Chaired By: Senator Patrick J. Leahy (D-VT)
Wtinesses: Shirley Tan, Pacifica, California; Gordon Stewart, London, England; Julian Bond, Chairman, National Board of Directors for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; Christopher Nugent, Co-Chair, Committee on the Rights of Immigrants Section of Individual Rights and Responsibilities, American Bar Association; Roy Beck, President, Numbers USA Education and Research Foundation; Jessica M. Vaughan, Director, Policy Studies, Center for Immigration Studies
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SEN. PATRICK J. LEAHY (D-VT): Good morning. We have a number of things going on in the judiciary committee, so I apologize for the delay, but I'm glad to see Congressman Adler and Congresswoman Speier here, and I apologize to them and the other witnesses that we've been delayed.
You know, for too long, gay and lesbian American citizens, as partners of foreign nationals, have been denied the ability to sponsor their loved ones for lawful permanent residency. Under current immigration law, many citizens have been forced to choose between their country and their loved ones. No American should face that kind of a choice. The preservation of family unity is at the core of our immigration legal system, and this American value has to apply to all families.
During the past several years, Americans have increasingly come to reject the notion that their fellow Americans who are gay or lesbian should not have loving relationships. So did my own state of Vermont, which has been in the forefront in this. Federal policy should encourage, let me emphasize that, federal policy should encourage rather than restrict our opportunities as Americans to sustain a relationship to fulfill our lives. Today, we'll hear testimony on the Uniting American Families Act, the bill I introduced last Congress, a bill that will allow committed partners of Americans the opportunity to immigrate. What we consider today with this legislation is an issue of fairness under federal law.
It's time for the United States to join 19 other nations, many of which are our closest allies, in providing gay and lesbian citizens this benefit under immigration law. There's no place for discrimination in our federal law. I note that traditional civil rights leaders, like Congressman John Lewis and Julian Bond, the Chairman of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, has said unequivocally the issue of gay rights is an issue of civil rights.
To quote Chairman Bond, "Gay and lesbian rights are not special rights in any way. It isn't special to be free from discrimination. It is an ordinary, universal impediment to citizenship." The Senator expressed concern that if the federal immigration law were to recognize committed same sex partnerships with purposes of immigration benefits, opportunities for fraud would increase. Well, that has always been an issue and I am confident that the U.S. citizenship and immigration services will have no more difficulty discovering fraudulent arrangements between same sex couples than heterosexual couples.
They have to make that choice, they have to make that decision all the time. Our immigration agencies are well trained and highly experienced in this regard. I have no doubt that when this legislation is enacted, the immigration agency will safeguard against fraud and abuse in same sex partnerships, just as it does for heterosexual couples.
The benefits this legislation seeks to provide are not contingent upon the definition of marriage. I believe that is an issue best left to the states. Former Vice President Cheney and I are often thought about because of our brief conversation a couple of years ago on the floor of the Senate, (laughter), which I will not put into the record (laughter), but this week he said much the same thing I have about states being able to decide whether their law would recognize gay marriages.
In Vermont, if I might just digress for a moment and just tell you one story. We were considering a civil union law in Vermont. Then retired senator, no longer alive, Senator Bob Stafford -- I think Congressman, you remember Senator Stafford. A wonderful man, probably almost the stereotype of a New England Republican. Very tall, straight, had been governor, had been congressman, a World War II hero, and he came to a public hearing to talk about it, and he said, 57 years before then, he had met a young woman in Bellows Falls, Vermont, and they got married. He said, "Everything I've ever done in life, attorney general, congressman, governor, senator, the times I was at war, I was able to do better because of her love and her support."
And we were all wondering just where this was going. And he said, "If we have two people love each other, what difference does it make if they're the same sex or not? What difference does it make? If they love each other and support each other and make each other better, isn't that what we should want?" And there were several other people that we going to speak at the meeting. We'd already stood up, and said, and me, too, "Go ahead." And you know, I know what a wonderful marriage the Staffords had. My wife and I've been married 47 years and try to emulate the same.
Now, just month, President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton announced a new policy to provide domestic benefits for the men and women in our foreign service who are in same sex domestic partnerships. President Obama and Secretary Clinton acknowledged what many American corporations already recognize. Many of our largest corporations. The happiness and stability of their employees in their personal life is essential to success and productivity in their professional life, and I applied that.
There's more work to be done. You know, it was not long ago that homosexuality barred an immigrant from entry to the United States. We started to take that constraint off the committed same sex partners of American citizens. I hope we're going to be returning to a question of overall immigration. This is just one of the issues to be faced.
Senator Schumer chairs the immigration subcommittee, and has begun a series of hearings, coming to Paris for that, and I hope today's hearing will help. And again, I welcome our new ranking member. Not that new anymore. He's had a baptism of fire the last few days.
SEN. JEFF SESSIONS (R-AL): And a lot --
SEN. LEAHY: Senator Sessions.
SEN. SESSION: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you for your courtesy on so many things, actually.
You've been very helpful to me as I've tried to get my feet on the ground and you have the experience on this committee that's almost unprecedented, and I value your counsel and your courtesy very much.
Mr. Chairman, I have looked at this legislation and given it some review, and I have a number of concerns that would prevent me from supporting it. I think it does amount to a redefinition of marriage, contrary to what the Congress has explicitly stated. I do think, as you made reference, that establishing a lawful system of immigration for this country that respects and affirms our great heritage of the rule of law is important, and we must do it in a way that actually works. I believe this bill would make that more difficult.
It seems that we would be creating a special preference and benefit for a category of immigrants based on a relationship that's not recognized by federal law, and overwhelmingly by most states. By creating a new and a legally tenuous, I suggest, definition of permanent partnership, we would be expanding the avenue for fraud and abuse to an unlimited number, perhaps, of people who may not even fit into the idea that the drafters have in mind with this legislation. I think, for the first time ever, this legislation would create a federal recognition of same sex marriage, which is not the current law. It would reverse the current law.
In 1996, Congress overwhelmingly passed the Defense of Marriage Act, 85 to 14. President Clinton signed it into law. It included a provision which expressly defined the word marriage as "only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife". For 29 states, this debate has continued, have now enacted constitutional amendments that bar the formal recognition of gay marriage, and others have passed statutory bars to that effect.
I would just say, that of course, individuals can carry themselves out publicly as a partnership, as they desire. The question is, do you get the same legal benefits that you might get in certain circumstances such as the immigration benefit to bring your spouse to the country? I think that would be a policy that we should not adopt and would be against the settled will of the American people and the settled will, to date, of the United States Congress.
There is a real potential for fraud with this legislation. I remember many years ago, dealing and prosecuting cases as a United States Attorney, involving marriage fraud. Recently Senator Specter and I, well, two or three years ago now, took a trip to South America, and the consulate there, the official who approves immigration visas, talked about how difficult marriage fraud cases are, how many they see, and it's a major loophole, he told us, in our system.
Many cases of spousal immigration fraud arise when a citizen or legal permanent resident brings a spouse to the United States. And so, the permanent partner standard that would not be a recognized union in the country perhaps from which that person comes, now could provide an additional avenue for abuse of the marriage preference for immigration into our country.
So Mr. Chairman, there are a number of things that concern me about the legislation. I think it's not something that Congress would be inclined to pass, but I value the hearing. I look forward to our Congresswoman and the testimony and discussing the issues as we go forward. Thank you very much.
SEN. LEAHY: Thank you. As you may gather, there is somewhat of a split on the panel, but I'm glad we're having the hearing, and again, I appreciate Senator Sessions in being willing to be here for the hearing, too.
