Sens. Harry Reid (D-NV), Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Bob Menendez (D-NJ) will unveil a draft immigration proposal today that’s meant to entice Republicans to support a bipartisan and comprehensive bill. The 26-page draft, obtained by the Associated Press, “attempts to woo GOP senators in part by calling for ‘concrete benchmarks’ to secure the border before granting illegal immigrants the opportunity to gain legal status.” The draft includes a path towards legalization of the estimated 10.8 million undocumented immigrants but also establishes enforcement benchmarks like “increasing the number of border patrol officers and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials, increasing the number of personnel available to inspect for drugs and contraband, and improving technology used to assist ICE agents,” CNN notes.
The proposal will also address several remaining technical issues that prevent widows and orphans of U.S. citizens from obtaining immigration benefits. It will eliminate discrimination in the immigration laws by permitting permanent partners of United States citizens and lawful permanent residents to obtain lawful permanent resident status.
The U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act allows U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents to sponsor their spouses (and other immediate family members) for immigration purposes, but does not recognize same-sex partners as spouses. Consequently, the approximately 36,000 Americans who are in same-sex relationships in which one member is a citizen are frequently forced to re-locate to another country or live separately once a visa expires or an immigration problem arises. Children are separated from their parents and relationships are torn apart.
Twenty-two countries already recognize same-sex couples for immigration purposes and Democrats have tried to advance inclusive immigration legislation since 2000. Most recently, Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) introduced the Uniting American Families Act which would apply “the same standards to same-sex couples that the United States applies to opposite-sex couples where one member is seeking to bring a foreign partner into the country.” The bill has 122 co-sponsors in the House and 23 co-sponsors in the Senate.
Democrats remain skeptical, however, that Congress will take up immigration reform this year. Just yesterday, President Obama told reporters aboard Air Force One that he didn’t think Congress had the “political will” to pass reform this year. “Now, look, we’ve gone through a very tough year, and I’ve been working Congress pretty hard. So I know there may not be an appetite immediately to dive into another controversial issue,” he said. Meanwhile, Republicans have walked away from the proposal, claiming that immigration reform has no chance of passing.
Last year, Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) introduced a reform proposal that did not allow U.S. citizens and permanent residents to sponsor their partners for residency.