House Dems Confident Immigration Reform Will Pass—With LGBT Equality

At a Capitol Hill press conference this morning, House Democrats reiterated their support for comprehensive immigration reform package that would include equality for LGBT people and expressed confidence that such a bill would pass this year.

Democrats from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Congressional Black Caucus, Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, Congressional Progressive Caucus, and Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus were joined by a coalition of 37 immigration, LGBT, and faith advocacy groups in support.

The Congressional speakers, particularly Luis Gutierrez (IL), Jerrold Nadler (NY), Jared Polis (CO), and Mike Honda (CA) expressed confidence that a bill that included equal treatment of LGBT bi-national couples would be passed this term. According to Immigration Equality, 36,000 bi-national couples in the United States face imminent or future separation because the US citizen of same-sex couples cannot, like those in heterosexual married couples, sponsor their partner for citizenship.

As I’ve reported here, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), who wasn’t at the press conference, has reached out for the support of conservative evangelical groups, who say they are for immigration reform but will not support a bill that includes LGBT equality. When President Obama gave his immigration speech at American University earlier this month, the White House highlighted the presence of Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention, Leith Anderson of the National Association of Evangelicals, and Samuel Rodriguez of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. All three organizations oppose LGBT equality in immigration reform, and have said they won’t support a package that includes it.

Land, who declined an interview request from RD, told Fox News this week that he met with White House senior advisor Valerie Jarrett and White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships director Joshua DuBois “to thank the president for giving the speech we asked him to give. And then they wanted to talk about where we go from here in terms of putting comprehensive immigration reform back on the front burner.”

But the House Democrats dismissed the evangelicals’ sway either to get Republicans on board or to keep LGBT equality out of a comprehensive bill supported only by Democrats. Polis pointed out that Republicans—whom the Democrats are trying to reach via the evangelicals—have yet to support immigration reform with or without the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA). “We would like Republican leaders to embrace immigration reform,” Polis told me, “because certainly there’s been strong support from the evangelical community, there’s been strong support from the bishops’ community, two core constituencies of the Republican Party, but that has yet to translate into a single Republican who has stood up and said they support immigration reform.”

Nadler told me that “we should reach out to everybody” for support, but he hoped “evangelicals and others can see they should support this [UAFA] too. Because it has nothing to do with the issue of marriage… The immigration laws of the United States should not work to keep couples separated. It’s cruelty.”

Steve Ralls, communications director for the Immigration Equality Action Fund, which organized the press conference, told me that not a single Republican refuses to support immigration reform because of the inclusion of UAFA, and that there are some Democrats, like Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, who would be more likely to support an inclusive bill than one without LGBT equality.

The bottom line here is that the Catholic bishops and conservative evangelicals who Schumer suggested hold the keys to getting Republicans on board and reform passed don’t have the sway they claim. Their support for reform hasn’t budged any Republicans, and they don’t scare the Democrats with their opposition to LGBT equality in the bill.