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Honda promises to push for visa reform with gay rights in the next Congress

I missed it yesterday, but Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) pledged yesterday to re-introduce the Reuniting Families Act in the GOP-run House next session. The bill would overhaul the slow, backlogged system for doling out family reunification visas, which some argue motivates visa applicants to immigrate illegally instead.

The act is noteworthy because it allows gay and lesbian citizens or permanent residents to petition for their foreign-born partners to come to the United States. Of course, given the Republican slant of the next Congress, it seems unlikely to pass. But Honda remains committed to keeping gay rights as part of the bill. He explained his reasoning for the bill in a joint op-ed with Cleveland Browns player Scott Fujita:

The Reuniting Families Act, which I will reintroduce in the 112th Congress, allows all Americans to be reunited with their families. That includes gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender permanent partners (adults who are in committed lifelong relationships and are financially interdependent).

The benefits of this policy cannot be overstated: American workers with their families by their side are happier, healthier and more able to succeed than those living apart from loved ones for years on end. By pooling resources, families can do together what they can’t do alone – start family businesses, create American jobs and contribute more to this country’s welfare.

The healthier the community, the more expendable income is available and the lower the burden on government social services. This correlation is well researched and well substantiated, but it is up to us to make it a reality. [...]

It is time to reunite America. No family excluded.

Honda and Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) have argued that the act, also called the Uniting American Families Act, could win support from gay rights and immigration reform supporters. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) also included a provision for gay rights in the comprehensive immigration reform bill he introduced in October.

Visa reform for gay and lesbian partners is an important issue: An estimated 24,000 gay and lesbian couples in the U.S. include at least one foreign partner, some of whom are living in the country undocumented. Current law does not allow citizens to petition for legal status for their partners — even if they are legally married in their state — which means some men and women who are married to U.S. citizens can be deported or denied the right to enter the country legally.

But even if a Republican House is able to find enough support for an immigration reform bill — which is unlikely — the bill could fall apart over its gay rights provision. Evangelical leaders who have pushed a conservative case for immigration reform say they would rescind their support if reform included ways for gay and lesbian families to petition for visas.

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