Time for Congress to get to work on immigration reform

At countless town hall forums, rallies, marches and district meetings throughout the country, members of Congress are hearing a clear message during the August recess: return to Washington and pass immigration reform now. Americans are sending this message because they understand that immigration reform is an important piece of the puzzle that will help keep the American dream alive for all of us.

Comprehensive, compassionate immigration reform is an urgent priority for our nation. During the four weeks that Congress was away, 33,000 families were torn apart because of failed and mismanaged immigration policies that desperately need to be reformed. As a nation, we pride ourselves on the strength of our families, and our immigration policies should reflect our commitment to keep families together.

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Prior to the August recess, the Senate passed a bipartisan immigration reform bill that includes a number of historic victories, including a path to citizenship, first-time ever immigrant worker protections and reunification provisions to reunite families torn apart by deportations and detentions. While the Senate bill is not perfect, and the costly build-up at the border that it includes is unnecessary, it is the best chance in decades to develop a road map to citizenship for our nation’s immigrants.

The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community stands strong in our support for immigration reform because too many of us understand what it’s like to have to live in a closet, hiding your true self. Undocumented LGBT immigrants struggle to hide in two closets: masking their sexual identity and immigration status. Our current immigration policies dehumanize, scapegoat and vilify all immigrants, including those who are LGBT.

The Senate bill includes a number of provisions that would benefit our country’s 267,000 LGBT immigrants. In particular, the bill would eliminate the one-year ban on applying for asylum, improve conditions for people held in detention facilities and establish new limitations on the use of solitary confinement – as well as prohibit the use of this practice based solely on detainees’ sexual orientation or gender identity.

The Senate has done its job, now it’s time for the House to act. Poll after poll shows that regardless of political party affiliation, demographics or geography, Americans want their elected officials to fix our broken immigration system. In fact, a recent Quinnipiac poll found that a majority of Republican primary voters support immigration reform, leading one of the researchers behind the poll to conclude that the only group divided on this issue is Congress.

A new study released this week makes it clear that immigration and changing demographics will impact even the most conservative House districts. The report reveals that in the 2014 midterm elections, young Asian, Latino and newly-naturalized citizens will make up more than a third of all newly-eligible voters. These demographic trends make it even clearer that now is the time for Republicans to address the demands of the majority of Americans to pass immigration reform or risk being voted out of office.

Despite these undeniable trends, rather than debating real solutions, the House remains focused on partisan posturing, piecemeal provisions and extremist amendments that don’t provide a path forward for our nation’s immigrants.

Congress isn’t even back in D.C. yet and Republican leaders are already giving the same old excuses, arguing that fiscal negotiations will consume all their time between now and the end of the year, leaving no room to deal with one of our country’s most pressing problems. Unfortunately for them, members of the LGBT and immigrant rights communities are calling their bluff. As members of our country’s highest legislative body, Congress should be able to walk and chew gum at the same time.

I’ve never had a job where I spent four months on just one piece of the puzzle, and we shouldn’t let Congress do that either. Ensuring that our country remains a place where the American dream is possible means addressing multiple pieces of the puzzle at the same time, which is exactly what Congress needs to do now.

Welcome back, Congress. It’s time to get to work.

Carey is executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Action Fund.