Immigration bill moves forward, leaving gay couples behind

Washington –- Lucy Truman and Kelli Ryan, a married same-sex couple living in Newtown, are considering leaving the country, but not because they want to.

Truman, who was born in the United Kingdom, has a visa she obtained as a research scientist at Yale University, but it expires June 30. Her wife, though a U.S. citizen, is not permitted to sponsor her for permanent residency.

“It’s a terrible shame that Kelli has to choose between me and her country,” Truman said. “But the truth of it is, we are married and have to look out for each other. If we can’t be accepted in America, we will go elsewhere.”

Foreign spouses can be sponsored in heterosexual marriages. But federal law does not give the same rights to gay couples.

Legislation proposed by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., could have had a lasting impact on the couple’s life in the United States. The amendment would have allowed Americans to sponsor partners in same-sex marriages and civil unions, resulting in permanent residency and eventually citizenship. 

But the amendment failed to become part of a wide-ranging immigration bill the Senate Judiciary Committee approved this week.

Although they may have personally supported the gay-rights amendment, fellow Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee warned Leahy the amendment would scuttle the bill.

“I believe in my heart of hearts that what you’re doing is the right and just thing, and I admire you for it very much, Mr. Chairman,” said Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., “But I believe this is the wrong moment, that this is the wrong bill.”

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said he “absolutely” believed same-sex couples should sponsor their partners for citizenship.

“There are many others in the Congress, as we know, who disagree. They’ve made it perfectly clear in plain words and on multiple occasions that if this provision is added to the bill they will have no choice [but] to abandon our collective effort, and a once-in-a-generation effort to pass comprehensive immigration reform would be finished,” Schumer said.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., who is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, voiced support for the amendment, too.

“The impact of this discriminatory policy is truly devastating. I’ve seen it in friends and neighbors, people in Connecticut families are torn apart.” Blumenthal said. “Americans are forced to choose between living in the country that they love and being with the person they love.”

Leahy is committed to supporting the immigration bill. But he said, “this is not the bill I would have drafted.”

“My greatest disappointment is that this legislation should recognize the rights of all Americans,” he said.

Truman, who has seen gay and lesbian friends in Connecticut leave the country because of immigration problems, said it would be difficult to do so.  But, if it comes down to it, Ryan said she would move back to Europe with Truman.

“Imagine it,” Truman said. “We’re in our 40’s now. It’s not the time in life to be uprooting and moving. We want to settle and have a home.”

Janson Wau, a staff attorney with Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defender, a legal rights association serving Connecticut and the other New England states, said he applauded Leahy for his fight and regrets he lost the battle.

“We are enormously disappointed despite the leadership of Chairman Leahy and the senators on the committee caving to the pressure of our opponent and the scapegoating of gay families,” Wau said. “It really is an unfortunate day.”

According to Immigration Equality, 31 countries currently allow residents to sponsor gay and lesbian partners for legal status. 

But the United States does not. And in Connecticut and the 11 other states where same-sex marriage is legal, married couples like Truman and Ryan are finding their rights are limited.

The immigration bill is expected to be considered by the full Senate in June. It would allow more than 11 million illegal residents to apply for legal status after paying a $500 fine and any back taxes owed, placing them on a 13-year path to citizenship. Youths, though, would be eligible to apply for permanent residency after five years.

To attract GOP votes, the bill would also beef up security at the United States border with Mexico and increase penalties on companies that hire undocumented workers.