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Leahy Statement On Removing Discrimination From Broken Immigration System

Statement

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) made the following statement Tuesday about his amendments to the comprehensive immigration bill to provide equality in immigration law by allowing American citizens who are in long term committed relationships to sponsor their foreign partners or spouses for green cards.

"I take the Republican sponsors of this important legislation at their word that they will abandon their own efforts if discrimination is removed from our immigration system," Leahy said. "So, with a heavy heart, and as a result of my conclusion that Republicans will kill this vital legislation if this anti-discrimination amendment is added, I will withhold calling for a vote on it. But I will continue to fight for equality."

Leahy has championed the issue for the last decade through his push to enact the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA), which he reintroduced in February with Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine).

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Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.)
Chairman, Senate Committee on the Judiciary
May 21, 2013

I would like to turn to an issue very important to me and to many Americans who are suffering from discrimination based on who they love. I filed two amendments to show that there is more than one way to take discrimination out of our broken immigration system. I call up Leahy amendment number 7.

The experience of Americans torn apart from the love of their lives by our current immigration system is heart-breaking. I have been married for more than fifty years and cannot fathom how I would feel if my government refused to recognize our union or if the law discriminated against me based on who I fell in love with more than five decades ago.

I understand that not all states have reached the point of being as compassionate and fair as my home state of Vermont but in just the time since the immigration legislation has been pending, three states have joined Vermont in providing marriage equality. Those three states are all represented on this committee -- Delaware, Rhode Island and Minnesota. And I know the Members here representing those states share my joy for families who will now be treated fairly under their state law. But regardless of these profound state-led efforts to reform their laws to remove discrimination, federal law continues to discriminate against these lawful marriages. Thousands of lawfully married couples in twelve states and the District of Columbia are discriminated against every day. I am committed to ending this discrimination.

My amendment would not change a single state law. The issue of marriage had long been a state law issue until the Defense of Marriage Act was passed in the late 1990s. Many of us on this committee want to see that law overturned because now it discriminates against lawful marriages and makes thousands of American families less secure. In the immigration context, it means that if you are an American and fall in love with someone of the same sex from a different country and get married, your spouse will not be treated like any other immigrant spouse would be by your federal government. My amendment would change that.

I do not believe we should ask Americans to choose between the love of their life and love of their country. Discriminating against a segment of Americans because of who they love is a travesty and it is ripping many American families apart.

I know this issue is important to many who serve on this Committee so I would like to hear from other members, especially from the drafters of this bill who decided not to remove discrimination from our current immigration system in their legislative proposal.

When I read news stories of a Republican not on this committee threaten that my anti-discrimination amendment would kill the bill, I hoped it was just partisan rhetoric on talk radio but now I understand that even the supportive Republicans on this committee will also walk away from this comprehensive bill if we address this flaw in our immigration system. That is a sad commentary on where the Republican Party is on the fight for equality but also on Republican support for this important bill.

I have been fighting for all families to be treated fairly by our immigration laws for years. Like the miscegenation laws of a previous generation, our grandchildren will look back at this time as one that is completely inconsistent with our Constitution and our values. However, that day has clearly not come.

For those who recently argued that the LGBT minority is so powerful, that somehow they do not deserve equal protection under our Constitution, today is the most recent reminder that they are not treated fairly. Our friends and neighbors continue to be subject to discrimination and correcting that injustice is again being thwarted by Republican demands against progress. Insistence that these wrongs not be addressed in comprehensive immigration reform is just the latest in a series of mistreatments.

I believe that fixing our broken immigration system is this Committee's top priority. I know that millions of Americans are counting on us to produce the best legislation possible to help millions of people who are living in the shadows and who also face discrimination and exploitation. I believe this legislation will make us all safer and will help spur our economy. It is not the bill I would have drafted and falls short of what I had hoped we could accomplish, but it may well be the best we can do in the present partisan circumstances.

So, with a heavy heart, and as a result of my conclusion that Republicans will kill this vital legislation if this anti-discrimination amendment is added, I will withhold calling for a vote on it at this time. But I will continue to fight for equality.


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