House lawmakers introduce immigration bill for same-sex couples

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Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) reintroduced the bill, the Uniting American Families Act, on Tuesday. The legislation is co-sponsored by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Reps. Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.), Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.), Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), John Conyers (D-Mich.), Jared Polis (D-Colo.), David Cicilline (D-R.I.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), Mark Takano (D-Calif.), Sean Maloney (D-N.Y.), Mike Honda (D-Calif.), and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.).

Currently, only immigrants in heterosexual marriages can sponsor their spouses for legal residency. The Uniting American Families Act (UAFA) would include the term "permanent partner" in the Immigration and Naturalization Act in order to include immigrants in same-sex relationships. The same benefits and penalties applied to heterosexual marriages would apply to same-sex marriages under the legislation.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, plans to introduce a companion bill in his chamber.

"Today, thousands of committed same-sex couples are needlessly suffering because of unequal treatment under our immigration laws, and this is an outrage," Nadler said in a statement.

Legislators are also working to pass a larger immigration reform bill. A secretive bipartisan group of House members, which includes Lofgren and Gutierrez, plans on introducing an immigration reform bill soon. In late January, a bipartisan group of four Democrats and four Republicans in the Senate introduced a framework for reform.

"As we work toward comprehensive immigration reform, we must ensure that the value of all families is valued, respected and recognized in the eyes of the law," Pelosi said in a statement.

Conyers said under the current immigration reform system, couples in same-sex marriages "don't count."

"Our immigration system has always recognized the value of keeping families together," Conyers said in the statement announcing the bill. "But when it comes to legally married same-sex couples and domestic partners our immigration law says those families don’t count. I am pleased to join my colleagues today to stand against this discrimination and to protect the unity of all families."

Conspicuously, a number of members of the House's LGBT Equality Caucus have not signed onto the bill, including Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.). Becerra, Gutierrez, and Lofgren are members of the House immigration reform group.

Same-sex marriage provisions in a new immigration reform bill will likely be a sticking point as Congress moves a forward with immigration reform. President Obama recently signaled that he would include measures for same-sex couples in pushing immigration reform. Meanwhile, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), one of the eight senators who produced the framework, called it a mistake for Obama to include provisions for same-sex couples.

"Why don't we just put legalized abortion in there and round it all out," Graham said, according to the Huffington Post.