The Uniting American Families Act (“UAFA”) is federal legislation that, if passed, would allow U.S. citizens or U.S. legal permanent residents (“LPRs”) to sponsor their same-sex foreign national partners for immigration benefits in the U.S.
Why can’t U.S. citizens or LPRs sponsor their same-sex foreign national partners right now?
The federal Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”), passed in 1996, defines marriage as “only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife.” (See Family, Unvalued: Discrimination, Denial, and the Fate of Binational Same-Sex Couples under U.S. Law, page 12, published in 2006 by Human Rights Watch and Immigration Equality, available at: http://www.immigrationequality.org/uploadedfiles/FamilyUnvalued.pdf)
Under U.S. immigration laws, the only non-biological family relationships that qualify for immigration benefits are adoptive parent-child relationships and relationships between married adults. And since U.S. immigration laws are all federal laws, DOMA prevents any of these laws from including a same-sex union in their definition of marriage.
Thus, as long as the DOMA exists, U.S. immigration laws will never allow U.S. citizens or LPRs to sponsor a same-sex foreign national partner, even if their union is legally recognized as a marriage in a U.S. state or in a foreign country. In such situations, even if the couple would ideally want to live together in the U.S., they are instead forced to choose between two other options: get married in the foreign national partner's country of origin (if at all possible) and live permanently outside of the U.S., or live apart and only see each other for months at a time using short-term visas, as long as the foreign national partner cannot obtain a longer-term visa to stay in the U.S.
How would the UAFA end this discrimination, if signed into law?
It would require the foreign national to qualify as a “permanent partner,” meaning that he or she would have to be:
a) At least 18 years old;
b) In a relationship with a U.S. citizen or U.S. legal permanent resident in which both parties intend a life-long commitment;
c) Financially interdependent with that person;
d) In an exclusive relationship with that person, i.e. not married to or in a permanent partnership with anyone else;
e) Unable to enter into a marriage with that person that is recognized under the Immigration and Nationality Act, i.e. a marriage with a person of the opposite sex.
(See Family Unvalued cited above, page 145)
Under UAFA, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) would apply the same scrutiny to permanent partnerships as they already do to eligible opposite-sex marriages, and would require the U.S. citizen or LPR sponsor to submit an affidavit of support on behalf of the foreign national partner. (See Family Unvalued cited above, page 146)
What is the UAFA’s current position in the legislative process? What are its chances of passing anytime soon?
Representative Jerrold Nadler (D – NY) first introduced the bill in the House as the Permanent Partners Immigration Act in 2000. He most recently introduced the bill on February 12, 2009. (H.R. 1024) Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) introduced the legislation in the Senate on the same date. (S. 424) The house bill currently has 116 co-sponsors and according to Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-CA), does not have good chances of passing anytime soon. (http://www.ebar.com/news/article.php?sec=news&article=4101)
Nadler is joining Congressman Mike Honda (D-CA) to advocate for the passage of a more comprehensive bill, the Reuniting Families Act (H.R. 2709) which includes the language of the UAFA. So far there are only 74 co-sponsors of this bill. The Senate version of the Reuniting Families Act (S. 1085), introduced by Robert Menendez (D-NJ), does not include the UAFA language.
How can I help advocate for the passage of UAFA or similar legislation?
Go to the website of Immigration Equality (http://www.immigrationequality.org/template.php?pageid=49), which has resources for:
- Meeting in-district with your Congressional representatives
- Writing to or calling your Congressional representatives
- Telling your personal story to help Immigration Equality document the impact of discrimination in U.S. immigration laws
- Writing to the editors of your local papers and magazines
- Signing an online petition