Representative Jerrold Nadler is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, subcommittee on the constitution, civil rights, and civil liberties, represents the New York City Congressional District. First elected to the House of Representatives in '92, after serving for 16 years in the New York State Assembly. He is the lead co-sponsor of H.R. 1024. That's the House version of this. Congressman, it's always good to see you.
REP. JERROLD NADLER (D-NY): Good morning, Chairman Leahy, Ranking Member Sessions. Thank you very much for holding this important hearing on the Uniting American Families Act, and for inviting me to testify.
As a sponsor of this legislation in the House, I appreciate the opportunity to testify today and to offer my thanks to Chairman Leahy for sponsoring the Uniting American Families Act in the Senate, and for being such a tremendous champion of the issue. I know the committee's on a tight time schedule, so I will be brief.
I've always found that among the worst kinds of injustice are those in which the law acts, perhaps unintentionally, in a gratuitously cruel manner. That is to say, it harms individuals for no purpose at all. Sometimes the law must harm people unavoidably. But to harm people for no purpose at all is out of bounds.
It is this kind of injustice, this kind of gratuitous cruelty, that the Uniting American Families Act would correct. I first introduced the Uniting American Families Act nine years ago after hearing from constituents and others about the pain that immigration laws were inflicting on their lives. Just because they were gay or lesbian, these Americans were not allowed to sponsor their partners for immigration purposes. What this unequal policy means is that tens of thousands of gay and lesbian Americans face a terrible choice between leaving the country to be with the person they love, or remaining here in the United States and separating from their partner.
Or, given the law in the other country, it is entirely possible that the two partners may find it impossible to be together in either country. This runs directly counter, not only to the goal of family unity, which is supposed to be the bedrock of American immigration policy. It runs directly counter to any consideration of plain humanity, and to any consideration of not being purposelessly and gratuitously cruel to the people involved. We can right this wrong by passing the Uniting American Families Act.
It is very simple. It would give same sex couples the same immigration benefits as opposite sex couples. And I must differ here with Senator Sessions. This is not part, properly, of the debate over same sex couples marriage. That's a separate debate. I happen to support same sex marriage, but it's a completely separate debate.
This simply says that for immigration purposes, we're not going to single out these couples and say, you can't sponsor your partner. You can't get married because you're the same sex, and you can't sponsor your partner, and therefore, you must remain separate and apart, perhaps a continent apart. That's cruel. This legislation is not intended to legalize gay marriage. It's not intended to deal with that issue at all. It's intended to alleviate a gratuitous and purposeless cruelty in the law for about 36,000 people.
Same sex couples would have to prove the bona fide nature of their relationships, just as opposite sex couples do, or face the same harsh penalties for fraud. So the argument that this would increase the odds of fraud, the odds of fraud would be exactly the same as under the current law. It wouldn't be decreased. That's a question of enforcing. It's wouldn't be increased.
Our unequal immigration laws presently wreak havoc on the lives of thousands of binational couples and families across the country. It does not have to be that way, and in a just country, it should not be that way. We can end this injustice and stop this gratuitous cruelty by passing the Uniting American Families Act.
When Congress considers, I hope later this session, a comprehensive immigration bill, this bill certainly should be made part of it. I will do my best to ensure that this is the case on the House side. Thank you again, Senator Leahy, for your leadership on this basic issue of fairness, for holding this hearing, and for providing me with the opportunity to testify.
SEN. LEAHY: Thank you, Congressman, and I know you've got a million things going on over in the other building, and I appreciate you being here.
SEN. NADLER: Thank you.
SEN. LEAHY: Congresswoman Speier, Jackie Speier, represents California's 12th Congressional District, and Representative Speier and Senator Feinstein introduced private bills in the House and the Senate to enable Ms. Shirley Tan, one of today's witnesses, to obtain lawful permanent residency. And I understand, Congresswoman, you're going to be introducing Ms. Tan. Is that correct? Thank you. Please go ahead.
REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D-CA): Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and Ranking Member Sessions.
Thank you for holding this hearing on the Uniting American Families Act, which seeks to fix a fundamental injustice that rips children from the arms of their parents, and sadly suggests that our constitutional guarantee of equal protection under the law is often quite unequal. I commend Congressman Nadler and Chairman Leahy for introducing twin bills on this issue.
I thank you also for allowing me to introduce my constituent, Shirley Tan, from the scenic and hardworking community of Pacifica, California, where, when God and sunshine conspire to lift the fog, you can see the beautiful Pacific Ocean that Shirley and so many of my constituents crossed from her native Philippines to enjoy.
I only recently met Shirley and her family. That's because they're not political people. They are a family. They go to church, they have involvement in their local school. Shirley and her partner of 23 years, Jay Mercado, are not activists, trying to change the world by marching and shouting from the rooftops. They are parents, like most of us, who hope to change the world by quietly raising confident, studious and generous children.
I did a home visit a couple of months ago, spent an hour and a half with the family, flipped through family albums, 23 years of family albums, talked to their sons who were tearful and fearful of losing their mom. They are just an all-American family. Shirley and Jay both sing in their church choir and their twin boys got straight A's, and are active at school, both playing on the junior high school basketball team.
This family would be no different than the thousands of other families in my district with one or more foreign born parents, were it not for the fact that. through no fault of their own, they are victims of an anomaly in U.S. law that tears families apart based solely on the gender of the person that a citizen or legal resident happens to fall in love with.
I want to thank my good friend, Senator Diana Feinstein, who introduced a private bill for Shirley. She has a two year reprieve. That's not good enough in our America that offers equal protection under the law. Shirley Tan and her family are exemplary members of our community, who, after being thrust these few months into the public spotlight, have handled themselves with grace and dignity.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for allowing me now to introduce Ms. Tan to tell her compelling story.
SEN. LEAHY: And thank you, Congressman Nadler and, I'm sure we'll be talking a lot as the summer goes on.
And also, I'd ask, please come and sit down there, Ms. Tan, and Gordon Stewart, and our friend Julian Bond, is here, and Christopher Nugent and Roy Beck and Jessica Vaughan. I don't know if those things have the names on the back of them or not. Congresswoman, did you want to say anything more about Ms. Tan, or, I think you covered it pretty well, especially, I'm thinking of those family photos and the albums and all, it's, thank you.
So we, Shirley Tan, it's already been said, is from Pacifica, California. I've been there a number of times. It is a beautiful area. She lives with her partner, Jaylynn or Jay Mercado. She's been there for 23 years. Together they have 12-year-old twin sons, Joriene and Jashley. Are these your sons, here? Okay. Hey, guys. (Laughter) So, in the family archives, someday they'll go back and they'll see that you were at this hearing. That's why I wanted to make sure your names were mentioned.
Ms. Tan came to the United States, and I'm sorry to have to bring this up, from the Philippines after she'd been brutally attacked by an assailant who also murdered her mother and sister. She's the primary caretaker for her elderly mother-in-law. She's a volunteer at her children's school, and a Eucharistic minister at her local Catholic church. Ms. Tan, please go ahead.
MS. TAN: Chairman Leahy, members of the committee, thank you for your invitation to talk before you this morning.
My name is Shirley Tan and I'm a 42-year-old mother and housewife from Pacifica, California. I'm grateful for the opportunity to share my story with you and grateful, too, for Chairman Leahy's leadership on an issue that is so critically important to my family and the tens of thousands of families across the country.
I am honored to be here today with my 12-year-old twins, Jashley and Joriene, and my partner of 23 years, Jay Mercado. I met Jay as a graduation present when my father brought me to the United States. Our relationship continued even after I returned to the Philippines following the expiration of my six month visa. When I returned to the Philippines, I learned that the man who had, ten years before, brutally murdered my mother and sister and almost killed me as well, was released from prison.
