Do Ask! Do Tell!
New York Times is first to report on UAFA Hearing
Washington DC, June 3 2009. We stood in line from 7.15 am to be sure of a seat at today’s hearing on the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA) in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Strictly speaking it wasn’t necessary to get there that early, as everyone that came to the 90 minute Hearing that began at 10 am was able to get a seat. But we had travelled all the way from Amsterdam to be here, and we were not taking any risks. As the morning wore on the line got longer, and we met a number of couples that had either left the country to be together, or were looking at moving to Canada to stay together. And we did get to read the article on Shirley Tan in the New York Times.
The testimony during the Hearing was powerful. Shirley Tan told her story as her sons sobbed in the background, recalling the morning the men in yellow suits cuffed her and took her into custody for being an illegal migrant, after having lived in the country for 23 years. The fact that her lawyer had not let her know her asylum request had been denied, the fact that the immigration agency admitted it was their fault the information had not been delivered to Ms Tan five years previously, all this could not wipe out the memory of the horror and the inhumanity of that dawn raid last January.
All the testimonies spoke to the gratuitously cruel discrimination of gay couples under present US immigration law. Of the mere fact that we are not opposite sex partners, and that that makes it possible for the US to deny their own citizens the rights to stay in the country when they fall in love with a foreigner. Congressman Jerrold Nadler, who first introduced UAFA 9 years ago, stated that the present immigration law runs counter to plain humanity and is purposefully cruel to the people involved. A just country, he said, would not be gratuitously cruel. California Congresswoman Jacquie Speier, co-author of the Private Bill that has made it possible for Shirley Tan to remain in the USA until the Bill is taken under consideration, said that current immigration law rips children out of the arms of their parents. While citizens are meant to have equal protection under the law, US immigration law clearly does not provide equal protection, she said.
Gordon Stewart stated in his opening sentence very simply the reality of every Love Exile. “I am an American citizen living abroad simply because I cannot live in my own country with Renato, the person I love. The decision to move to the UK was the best decision I could make, but I would prefer to live at home.” “Families are being driven into exile,” said Chris Nugent of the American Bar Association. “We should promote family unification,” said Julius Bond of the NAACP. “We support including UAFA in any comprehensive immigration reform”.
Two testimonies were given against UAFA, with two main arguments. One boils down to there being too much immigration fraud already, and without any specific documentation existing that a same-sex couple has a relationship (as they are unable to be married in most US States) there is concern that an already broken system will become worse. The second argument was decidedly strange, and put forward by an environmental agency. Too many green cards will mean the US will increase its ecological footprint. The concern is that the country cannot keep its present consumption standards and add more citizens. Considering that the people will not disappear from the face of the earth they will have an ecological footprint wherever they are and yes, the US really does need to reduce its patterns of consumption, so I find this argument difficult to take seriously. I was not alone. None of the senators at the Hearing gave the argument more thought.
Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt), Senator Chares Schumer (D-NY), and Senator Specter, who recently changed from being a member of the Republican Party to the Democratic Party, stated unequivocally their support of including UAFA in comprehensive immigration reform. Senator Specter signed on as a sponsor only today, showing the power of this Hearing is just starting to get underway. Shortly after the Hearing, Senator Durban of Illinois signed on to UAFA.
During the Hearing, Senator Sessions (R-Alabama) seemed unmoved by the human tragedy of the immigration law and was only willing to address the issue of fraud, when he asked questions of the witnesses. When we spoke later with his staffer, it emerged that staffers had not had time to sufficiently prepare for the Hearing. With more information, particularly on how to create a system that would be more foolproof in terms of fraud, it may be possible to consider etc etc.
With the Hearing done, the Tan Mercado family, Melanie Nathan, Martha and I decided to visit senators in their offices and ask them to support UAFA. The best lobbyists in our group, without doubt, were the 12-year-old Jashley and Joriene. Their question to those that did not wish to sign on to UAFA was: “If you don’t want this new law, then what do you think my mother should do? We don’t want our family to be torn apart.”