This month, Judy Rickard will permanently leave the United States in order to reunite with her partner, Karin Bogliolo, a UK national. To do so, she’s taking an early retirement and a reduced pension after twenty-seven years teaching at San Jose State University.
Because unlike nineteen other countries–including Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Israel, South Africa and the United Kingdom–the United States doesn’t recognize permanent same-sex partners for legal immigration. Since immigration is a federal matter, even married same-sex couples in states that recognize their marriages have no legal basis for an immigration claim.
“The result is a loss for my district and a loss for the university,” California Democratic Representative Mike Honda writes of Rickard’s departure in a Roll Call op-ed. “There are tens of thousands of lesbian and gay families for whom immigration reform cannot come soon enough,” says Steve Ralls, director of communications for Immigration Equality. “Every day, Immigration Equality hears from partners who are separated, or facing separation, because of our discriminatory immigration laws. Nearly half of those impacted are raising children.”
When it comes to family reunification, the antiquated immigration system is broken regardless of race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation.
“Our family-based immigration system has not been updated in 20 years,” writes Honda, who chairs the Congressional Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus and is a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. “With nearly 6 million people stuck in a perpetual wait, this is both insufferable and inexcusable. Five-year separations, keeping spouses, parents and children apart, are quite common; so are 20-year estrangements from siblings and elderly parents.”
That’s why Honda has reintroduced the Reuniting Families Act, which would address many of the obstacles to family reunification, including discrimination against nearly 36,000 binational, same-sex couples living in the United States.
The Reuniting Families Act would eliminate discrimination against permanent same-sex partners seeking to reunite. It would recapture immigrant visas lost to bureaucratic delays and mandate action on them within the next fiscal year, and reduce the backlog for families trying to reunite by classifying spouses and children of permanent residents as “immediate family” exempt from caps on family immigration. Currently, the visas issued to citizens of any one country cannot exceed 7 percent of the total number of visas issued by the United States; the bill would raise the cap to 10 percent (while most nations don’t reach the current 7 percent cap, it will make a big difference for countries like India and China that reach their limits very quickly). Honda’s bill also provides for equal treatment under all immigration laws for stepchildren and biological children.