Without any where else to go, I decided to go to Jay where I would be safe. In 1995, I hired an attorney to apply for asylum and legalize my stay in the United States. When my application was denied, my attorney appealed the decision. I did not know it, but my appeal had also been denied. All the while, Jay and I went about building our life together.
I gave birth to Jashley and Joriene, the biggest joy in our lives, and became a full time mom. Our family has always been like every American family, and I am so proud of Jay and the twins. The boys attended Catholic school through sixth grade and now in Cabrillo School. I am a Eucharistic minister of Good Shepherd Church, where Jay and I both sing in the Sunday mass choir.
We have never felt discriminated against in our community. Our friends, mostly heterosexual couples, call us the model family and even said we are their role models. We try to mirror the best family values and we attribute the fact that our children are so well adjusted to the love, security and consistency that we, as parents, have been able to provide.
Jashley and Joriene's classmates at school know they have two moms and it has never been an issue. Our lives, I can say without any doubt, were almost perfect until the morning of January 28, 2009. That morning at 6:30 a.m., immigration custom enforcement agents showed up at my door. The agent showed me a piece of paper, which --
SEN. LEAHY: Ms. Tan, Ms. Tan, if you could hold it a moment. I think you son, understandably, is upset. If you'd like to go in this back room. If you'd like to go in the back room, please, if you'd like to go with your mother to the back room, you can. Please, it's all right. I have a grandson the same age. All right. I just want you to know, young man, your mother is a very brave woman. You should be very proud of her. Go ahead. Go ahead, Ms. Tan.
MS. TAN: The agent showed me a piece of paper which was a 2002 deportation letter, which I informed them I have never seen. Before I knew it, I was handcuffed and taken away like a criminal. As Jay's frail mother watched in hysterics, I was put into a van with two men in yellow jumpsuits and chains and searched like a criminal, in a way that I have only see on television and in the movies.
All the while, my family was first and foremost the center of everything on my mind. How would Jay work and take care of the kids if I was not there? Who would continue to take care of Jay's ailing mother, the mother I have come to love, if I was not there? Who would be there for my family if I was not there? In an instant, my family, my American family, was being ripped away from me, and when I did return home, I had an ankle monitoring bracelet. I went to great lengths to hide it from my children.
I have a partner who is a U.S. citizen, and two beautiful children who are also U.S. citizens, but none of them can petition for me to remain in the United States with them. -- (Inaudible) -- of the Uniting American Families Act, UAFA, will not only benefit me, but the thousands of people who are also in the same situation as I am. After 23 years building our lives together, Jay and I know that our family is still at great risk of separation. We have a home together. Jay has a great job. We have a mortgage, a pension, friends and a community.
We have everything together and it would be impossible to establish elsewhere. We have followed the law, respected the judicial system, and simply want to keep our family together. For my children and couples and families like ours, it is critically important that we end discrimination in U.S. immigration law.
Chairman Leahy and members of the committee, it is a great privilege to be here with you today. I was honored to receive your invitation. I humbly ask for your support of the Uniting American Families Act, which would allow me to remain with my family and to stride forth with the friendship in this wonderful country that has been so good to me and my partner, and such a blessed home to our children. Thank you.
SEN. LEAHY: Thank you, Ms. Tan. Our next witness is Gordon Stewart. He is a director and team leader of Pfizer Pharmaceuticals. He's been with the company 14 years, I believe? Originally from my home state of Vermont, Mr. Stewart now lives in London. I'll mention, as a result of our current immigration law, and the inability of his partner of nine years to obtain a U.S. visa, Mr. Stewart was forced to sell his home in the United States and relocate to London to keep his family intact. Is that correct? Please go ahead, and make sure your microphone is on. Please go ahead.
MR. STEWART: Chairman Leahy and Ranking Member Session, I am grateful for the opportunity to appear before you today.
I am an American citizen living abroad simply due to the fact that our country's immigration laws have forced me to leave the United States in order to be with my partner, Renato, the person I love. I am here today because, like so many other Americans in similar situations, I believe it is imperative that we fix our broken immigration system, and specifically, that it is long past time we treat lesbian and gay Americans in our families equally under the law.
I traveled to be with you today from London, where I work for Pfizer. I am fortunate to have worked for Pfizer for more than 14 years. Pfizer is a company that recognizes domestic partnership. Unfortunately, the U.S. does not recognize Renato, my partner of more than nine years.
Renato lives with me in the U.S. as a full time student, studying English and pre-law. He was corporate counsel for a multinational in Sao Paulo before coming to New York. In June, 2003, while enrolled as a student, he returned to Brazil for what we thought would be a routine second renewal of his student visa. The renewal was rejected and he has never been able to return to our home in the U.S.
For weeks, I left his things exactly as they were the day he left, hoping that soon he would be able to come home. Renato wanted to live and study in the United States. He was a volunteer in our community. Yet, because the immigration laws did not recognize him as my family member, nothing I could do would bring him back to our home. So to be with Renato, I commuted to Brazil from New York every other weekend for more than a year and a half. This commuting took a huge toll on me, emotionally, physically and financially.
Eventually, I was fortunate to find a position with Pfizer in the United Kingdom. The UK government has recognized us at dependent partners, not a married couple, and we both have the right to live and work in the UK. While we are grateful for the solution, it means separation from our family and friends, and puts significant limitations on our careers.
The United States discriminatory immigration laws have also affected my extended family of five siblings and nine nieces and nephews, and I'm happy that my nephew from Vermont is with us today in the audience. If I want to be with my family --
SEN. LEAHY: Do you want to mention him just so they can be part of the record?
MR. STEWART: Yes. His name is Chester Martin, and he is seated here.
SEN. LEAHY: Thank you -- (inaudible).
MR. STEWART: Thank you.
If I want to be with my family for important family occasions, I have to travel alone and leave Renato in London. In August, I will attend my niece's wedding in California. It will be a big family reunion, but my partner will not be able to join us. Renato cannot even get a tourist Visa to the U.S. Imagine what that means.
Recently, when my sister was diagnosed with cancer, Renato could not travel with me to visit her, and I could not spend as much time with her as I wanted because I live and work in London. That is the reality of our life together.
Last year, I reluctantly and very sadly sold our family farm in Goshen, Vermont because I cannot travel there with Renato. Our family had the farm from when I was 6 years old, and our parents both died and are buried on the property. Imagine what this is like, to own a property that you cannot visit with your partner. It is impossible to maintain a 19th Century farmhouse from the other side of the Atlantic. That is the reality of American immigration law for couples like us.
I am deeply disappointed that my country has treated Renato this way, and I'm furious that we cannot live together in the U.S. Despite the fact that I am a citizen and a tax-paying, law-abiding and voting citizen, I feel discrimination from my government. The UK has allowed both Renato and me to move there based on my temporary transfer from Pfizer. The UK recognizes permanent partners for immigration purposes, as do 18 other countries. The U.S. should do the same.
The decision to move to the UK was the best decision I could've made at that time, but I would like to be able to come home to my country, the country that I love. I should have the right to come with my partner to visit or to live, but we cannot. That is the reality of U.S. immigration law.
Thousands of other lesbian and gay families are separated like we are. Unlike us, however, they have not had the support of a wonderful company like Pfizer to help find a solution to this impossible situation. The Uniting American Families Act needs to be passed now. I hope today's hearing will be a step in that direction.
I would like to extend my sincere thank to Senator Leahy for the strong stand he is taking on supporting families like mine. Let me also thank the committee for taking the time to listen to my story. I am the voice of many wonderful Americans who have been forced to make the difficult choice between family and partner and country and partner.
