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AILA President Chuck Kuck's Statement on the Uniting American Families Act

Cite as "AILA InfoNet Doc. No. 09060135 (posted Jun. 1, 2009)"

CONTACT:
George Tzamaras
202-507-7649
gtzamaras@aila.org

*EMBARGO: June 3, 2009

Written Statement of Charles H. Kuck President, American Immigration Lawyers Association

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Submitted to U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary for the hearing on "The Uniting American Families Act: Addressing Inequality in Federal Immigration Law"

AILA is a voluntary bar association of more than 11,000 attorneys and law professors practicing and teaching in the field of immigration and nationality law. Our mission includes the advancement of law pertaining to immigration and naturalization, and the facilitation of justice in the field. Our members represent countless foreign nationals and employers in applications for non-immigrant visas, lawful permanent residence, naturalization, and asylum.

AILA has long supported the Uniting American Families Act and thanks Senator Leahy for convening this hearing and for his leadership on this issue.

One of the fundamental tenets of our immigration system is that legal permanent residents and U.S. citizens can sponsor their family members, defined as spouses and other immediate family members, for immigration status. This principle of family unification is an unassailable characteristic of our immigration system. However, same sex partners of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents are not recognized as family members under current immigration law, no matter how long-term or committed the relationship. This outdated and biased definition forces U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents to make unconscionable, life-altering decisions to either relocate to a foreign country or permanently separate from their loved ones.

The Uniting American Families Act (S. 424, H.R. 1024) would rectify this injustice by amending our immigrations laws to permit U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents to sponsor their permanent partners for legal permanent residence. AILA strongly supports this legislation.

This bill was first introduced as the Permanent Partners Immigration Act by Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) in 2000. The Senate companion bill was first introduced by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) in 2003. The bill has been reintroduced in each subsequent Congress and has steadily gained support.

If passed, this bill would amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to provide same sex partners of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents access to immigration status by adding the term "permanent partner" to the statutory definition of family. The bill defines "permanent partner" as any person 18 or older who is:

1. in a committed, intimate relationship with an adult U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident 18 years or older in which both parties intend a lifelong commitment;

2. financially interdependent with that other person;

3. not married to, or in a permanent partnership with, anyone other than that other person;

4. unable to contract with that person a marriage cognizable under the Immigration and Nationality Act; and

5. is not a first, second, or third degree blood relation of that other individual.

The UAFA is imminently fair in that same sex relationships would be treated no differently from opposite sex relationships. Just like marriage-based petitions, the permanent partners would have to prove that they have a bona fide relationship through documentary and testimonial evidence. The couple would be required to attend an interview before the granting of a green card, and couples would be subject to severe criminal penalties for fraud or other abuse. The only difference between permanent partners and opposite sex married couples would be the lack of a marriage license recognized by the federal government, though, certainly many same sex couples would present marriage licenses or civil unions as proof of their commitment. As with any marriage-based petition, the American sponsor would have to submit a binding affidavit of support on behalf of the foreign national.

Our members report heart-breaking consultations with prospective clients who have no legal option to remain in the U.S. No matter how long the couple has been together or how committed their relationship is, whether they are raising children together, or even if they have married in a country or state which allows same sex marriage, there is no avenue to immigration benefits for the foreign partner. This is an injustice which must be rectified. Businesses are losing valuable employees when couples go into exile; the U.S. is losing tax revenue; and, most importantly, the human toll on families who live in daily fear of deportation or who are uprooted from their extended families in the U.S. is immeasurable.

The UAFA would bring U.S. immigration law in line with the 19 other countries that already recognize same sex partnerships for immigration purposes: Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Israel, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Sweden Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, and Canada now offer full marriage rights for same sex couples.

AILA urges Congress to pass the Uniting American Families Act. Whether UAFA moves forward as a stand-alone bill, or whether it is included in Comprehensive Immigration Reform, this legislation is crucial to insure equal rights for same sex couples. Passing UAFA will continue our country's heritage of granting legal status to the loved ones of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents.

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The American Immigration Lawyers Association is the national association of immigration lawyers established to promote justice, advocate for fair and reasonable immigration law and policy, advance the quality of immigration and nationality law and practice, and enhance the professional development of its members. For more information contact George Tzamaras, Director of Communications, AILA at 202-507-7649 or gtzamaras@aila.org

 
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