Under the current immigration system, and because of discriminatory laws like the Defense of Marriage Act, more than 30,000 binational gay and lesbian couples are simply ignored by the federal government. This has deeply painful consequences for real people every day. Congressman Jerrold Nadler, a leader in Congress for comprehensive immigration reform, gives the example of Santiago Ortiz and Pablo Garcia from his home state of New York. Though Pablo and Santiago are legally married, the expiration of Pablo’s visa forced the couple to choose between their love for each other and their love for America. “When Pablo chose to stay with Santiago,” Nadler wrote recently, “he was forced to live in legal limbo—unable to visit his family or attend his father’s funeral for fear of being unable to return.”
A truly comprehensive bill must end this legal limbo and give couples like Pablo and Santiago a fair shot. But their story only scratches the surface. We must be bold in tackling the issues that plague our broken immigration system.
A comprehensive bill must roll back the arbitrary and unnecessary one-year application window for individuals seeking asylum in the United States. Often these are LGBT people seeking to escape countries with social and legal environments deeply hostile to their existence. To them, America represents a place where freedom and equality prevail. Applying for asylum is a difficult and sometimes dangerous process, and we must welcome individuals who only seek the liberty we take for granted every day.
Last but not least, a comprehensive bill must include a pathway to citizenship as well as the DREAM Act, at long last allowing undocumented youth—including LGBT youth — pursuing higher education or military service to come out of the shadows. These young people represent the best America has to offer. They’re valedictorians, leaders among their peers, and model citizens. Continuing to punish them for their parents’ decision to enter the country is nothing less than an ongoing moral failure by this great nation.
None of the policies I’ve described are controversial. Each of them enjoys broad public support. If the past few weeks have taught us anything, it’s that this country values treating LGBT people fairly as a national priority, and at this decisive moment for comprehensive immigration reform, we must pass an inclusive bill as a matter of basic justice.
After all, it’s been 25 years since the last major immigration reform bill. Our country deserves better than the broken system currently on the books, and piecemeal change isn’t enough. The time has come for action. We must seize this national moment of consensus to get this vital legislation right.
Griffin is the president of the Human Rights Campaign.