Allow me to add that my company, Pfizer, has earned the top rating of 100 percent for five consecutive years in the Corporate Equality Index, a manual ranking published by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation that evaluation businesses on their treatment of LGBT employees, investors and customers.
Pfizer's chairman and CEO, Jeff Kindler, has said, "Pfizer supports its LGBT colleagues because doing better in recruitment and retention, and understanding diverse markets, and making Pfizer a better place to work, does ultimately drive up our value." However, he said, "We mainly support our LGBT colleagues because it is the right thing to do." America should also support its LGBT citizens and families because it is indeed the right thing to do.
Again, thank you, Chairman Leahy.
SEN. LEAHY: Well, thank you very much. I know the area where your firm is -- (inaudible) -- with the prettiest parts of a very pretty state. I can also note for the record, we talked several times about other countries that have already done what my legislation would propose doing. The countries are Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, Israel, Brazil, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa and Sweden.
Our next witness is Julian --
SEN. SESSIONS: Chairman, I would note, I think in almost every one of those countries they have formal controls, and this legislation would propose, but we can talk about that later. Thank you.
SEN. LEAHY: Julian Bond, our next witness has been chairman of the National Board of Directors at the NAACP since 1998. His first elect into public office into 1965, served four terms in the Georgia House of Representatives, which was a cataclysmic change, I might add. Parenthetically, I think Mr. Bond knows even more how cataclysmic it was for Georgia. And six terms in the state Senate, which was -- and ultimately very much to the value of his state.
In addition to his role as chairman of the NAACP, he's a member of the board for People for the American Way, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Council for Livable Worlds, serves on the advisory board of the Harvard Business School Initiative of Social Enterprise, among others. Holds 25 honorary degrees, distinguished professor at American University, A professor of history at the University of Virginia, and a graduate of Morehouse College.
Mr. Bond, I'm delighted you're here. Please go ahead.
MR. BOND: Thank you, sir. I want to begin by thanking Chairman Leahy and Ranking Member Sessions for holding this hearing, and for your strong and stead forth support of families of all types.
The preservation and strengthening of the family unit has long been a riling point for the NAACP, and I'm happy to say my middle son, Michael, joins me here.
SEN. LEAHY: Now you're in the family archives too.
MR. BOND: Yeah. Family sponsorship accounts for more than 85 percent of legal immigration to the United States. But a backlog of Visas experienced in many immigration categories, but especially for family members, currently separates immigrants from spouses and their young children for over five years, and separates elderly parents, adult children and siblings for as many as 23 years.
The current family-based immigration system has not been updated in 20 years. There are currently 5.8 million people in the family immigration backlog waiting unconscionable periods of time to reunite with their loved ones. It is for this reason that the NAACP strongly supports legislations in the Senate that would fix our nation's immigration laws to again make family reunification a highly functioning element of our national immigration policy.
Specifically, the NAACP supports the Reuniting Families Act, Senate Bill 1085, introduced by Senator Menendez of New Jersey, and Uniting American Families Act, Senate 424, which has been introduced by the chairman of this committee, Mr. Leahy. In the House of Representatives, the NAACP supports legislation to be introduced tomorrow by Congressman Mike Honda. Also to recall the Reuniting American Families Act, which incorporates both S-1085 and S-424.
I'd hasten to add that we support the revisions in the Uniting American Families Act because the NAACP strongly believes that the definition of family is not restricted, and can and should include non-traditional family units. We do not believe that immigration law, or any laws or policies for that matter, should discriminate against gay and lesbian families or family members.
Too much of our national debate over immigration is focused on enforcement and undocumented workers. The NAACP feels strongly that genuine reform must include provisions to fix an antiquated system with the result being the reinvigoration of one of the most compelling goals of American immigration laws, the reunification of American families.
Giving all the benefits, socially, economically and morally of ensuring that affective family reunification is an integral part of our nation's policy. There can be no question that the NAACP supports an overhaul of current law to ensure that the family preferences policies are functioning well and without discrimination.
The NAACP would also like to stress that the definition of family should not be interpreted so stringently as to omit people who are in a loving, committed relationship, but happen to be of the same gender. It was, in fact, the immigration act of 1965 that put family unification at the core of our nation's policy, replacing the old quota acts of the 1920s. The 1965 act made huge strides in irradiating the old racist policies, but put a premium on people from northern and western Europe, and made it next to impossible for people of color to immigrate to the United States.
We clearly need to update our immigration policies to more efficiently promote family unification. And in the spirit of promoting civil rights that was the guiding force behind the 1965 law, we should include families of all different races and ethnicities, including families with gay and lesbian members.
It is because we support the civil rights protections of all people, and because we're opposed to discrimination based on any criteria, that we support inclusion of the Uniting American Families Act in any comprehensive immigration reform. This legislation will ensure that gay and lesbian couples and families are treated just like other families who are bi-national. The inclusion of the Uniting American Families Act and comprehensive reform would ensure the continuation of an expansion of civil rights to people who have historically been left out and mistreated by American immigration policies.
In closing, let me reiterate the NAACP's strong belief in the benefits of strong, united families. As such, we support the inclusion of modifications to the existing family reunification policies, and our nation's immigration laws to facilitate more families being brought together faster and with less hassle.
Again, I'd like to thank the chairman for holding this important hearing, and for your support of all kinds of families. Thank you.
SEN. LEAHY: Thank you very much, Mr. Bond.
Our next witness is Christopher Nugent, who's co-chair of the Committee of Rights of Immigrants of the Section of Individual Rights and Responsibilities, and the American Bar Association. Currently a senior pro bono counselor with the community services team of Holland and Knight. He works there specifically on immigration public policy related cases. Mr. Nugent has over 20 years, is that correct, of experience with immigration policy, recipient of numerous awards for his work. He's a graduate of -- (inaudible) -- University and holds a law degree from the City University of New York.
Nugent, please go ahead, sir.
MR. NUGENT: Thank you, Chairman Leahy, and thank you ranking member, Senator Sessions.
It's a privilege and honor for me to appear before you. I'm appearing today at the request of Tommy Wells, Jr., who's the president of the American Bar Association who was unable to attend the hearing.
On behalf of the American Bar Association and it's over 400,000 members, I would like to thank you for this exceptional opportunity to express the ABA's strong support for the Uniting American Families Act, which we hope will be integrated into any comprehensive immigration reform legislation.
As the national voice of the legal profession, the ABA has a strong interest in ensuring that our immigration laws are both fair and affective, as well as we support efforts to combat legal discrimination on the basis of race, gender, ethnicity, religion, nationality and sexual orientation.
In the particular are of immigration, the ABA's adopted numerous policy recommendations concerning the administration of their system of legal immigration. Central among these recommendations is the core principle that the basis upon which foreign nationals should be able to seek permanent resident status should be both humane and equitable, and should reflect the historic emphasis on both family unification and the economic and cultural interest of the United States.
The ABA has also adopted numerous policy recommendations that oppose discrimination based on sexual orientation. We recognize the importance of providing committed gay and lesbian couples and their families with basic legal protections to help those families stay together.
Family unification an express and central goal of immigration policy in the United States, and has been for more than 50 years. Currently, however, this principle fails the families of U.S. citizens and permanent residents whose same-sex partners are foreign nationals. U.S. policy does not allow foreign spouses and fiancés to immigrate and live with their U.S. partners. Excuse me, they allow foreign spouses and fiancés immigrating to live with their U.S. partners, but it discriminates against gay and lesbian U.S. citizens and permanent residents by prohibiting them from sponsoring their partners for permanent residence in the U.S.
