it ignored the roughly 40,000 same-sex permanent bi-national couples who risk being separated because the U.S. citizen in the relationship cannot adjust his or her partner’s status.

For Jesus Rodriguez, whose deportation case is working its way through court, it’s become a race against the clock to see which reform, if any, will allow him to stay with his husband.

Rodriguez is “hoping for the best,” he said.