On February 12, I was proud to reintroduce the Uniting American Families Act, which would allow U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents to petition for their foreign same-sex partners to come to the United States under our family immigration system.

The burdens and benefits of the laws created by the elected officials who represent all Americans should be shared equally, and without discrimination. With an historic election behind us, and the promise of a more just, peaceful, and prosperous world ahead of us, let us begin to break down the barriers that still remain for so many American citizens.

Under current law, committed same-sex foreign partners of American citizens are unable to use the family immigration system, which accounts for a majority of the green cards and immigrant visas granted annually by the United States. As a result, gay Americans who are in this situation must either live apart from their partners, or leave the country if they want to live with them legally and permanently.

Some have expressed concern that providing this equality in our immigration law will lead to more immigration fraud. At best these concerns are misguided, and at worst they are a pretext for discrimination. This bill retains strong protections against fraud already in immigration law. Penalties for fraud would be the same as penalties for marriage fraud – up to five years in prison and $250,000 in fines for the U.S. citizen partner, and deportation for the foreign partner. Discrimination based upon sexual orientation should play no role in guarding against those who seek to abuse our immigration laws.

Like many people across the country, there are Vermonters whose partners are foreign nationals and who feel abandoned by our laws in this area. The promotion of family unity has long been part of Federal immigration policy, and we should honor that principle by providing all Americans the opportunity to be with their loved ones.