As a result, as we've heard today, thousands of lesbian and gay bi-national couples and their children are being kept apart, driven abroad into virtual exile, or are forced to live in fear of being separated, detained or deported. This policy damages not only those families, but the United States society generally.
According to the 2000 U.S. Census, there are 35,820 same-sex bi-national couples that live together in the United States. But due to current law and policy, they're prevented from immigrating into the United States, and many bi-national couples are forced to flee this country, depriving our nation of the economic, cultural, social, and other contributions that these individuals could've made here.
Gay and lesbian partners are ineligible to access immigration opportunities, regardless of the depth of their love and the permanency of their commitment to one another. The Uniting American Families Act would not repeal or affect the Defensive Marriage Act in any material way. Rather, the act simply seeks to provide a viable mechanism by which permanent partners of gay and lesbian U.S. citizens and permanent residents have access to valid immigration status on an equivalent basis to married, straight couples.
Moreover, gay and lesbian couples would be subject to exactly the same rigorous documentation criteria that are imposed upon heterosexual spouses, including productions of documents, like joint leases, mortgage, joint bank accounts, family photos and the like. The petitioning American partner would also be required to sign a binding affidavit of support, which is a contract that would obligate him or her to financially support the beneficiary for 10 years in the United States.
In addition, the current penalty, which are five years imprisonment or a $250,000 fine for marriage fraud under the Immigration Nationality Act and the U.S. code, would apply with equal force in vigor to gay and lesbian couples. Accordingly, for these reasons, the act would not increase the opportunity for marriage fraud.
In maintaining the current immigration restrictions that discriminate against same-sex couples, the United States policy is in direct contradiction with many of our closest allies, including the United Kingdom, Australia and Israel, which facilitate and embrace immigration benefits for same-sex partners.
In conclusion, central to this nation's long history of immigration law and policy is to ensure that Americans and their loved ones are able to stay together in the United States. The current failure to recognize gay and lesbian permanent partnerships for immigration purposes is gratuitously cruel and unnecessary. Critical protections, as provided in the Uniting American Families Act should be afforded and enacted to help gay and lesbian partners maintain their commitment to one another on an equal basis with different sex spouses.
I thank you for your consideration of my testimony, and I look forward to your questions. Thank you, Chairman Leahy.
SEN. LEAHY: Thank you very much, Mr. Nugent, and thank you for the emphasis on the kind of scrutiny that would be given to anybody making this. As I understand, that's the same scrutiny as somebody who has -- a heterosexual couple or married couple, that would face the same kind of scrutiny; is that correct?
MR. NUGENT: Exactly. It would be the same exacting scrutiny, and very rigorous documentation requirements, and the thread of civil and criminal penalties. And as your bill, Chairman Leahy, states, it states that part of the bill is to penalize immigration fraud in connection with permanent partnership, so that is integrated and central to your bill.
SEN. LEAHY: Thank you very much.
Roy Beck is the founder and CEO of NumbersUSA. It's a grassroots organization dedicated to immigration reduction. Prior to joining the organization, Mr. Beck worked as a journalist for over 30 years. He's a recipient of numerous awards for reporting religion and politics. He's a graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism.
Mr. Beck, glad to have you here, sir.
MR. BECK: Thank you very much. I want to thank the committee for the opportunity for NumbersUSA to testify about S-424.
The key issue for us is that 424 creates a new unlimited category of immigration, but it does not include any offsets of reducing green cards in other categories.
NumbersUSA was founded as a non-profit non-partisan organization in 1996 to carry out the immigration recommendations of two Clinton-era national commissions. We now have 900,000 online activist members who support that mission. We believe that all immigration bills should be reviewed in light of the principles of those two commissions.
At first, President Clinton's Council on Sustainable Development recommended that annual green card numbers be cut low enough to allow for U.S. population stabilization. Environmental sustainability in this country was seen by the commission as impossible if Congress continued to force massive U.S. population growth through immigration.
The second was the bipartisan U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform that was chaired by the late Barbara Jordan. It recommended deep cuts in immigration to remove the economic injustice that current immigration causes and imposes on the most vulnerable members of our community.
These commissions recognized that our immigration policy has been a simple piecemeal, without thought about how the total number of green cards affects the overall national community. That's a bill, like S-424, will tend to be examined entirely outside its environmental consequences, even though we're in a time of grave environmental concerns. It will tend to be examined outside its economic impact, despite our 9 percent unemployment rate.
But nearly every adult who is permanently added to the U.S. population through immigration legislation would be a potential competitor to unemployed and underemployed American workers. Every new immigrant increases the total U.S. carbon footprint and ecological footprint. Every piece of our complex policy caters to a particular special interest. Now, special does not mean illegitimate. It just means it's special. It's not the national interest overall.
But the combined affect of all these pieces of our nation's immigration policy have a profound consequence on the entire national community in terms of the public infrastructure deficit, economic disparities, and stewardship over our natural resources. I hope the judiciary committee will consider all those implications every time it looks at immigration legislation in the Congress.
I noted in my written testimony that in many ways, immigration ought to come up before the environmental, energy, health services because it is the primary driver of population growth in this country, which has profound affect on all of those committee's work. All of the long-term population growth of the United States since 1972 has been due to federal immigration policies.
In 1972, Americans chose to reduce their fertility rate to below the replacement level of 2.1. It's been just below that ever since. Yet, the 1990's saw the biggest population boom in our history, larger even than the 1950's "baby boom." This decade is very similar. There's only one reason for this gigantic population boom that defies all of the environmental hopes and dreams that were back on the 1960's and '70s when I first began reporting on the environmental movement, and they are opposite the trends recommended by President Clinton's Sustainability Commission.
And that reason is that Congress has repeatedly overridden the American people's choice of a stabilizing future, and instead forced massive population growth through increases in green cards. I'm not aware that Congress has ever stated that it wanted to increase the population. I'm not aware that Congress ever said that the American people prefer to have an extra 130 million people the Census Bureau says that immigration will cause over the next 50 years, or 40 years. But this is the result of making decisions on green cards piecemeal instead of looking at the overall consequences and the overall numbers.
Until the first Earth Day in 1970, immigration averaged about 250,000 a year, and that was about what it was in the '50s and '60s. The succession of immigration decisions by Congress have raised the 250,000 green cards to a million a year level by 1990, and it's been there ever since.
In order to meet the sustainability commission's recommendations in moving toward a stabilized U.S. population, green card numbers would have to be cut back at least 75 percent. Like nearly all sustainability issues, the setting of green card numbers is not primarily for those of us who are living in the next decade, they are for our children and grandchildren later this century, and they're for the generations that will come in this -- generations to come that will be in this country.
And I want to just finish then by saying that in a nutshell, our concern about S-424 is that it represents another piecemeal congressional act that would increase the numbers of green cards each year, with no regard to the resulting increase and population pressures. Without a reduction in immigration and population growth, it'll be close to impossible to meet carbon goals, energy goals, infrastructure goals without a fundamental slashing of the American standard of living.
If Congress would take a bill like S-424 and create offsets at the same time, our organization does not have a position on how these green cards are passed out. But we do believe that the direction of green cards must be moving toward the quarter million level from the million level. A bill such as 424 that adds green cards should cut, we think, at least three green cards in other categories in order to move in the right direction.
By adding green cards without reducing others, passing S-424 would be irresponsible to the environment, to future generations, and to the most economically vulnerable members of our national community.
SEN. LEAHY: Thank you very much, Mr. Beck. I'm sorry if I'm doing this in a comprehensive fashion. Did you support President Bush's comprehensive immigration plan?
