Gay rights groups weighing in on immigration reform

Apr 24, 2013

Some Illinois gay rights groups are now applying their own political pressure in the fight to overhaul the nation’s immigration system. IPR’S Alex Keefe reports.

Bi-partisan cooperation was the order of the day as Chicago Congressman Luis Gutierrez and Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan plugged their immigration reform ideas at a downtown luncheon on Monday.

Gutierrez, a liberal Democrat, and Ryan, a former GOP vice presidential nominee, actually agreed on a lot. Until somebody in the audience asked whether Gutierrez thought the immigration changes would recognize same-sex relationships.

GUTIERREZ: “And I will fight for it, but I do not believe it will be in a bill.”

RYAN: (pause) “So I’m gonna stick with just the immigration stuff here…” (laughs)

Congressman Ryan, the second voice, opposes same-sex marriage. And that exchange illustrates the political difficulty of recognizing so-called “bi-national” gay couples in U.S. immigration law.

That would mean a same-sex relationship could be grounds to grant legal status to a foreign spouse or to prevent a deportation. And while Gutierrez says he supports the idea, he doesn’t think it will pass.

That political calculus doesn’t sit well with Julio Rodriguez, who chairs the LGBTQ Immigration Rights Coalition of Chicago.

RODRIGUEZ: “You can’t pick and choose when you wanna be our allies.”

Rodriguez says House lawmakers shouldn’t be so quick to exclude gay couples from an immigration overhaul.

RODRIGUEZ: “We helped elect many of those folks who are sitting in Congress that are our allies. We’ve provided financial resources, we’ve provided people on the ground, and we expect a return on that investment.”

Congressman Gutierrez, for his part, says he wants to include same-sex couples.

But as he tries to navigate the Republican-led House - he says it’s a numbers game.

GUTIERREZ: “And you can see who makes up the House of Representatives. And you can see that the votes are not there.”

Gutierrez points out the immigration bill in the U.S. Senate, where Democrats hold a majority, does NOT include recognition for same-sex couples.

GUTIERREZ: “You shouldn’t pander. Uh, you shouldn’t raise false expectations. That’s not what I expect from a friend and an ally.”

Gutierrez says he hopes to introduce an immigration overhaul in the House in a few weeks. But the whole question could be moot by the end of June when the U-S Supreme Court is expected to rule on the federal definition of marriage.