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Todd Fernandez Headshot

To Sens. Schumer, McCain and Graham: Immigration Coalitions Support Gay Family Inclusion in Reform

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Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and five others sent the LGBT movement into a panic last week when they issued an outline for immigration reform that excluded same-sex binational couples. In quick response, HRC, NCLR and other organizations issued press releases, and Immigration Equality and Out4Immigration -- the grassroots group of same-sex couples whose lives hang in the balance -- rang alarms to call Schumer's phone lines, renewing a fight everyone thought was finished.

As the most culpable Democrat, Sen. Schumer is the main target. And what's upsetting advocates the most is the fact that his misguided strategy is way out of touch with the current support for including same-sex couples in immigration reform by a broad coalition of immigration reform advocates. Principles and outlines issued by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, the national immigration coalition FIRM (the Fair Immigration Reform Movement), New Yorkers for Real Immigration Reform, the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus and the Coalition for Humane Immigration Rights of Los Angeles and President Obama's immigration principles all contain language supporting the inclusion of gay families in immigration reform. The debate should be over.

Sens. Schumer and McCain in particular are fighting ghosts, and Sen. Graham is simply a sad embarrassment. These immigration coalitions represent hundreds of organizations, including leadership at the highest levels of historically antagonistic groups like the Catholic Church and evangelical Christians. On top of this, over 30 Hispanic groups, representing people of the Catholic faith, have proudly signed on in support of the inclusion of gay families in immigration reform. So while the leaders of some religious outliers may still be puffing their chests, their own constituents have clearly abandoned them.

So whose bidding are the senators doing? At most it is the lobbying and media machines of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and a handful of clergy, who are disproportionately glorified in the talking-point reporting by the Washington Post on this issue. But there are no bodies -- or constituents -- engaged in immigration reform on the ground who support this discriminatory agenda. They have no phone-banking, rallying or marching support but are simply political place holders staking out tired, obsolete ground. Given the absence of any substantive opposition to including gay families in immigration reform, Schumer's caving and posturing is not only uniformed and outdated but particularly cruel to the affected couples and denigrating to our community.

Meanwhile, Immigration Equality has secured overwhelming faith-based support for the inclusion of gay families in immigration reform from over 2,500 individual clergy of every imaginable denomination. The fact is simply that any remaining opposition to the inclusion of gay families is marginal, and it is not the official policy of the vast immigration coalition network, which is now working tightly with the LGBT community. And the LGBT movement is stepping up big-time, putting its own equality on hold as we fight together. "Together" is the part these senators don't get.

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force just held its annual conference in Atlanta, and an overarching theme was the intersectional nature of social justice issues, specifically LGBT equality and comprehensive immigration reform. Well beyond our own desire to protect same-sex binational couples, the LGBT movement has categorically embraced the broader call for immigrant justice, including a pathway to citizenship for over 11 million undocumented human beings living their lives in an American closet not unlike the one we know all too well.

This same coalition spirit culminated in the 2012 reelection of President Obama, who is now working aggressively to keep the coalition focused on a sequence of issues that will hopefully include full LGBT equality soon. To support the president, Sen. Schumer would do well to pay more attention to the reality and feelings of the coalition's members, upon whom success on a whole range of priorities depends. He needs to wake up to the reality that the debate over same-sex couples in immigration reform is over and stop his abusive political gamesmanship or risk losing the coalition in the process. Specifically, he needs to make sure we are included in the bill as filed by the Senate and not cued up as some political chit for the Republicans to leverage against the president or slipped in during committee hearings like some dirty little secret.

More fundamentally, as a matter of human compassion, Sen. Schumer needs to realize that gay couples are living in a state of daily fear and anxiety that has gone on for decades, which he now exacerbates. To fix our plight, we have worked for years in solidarity with the immigration movement. We worked tirelessly to get into the principles and outlines mentioned above. We have protested and marched and rallied, including at his office, and we will do so again if need be, because this game needs to end. The gay community deserves to be treated with respect as a valued part of the coalition and included now.

Apparently, despite being a self-proclaimed liberal, Sen. Schumer, who routinely rides roughshod over activists, just doesn't yet understand gay oppression. He doesn't equate it to discrimination based on race, religion or national origin. And he doesn't seem to realize that leaving gay people out of the bill is just as gross and irresponsible as it would be to leave out Mexicans, Asians or Jewish people.

In 2013, after a president who supports marriage equality was reelected, it is way past time for Sen. Schumer to stop playing politics with gay people's lives and demonstrate the strength of the convictions he professes to hold. He should try fighting the good fight on its own merits and show some principled leadership for a change. It's not just the outcome but the process that matters. It's the journey that defines our character.