MR. BECK: No. I mean, no, because it added lots of green cards.
SEN. LEAHY: Okay. I did support President Bush on that one, but it didn't go anywhere.
Next witness is Jessica Vaughan. She's the director of policy studies for the Center for Immigration Studies. Ms. Vaughan is a former State Department council officer. She has extensive experience with Visas, immigration benefits and immigration law enforcement. She holds a bachelor degree in international studies from Washington College, and a master's degree in government from Georgetown University.
And again, the whole statement will be placed in the record, but please, go ahead, Ms. Vaughan.
MS. VAUGHAN: Thank you very much for the opportunity to be here today to discuss this bill. And just for the record, I'm a former Vermonter also, another one on the panel.
SEN. LEAHY: Whereabouts?
MS. VAUGHAN: Randolph.
SEN. LEAHY: Randolph. That's very, very pretty. Not far from Montpelier where I was born. Thank you.
MS. VAUGHAN: Yeah, thank you.
First off, I want to say that I fully understand the goal of this legislation, and the difficulties that some aspects of current law prevent, particularly for same-sex couples. But looking at this from the prospective of the administration of the law, and as somebody who has adjudicated some of these cases, and after discussing it with others who know the current process very well, I do see a number of problems with the bill.
It's addressing the issue from the wrong direction, I believe. And as a result, would create major new problems for officials who adjudicate immigration benefits applications, and for the many individuals who are involved in those applications.
Immigration law specifies exactly which type of relationships can qualify for Visas, green cards and other benefits, and in most cases, they do refer to marriage or employment or another close family tie that can be established through official documentation that's verifiable. And right now, federal law defines marriage as between man and a woman, and immigration law, and all other areas of federal law are subject to that definition.
If the goal is to give same-sex long-term partners equal access to immigration benefits, then the target really should be the Defensive Marriage Act, not the Immigration and Nationality Act. If that law were changed, then this bill wouldn't be necessary, and the change would apply to all other areas of federal law, whether it's Social Security benefits or Veterans benefits or what have you. I don't see a good reason to single out immigration law for that kind of a change.
And then also from a practical standpoint, this bill is really just unworkable, and would create havoc in our legal immigration system. First of all, there's the problem of official documentation. In most places, there is no mechanism to recognize or document permanent partnerships, and our whole immigration system is dependent on documents that can be verified. Eligibility is established by presenting documents that prove that the sponsor and applicant have a qualifying relationship, whether it's marriage, parent-child, employer-employee or sibling. And adjudicators review these documents to determine the eligibility of the people before them.
For marriage-based applications, that's a marriage certificate. There is no investigation at that point, at the point of reviewing the petition. That may happen later if they're applying overseas, but usually it doesn't occur because about half of applications occur from within the United States, so usually there is no interview.
It's already hard enough, with all the different kinds of marriage certificates here, and the prevalence of fraudulent documents in so many countries overseas, to verify even the legitimate marriages. So what happens when consular officers and USCIS adjudicators have to try to evaluate a permanent partnership, which is a relationship that doesn't officially exist in most places?
I found about 10 states, plus the District of Columbia, that allow same-sex marriage or civil unions or domestic partnerships, and I could only -- and those, presumably, would be able to provide some kind of documentation. But I only found about 21 foreign countries that have these kind of partnerships, mostly in Europe, 21 that I could find.
SEN. LEAHY: And Israel and South Africa.
MS. VAUGHAN: Israel recognizes other countries.
SEN. LEAHY: Yeah.
MS. VAUGHAN: It does not have it itself.
SEN. LEAHY: South Africa too.
MS. VAUGHAN: Apparently, according to the sources I saw. South Africa, yes. Most of them are in Europe.
But people from these countries only make up about 6 percent of legal immigration to the United States, so there's really a very small number of people who would be able to provide some kind of official documentation of their partnership.
And I do think it's unreasonable to try to expect consular officers or USCIS adjudicators to try to do additional investigations to verify the authenticity of most of the rest of the other applications they would be getting under this legislation. It just isn't feasible with the resources that they have today.
And so this bill, by creating a relationship that is difficult to document, is going to introduce new opportunities for fraud in a program that's already a magnet for misrepresentation and abuse of the system. And it's important to remember that this is going to create -- it is going to help a lot of people, it has the potential to help a lot of people, but it will also create thousands of new victims of marriage fraud as well.
Marriage is by far the most common route for foreign nationals now. I counted that last year more than 400,000 people obtained green cards as a result of marriage to either a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident or someone else who qualified for a green card, and that's about 40 percent of total legal immigration to the United States.
So it's a lot of people who come in through this route, and while most of these marriages are legitimate, still marriage fraud is one of the most common ways for otherwise unqualified people, many of whom are illegal aliens, to obtain green cards.
We published a report last year on marriage fraud and documented all the different types of it, whether it's mail-order brides or cash- for-vows or exploitative relationships or what we call heartbreakers, and all of these methods are sure to be used in the context of permanent partnerships.
SEN. LEAHY: Ms. Vaughan, I will put your full statement in the record, and I want others to have time. I have to be at another thing. I know Senator Sessions will have questions. Senator Specter will. I'll turn the gavel over to either Senator Specter or Senator Schumer if he comes, and I do apologize.
You make a very good point on the question of fraud, but we -- as Mr. Nugent pointed out, we're trying to put the same law in -- I don't want to put extra work over the work counselor officers, but we all have to work hard, and we'll put it in the same fraud lines in there for this, as we do for other married couples, because I -- the point you make is a very good one. We should be trying to be able to root out fraud.
I'm also going to put in the record 34 statements in support of this from organizations across the country, and, Mr. Stewart, it includes Pfizer.
Ms. Tan, thank you for coming today. I know part of this has been difficult for Jashley and Joriene, and I want you to be very proud of them. They're --
MS. TAN: Thank you.
SEN. LEAHY: They look like very nice young men, and I think they should be proud of both their parents, and they should know that there's people who want to help them, and I couldn't help but think of the family you have, and the contribution to your community are things the federal government should protect. I mean, you work actively in your community, in your local Catholic church, and other areas, and both your story and Mr. Stewart's story remind us that when we discuss this policy, there's real people involved.
I just slipped Mr. Stewart a note saying that our family has had the same farmhouse for 50 years in Middlesex. I know how -- and Middlesex is not that much different than Goshen. I mean -- so we know that what you want to do is provide your family with a good education, provide them with their welfare. How about others in your community? How do they feel? I mean, do you receive support within the community from people on this?
MS. TAN: Yes, I --
SEN. LEAHY: Press the button so we get the microphone on. The little red light comes on. It's on. Go ahead.
MS. TAN: My whole community in Pacifica gave me their utmost support -- the congregation, the Church of Good Shepherd, my parish priest, Pastor Leahy. He wrote a very nice letter to Senator for Dianne Feinstein in support of my plight, and all of the community leaders -- they are extending their sympathy, and my friends -- the school community where my sons attend, the Cabrillo School, they were extending their support and sympathy in this time of our life.
SEN. LEAHY: Mr. Stewart, you're now working for Pfizer in England. You're paying your taxes in England. If you were -- if this had worked, you'd be in the United States, you'd be a taxpayer not only in my state, but wherever Pfizer had you. Is that correct?
MR. STEWART: Actually, under the earned income exclusion, I also pay taxes in the U.S. as a U.S. citizen living abroad. So I, in fact, pay a heavy tax burden in the U.S. as well. Yes, if I were able to --
SEN. LEAHY: But your skills would be used here in the United States.
MR. STEWART: Yes, I would be able -- the headquarters of Pfizer are in New York, and the policy of Pfizer is to send people abroad or move them around the global organization so that they can add the most value to the company, and, obviously, at a certain point, my skills could be best used back in headquarters, I believe, and I believe that is why we have the support of our CEO and chairman.
SEN. LEAHY: Thank you.
Mr. Bond, I may embarrass you a little bit because it's almost a cliche. You're an icon of the civil rights movement and recognized by all of us in that regard. I listened to your statement, benefit the family unity and all. Can you say your statement could apply very well to Mr. Stewart and Ms. Tan?
MR. BOND: Absolutely. We think we're all united in wanting the same thing, and the arguments you've heard from personal stories are so compelling, it's hard to see how someone could turn away.
SEN. LEAHY: Senator Sessions?
SEN. SESSIONS: Thank you.
You know, Mr. Nadler used the word "gratuitous harm." I don't think that's a fair definition of where we are. It seems that the United States government and most governments in the world have defined marriage as between a man and a woman. They give preferences in several different areas -- on joint tax returns or other advantages of being in that relationship that's been approved by the state.
The state does not order that people can't live together if they're same-sex couples and can't share all kinds of responsibilities and activities together. It does not prohibit that. But it does not give that special status, and you think about maybe brothers and sisters live together a long time and are close. Just roommates or partners or friends in business or other activity are -- they are not given preferences either.
So, at some point, the law has to draw lines. Our Congress has voted not long ago overwhelmingly that marriage should be defined as between a man and a woman, so that's kind of where we are, and most nations, I think, in the world would agree with that.
I do note that this legislation has caused some concern among the pro-immigration forces. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who support immigration and family unification issues, in a pretty strong way recently wrote that the reunification bill would, quote, "erode the institution of marriage and family by according marriage-like immigration benefits to same-sex relationships, a position that is contrary to the very nature of marriage, which predates the church and the state."
Also, Mr. Samuel Rodriguez, head of the National Hispanic Christmas Leadership Conference, called it a slap in the face to those of us who fought for years for immigration reforms, adding that it would divide the very broad and strong coalition we have built on behalf of comprehensive reform.
Well, I just say that to say that there are some differences here of a significant nature on this question.
Mr. Nugent, just briefly, our research tells us that the countries that have approved this kind of immigration policy, at least in some form, all have more restrictions and requirements of proof than this bill would have. If you know that answer, I would like your response. If not, perhaps the ABA would take the moment to check and see how well other countries have written their law to eliminate as much fraud as possible.
MR. NUGENT: Yeah. I'd prefer that the ABA submit their response in writing, but I --
SEN. SESSIONS: Do you think the ABA had all that information when they passed the resolution adopting this --
MR. NUGENT: To my knowledge, they surveyed all the other countries in terms of their requirements.
SEN. SESSIONS: Who votes for the ABA to make such a resolution? I'm a member. I don't recall knowing that you were voting on it.
MR. NUGENT: It was at the last -- last year's meeting.
SEN. SESSIONS: So just the delegates who showed up at the national meeting voted?
MR. NUGENT: People can vote.
SEN. SESSIONS: Right. Every delegate that shows -- what is it, the entire ABA conference, or some committee?
MR. NUGENT: No, the delegates. It's through the House of Delegates that the delegates vote and --
SEN. SESSIONS: The delegates, not the ABA members in --
MR. NUGENT: The delegates represent their constituents.
SEN. SESSIONS: How many is that?
MR. NUGENT: I don't have the exact number of the ABA delegates. I think it's around 500.
SEN. SESSIONS: All right.
Well, Ms. Vaughan, with regard to this fraud issue, you've done a good bit of work on that, and I saw in your statement already that it's a big problem. As I indicated when Senator Specter and I were in the Caribbean, we were talking to a consulate official, and I'm not sure that Senator Specter was in that conference, but we got into a long discussion about this.
He said this was the number one fraud issue he faced. When they caught people flatly committing fraudulent documents, nobody prosecuted it, there was no ability to do anything about it, and there's just a constant abuse of the system, and he thought it was the most abused part of the system. How would you respond to that?
MS. VAUGHAN: Oh, I would agree absolutely that marriage fraud is the single most difficult problem in immigrant visas because there are so many applications that depend on marriage and documenting marriage, and it's just ripe for it. There are so many different kinds of it, and so that's why it's critically important to be able to verify that the relationships are valid, and that's why we have a provision in the law that makes the green card conditional for two years, and then the couple has to come back to establish that they're still married.
But even so, you know, the motivation --
SEN. SESSIONS: They have to come back and show -- does this bill require that?
MS. VAUGHAN: My understanding is that it imposes the same standards on permanent partners as it does on marriage cases, but the problem is that -- well, for one thing, marriage itself is an institution that brings with it legal entanglements, and we think that the prospect of marriage is something that actually does deter some people who might be tempted to engage in marriage fraud for cash or for whatever reason, because they think it's kind of a benign crime, because of the legal entanglements. In other words, the spouse has access to your bank account, to your homes, and so on, and you have to demonstrate the bona fides of the relationship, and so permanent partnerships have no such legal standing.
SEN. SESSIONS: In the United States particularly.
MS. VAUGHAN: In the United States in particular and in many other countries in the world. So what's to stop -- you know, I can imagine somebody who would be tempted to perpetrate this kind of fraud would just say, "Well, what do I have to lose by establishing a permanent partnership? Nothing. If we're to end the partnership, I lose nothing. I gain, you know, however many thousands of dollars I make for establishing this fraudulent partnership, and there's no risk to me as an individual."
SEN. SESSIONS: How --
MS. VAUGHAN: So --
SEN. SESSIONS: How about the situation -- isn't it true that if you have a spouse in Colombia, let's say, that spouse would go to the U.S. consulate in Colombia and would present a marriage certificate or some document that virtually every nation in the world provides for people who are actually in a heterosexual marriage relationship, right?
But that kind of documentation is not available in most countries in the world where 94 percent of the people who uses the marriage relationship to come to the United States as a preference -- that wouldn't be available, and so the consulate official has now got a real complex decision-making requirement before they can determine whether or not that -- what kind of a relationship it is. Wouldn't that complicate their lives significantly?
MS. VAUGHAN: Oh, absolutely. There is a -- it's hard enough with marriage certificates, but at least those you can verify by calling the country's department of vital statistics or, you know, there are lots of other ways to discover that the government of that country has recognized this relationship.
With permanent partnerships, they don't exist in most other countries of the world, so there would be no way that the adjudicating officer could have any confidence that this was a legitimate officially recognized relationship. That's very problematic.
SEN. SESSIONS: And as a -- well, there are other possible partnership relationships that could be implicated by this statute that will require even further and more complex analysis. I think the clarity of the preference, the clarity of the benefit provided to a traditional marriage relationship provides some help in keeping integrity in the system, and it's being abused. To go beyond that, I think, is -- would really open up the system to very grave consequences.
Chairman Specter, I would just offer for the record a number of letters and comments. John Sampson, a 27-year veteran of Immigration Enforcement with INS and its successor, U.S. Customs Enforcement, ICE, the Family Research Council, Focus on the Family, Concerned Women of America, and Eagle Forum have submitted letters that they would like to be made a part of the record, and I would offer that.
SEN. SPECTER: Without objection, they will be made a part of the record.
Thank you, Senator Sessions.
SEN. SCHUMER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I apologize to you and to the witnesses for being here late. We had a discussion on the health care bill in the Finance Committee. That's coming up. I had to be there.
I'm just going to read an opening statement because I'm supportive of Senator Leahy's bill and then let you get on with other questions.
Now, about a month ago, I chaired a hearing of the Immigration Subcommittee regarding the prospects for comprehensive immigration reform. It was a great hearing. As you know, Mr. Chairman, I am chairman of the Immigration Subcommittee, and we're going to make a very strong attempt to try and get comprehensive immigration reform this year that I think can unite rather than divide people because most Americans are both pro legal immigration and anti illegal immigration, and this bill will be tough on each.
At the hearing, Pastor Joel Hunter -- he's one of America's most knowledgeable and influential conservative religious leaders. He's pastor of a huge church and has an amazing following and is a wonderful person. His testimony on immigration, you know, brought tears to the eyes of many people, and he reminded us that, quote, "our broken immigration system produces both broken and crooked people and tempts many to predatory practices," something I know that all the witnesses, including Ms. Vaughan just talking about it, is worried about.
Well, I urge my colleagues to read his testimony from last month both in testimony as it applies to this bill, but as it applies to comprehensive immigration reform, and Pastor Hunter counseled us that in order to fix this broken system, we must adopt an immigration system that deems each person as valuable, prioritizes the family, and provides compassion for those most in need, and that's why I'm a sponsor of the Uniting American Families Act.
For those who oppose this act citing concerns of fraud, I counter with what our immigration officials themselves tell me. They say that what truly endangers fraud is the current broken system which lamentably places binational same-sex couples in the dilemma of either being torn apart from their loved ones or breaking the law. Ms. Tan has testified about that.
For those who question the morality of permitting same-sex partners to obtain immigration benefits, I believe we should value the sanctity of preserving the family structure in whatever form it may take and in providing compassion for all Americans who would yearn to live with their family.
This act incorporates the same principles that I believe should govern comprehensive immigration reform. It's tough on fraud and lawbreakers. It encourages people to abide by the law. It requires people to prove they are really in a permanent partnership prior to receiving an immigration benefit. And best of all, it fixes an aspect of our broken immigration system in order to discourage illegal immigration and encourage legal immigration.
The time has come for us to help people like Ms. Tan and to make the promise of America real for this sympathetic segment of the American population who's adversely irrationally effected by our current immigration law.
The division, I guess, I'd have with Jeff, my colleague, Senator Sessions, is this: Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. No, no law is going to be perfect, but this law will encourage people to abide by the law rather than break it because we know that love is one of the most strong forces that God has created, and people are going to figure out ways to keep that love intact, and sometimes it leads them to break the law which is wrong. Why not have the laws understand that and make a process that is more law-abiding rather than less? That's, I guess, what I would say.
And I thank you, Mr. Chairman, for both calling on me and chairing the hearing.
I thank all of their witnesses for their patience.
And I thank Senator Leahy for introducing this bill.
SEN. SPECTER: Well, thank you, Senator Schumer.
The trend nationally has been to recognize relationships between people of the same sex. There have been five states now which have given full marriage equality to members of the same sex. Other states have sanctioned civil unions, still other states have sanctioned domestic partnerships, some states have recognized same-sex marriage performed in other states, and some states have a limited relationship recognition law.
Where there has been such a significant trend to giving at least recognition to civil unions, I believe it is entirely consistent to accord people that opportunity on immigration so that if you have a same-sex union to give equal standing as really a civil rights issue, not necessary to get into the issue as to whether it's to be constitutionally protected with the different status of an undocumented immigrant, for example. But I think Senator Leahy's legislation goes in the right direction, and I support it.
The issue of same-sex marriage has changed very materially since the Defense of Marriage Act was passed in 1997. At that time, there was a very substantial vote, 86 to 14, and I was among the 86. Former President Clinton has made an interesting comment about same-sex marriage when asked about his own judgment on it. I think that it's accurate to say that he remarked that his views were evolving, which may be a fair statement, but as to what's happening nationally remains to be seen. But it is my hope that an issue like this will not prove to be so controversial that it derails our efforts to have comprehensive immigration reform.
In 2006, this committee passed out a comprehensive immigration reform bill, and it passed the Senate. There was a bill which passed the House, and the House would not go to conference, so -- really largely along political lines, and their bill was not comprehensive, only dealt with the lull in employer verification. The political calculation boomeranged, and the House went down to substantial defeat, and the Senate by one vote changed control.
In 2007, the committee did not take up the issue, and there was an ad hoc committee, and a bill was taken to the floor and was not successful. The issue of citizenship was a major concern, which I think led to the bill's defeat, but on the chronology, the comprehensive bill provided that the undocumented immigrants, estimated at 12 million -- nobody knows for sure how many. It could be as many as 20 million -- would come at the end of the line, which had a process of about 13 years, so that citizenship was very far distant.
I introduced a discussion bill in July of 2007 which made a couple of changes. One was on the family reunification issue, which was considered in the ad hoc deliberations and, I think, not wisely decided without hearings and without the customary markup, and my bill provided that the fugitive status would be changed to try to bring people out of the so-called shadows to be in a position to be identified so that we could deport the criminal element. That is doable. You can't deport 12 million people. Get the people out of the so-called shadows so they pay taxes and have standing in society.
The hearing has run late, and I do not propose to ask for many questions, but we don't know often have a person of the stature of Mr. Julian Bond.
Mr. Bond, would you care to give a reaction to a proposal which would seek to remove a major impediment to political success by leaving immigration to another date? It's going to be delayed 13 years in any event. A lot can happen in 13 years, but if we did not have immigration citizenship as an immediate consequence, I think it might alter a lot of attitudes and remove a major impediment to comprehensive reform. What do you think?
MR. BOND: Thank you, Senator.
It may well allow for some time for consideration of other issues, but, as you said about the question of same-sex marriage, the trend in this country is changing, as witnessed by the several states that have legalized and other states that have provided some kind of domestic partnerships or something. I think the likelihood is also true about immigration as a general topic and what we ought to do about it.
I know we put it off for 13 years. I'd hate to think we'd put it off for another 13 or even another one or two. I think we have a president who wants to do a lot of things as quickly as he can, and I'm glad that he is because I think, for too long, we've put things aside and waited for a more proper moment.
SEN. SPECTER: I didn't quite follow your view as to my suggestion that we make the immediate change on eliminating the fugitive status.
MR. BOND: Oh, I'm sorry. I thought you were talking about delaying the prospects of immigration discussion of the general larger question of --
SEN. SPECTER: Oh, no. I'm not proposing --
SEN. SPECTER: I'm not proposing delaying it. I'm proposing since citizenship is not realistic for the undocumented 12 million for a long period of time under the legislation which the Senate passed, comprehensive -- people were satisfied they'd put them at the end of the line. I don't think you can put them at the beginning of the line. But if you made a change and just removed the fugitive status, I think there'd be a tremendous difference in the way we treat the undocumented immigrants. What --
MR. BOND: I think so, Senator. I'm sorry. I completely misunderstood the question you were asking. But I think so.
SEN. SPECTER: Would you be willing to go along with deferring the citizenship question and try to move ahead with comprehensive reform by just removing the fugitive status?
MR. BOND: Senator, I'm speaking here today on behalf of a -- small d -- democratic organization which makes decisions slowly, and I'm not in a position to say, yes, we would or, yes, we wouldn't.
SEN. SPECTER: Well, would you care to give a personal opinion, having disclaimed your representative status?
MR. BOND: No, probably not.
SEN. SPECTER: Okay. Fair enough. You have a right to remain silent.
MR. BOND: Thank you.
SEN. SPECTER: Nothing you say will be used against you.
Thank you all very much for coming, and that concludes our hearing.
One additional item: Senator Sessions requested that the record be kept open for a week, and we will honor that request.