Comments about UAFA- do not be put off – be motivated


As my readers know I have expressed a great deal of concern with how the  Uniting American Families Act has been handled by our self-appointed-by -ommission-leadership  and it is interesting to note the recent article quoting Rep Jackie Speier on UAFA’s unlikely passage which appeared in the Bay Area Reporter.   However I do not believe this article is negative at all but it ought to be a big wake up call to bi-nationals and their supporters.  Its time to fight for UAFA and it must be NOW.  It can be read in full at…. 

 Congresswoman  Speier mentions that UAFA is low on  Congress Agenda and hence unlikely to see passage.   I too have heard that many members of Congress have not even heard about UAFA, the bill that will allow an American Partners in same-sex relationships to Petition under the immigration law for their Permanent Partners.  While Shirley Tan and Jay Mercado’s case created astonishing awareness, I agree withRep Speier’s (San Mateo) comment – ”

” Speier also raised doubts about Congress’ ability to approve other legislation of importance to the LGBT community during the nearly 90-minute sit-down at her district office in downtown San Mateo Saturday, July 11. In regard to a bill that would allow LGBT Americans to remain in the country with their foreign-born partners, Speier said the issue had not gained enough traction in Congress to become a priority.”

To me this is indicative of the very problem that we have all been concerned about and I believe it has not gained traction for the following reasons:

1. Lack of involvement and utilization of grassroots groups;

2. Failure to use the stories of bi-nationals as a poignant tool, beyond mere display on websites;

3. Lack of effective leadership by Immigration Equality organizations– good leaders gather the best brains in the Country and do not make decisions without consultation, alliances, strategies and delegation.  When alliances are made, we should never lose sight of the prize by being swayed into battles that deplete our minimal resources.  Losing sight of the prize is when we minimize the fight for equality by shifting to a fight for immigration reform for those who already have the right to petition for spouses.  UAFA is an issue of Equality and not an immigration issue.  We have been manipulated to look at the issue from the perspective of the immigrant.   UAFA should be seen and advocated through the eyes of the suffering of the American partner citizen who has been denied the same rights as other Americans in permanent committed relationships having the option to marry.    Immigration is a privilege for the immigrant and inherent in the Immigration & Naturalization Act is a right for an American citizen spouse/ fiancé. Lesbian and Gay Americans are denied these rights. That is the fight and we should not be led down other paths.

I believe as do many that the Shirley Tan and Jay Mercado story hit the mark.  However the very day after their testimony, Immigration Equality shifted the focus to RFA.  This was a big mistake in my opinion.  Of course LGBT language should be included in immigration reform as a matter of course as it is the right thing to do.    However, our fight is still the equality fight and we are selling our community and those who have funded and advocated the work, short if we fail to focus on UAFA.  I believe a great opportunity and momentum may be lost if we do not take Shirley and Jay’s advocacy to the next level and that should be to speak to and motivate other couples to deliver and share their stories with their own congressional representatives.  There is no time like now.

4. Failure to provide actual personal advocacy in the most difficult of cases –instead these cases are rejected by organizations if they do not fit the mould, with “sorry we can’t help you” and “which country will you move to?”  Hundreds of bi-nationals have been turned away such as Shirley/Jay and Britta /Carla at the time they made calls to LGBT organizations. They did not fit the regular asylum mould and hence there was no help.  Unfortunately they also did not receive referrals of any kind or guidance at all.     These are the very cases that will draw attention, such as suggested by Rep Speier in the Article in the Bay Area Reporter; and all such cases should be propped up by organizations who could direct on how to prepare and approach congressional reps with pleas for direct assistance.  Imagine if half of congress received such a request and all Senators were informed, then I think Congress would have this issue higher on its Agenda. 

 Rep Speier suggested that bi-nationals can only apply through extraordinary means to stay in the US.  She is referring here to Private Bills which are introduced into Congress and then instead of being voted upon, are reintroduced in each new congress.  These are rare and few have made it to introduction.  Maybe if Congress were inundated with these requests, such as in Shirley’s case, they would wake up to the problem.   I applaud Rep Speier for her remarks in this regard, because she seems to give license to use this as a possible solution, in a milieu where we are discouraged from this as a solution and very fearful of abusing the process.  However maybe now its all up for grabs.

5. We are notorious for being quiet on the issue andwe are all tired of being told to wait; another ten years.  ‘Be quiet and don’t make a noise’ has never been a model for change.  Based on what Rep. Speier has said as quoted in the article, I agree; we do not have the consciousness in congress. However that does not mean we cannot gain it.  We must do so especially now with our recent visibility and impending action by President Obama  given the majority in Congress and Senate.

Our issue may be the underdog issue, but does that mean we are going to sit back and allow that to happen? Now is the time and we have to stop being children relying on the Pater-mater-familias to make decisions and take direction purportedly on our behalf, yet without consulting us.

It is not too late but we have to move quickly.  I had a great conversation this week with a source who has much more experience in D.C. than me.  He explained his view and the reigning sentiment amongst LGBT organizations such as Immigration Equality, on the importance of  the LGBT alliance with bigger immigration community, via the Mike Honda Bill, Reuniting American Families Act that seeks to incorporate UAFA.   He also conveyed, similar to Rep. Speier, that D.C. intelligence is clear that UAFA stands less chance than Comprehensive Immigration reform of passage; and that for this reason some organizations may be seen taking a new path which clearly veers from the absolute focus on UAFA. I was really appreciative of our discourse yet remain unconvinced.

However at no time has the beast been unleashed, truly unleashed; and believe me there is one waiting…. If all the bi-nationals band together on a grassroots level and strategize and if more Shirley and Jays and Carla and Britta’s have the courage to show up on doorstep of congress with their reporters, cameras and bloggers in tow, and if people like me are willing to advocate for Private Bills  and in arenas that most say are impenetrable, I really believe that UAFA can move in a direction that would provide a format of a Bill that will pass. 

Congress can and will have a new attitude toward UAFA – but it is not going to happen until we empower our community to make appointments with their representatives in every district, to show up with their own stories asking for help and if they do not need help, then to show up with the stories of other constituents.  Congress will buzz if the dialogue between Rep and Constituent is prevalent and persistent.   Until this constituent push happens the D.C. insider intelligence is meaningless.  If congress has not taken the issue on after we do this, then I will succumb to the current D.C. Intelligence.

Shirley Tan’s testimony at the Senate Judiciary Committee has had almost 30,000 hits on YouTube – compared to about a couple hundred by Session’s witnesses.   I believe that speaks volumes for the clout of empowerment.

Melanie Nathan

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2 Comments on “Comments about UAFA- do not be put off – be motivated”

  1. Carla July 18, 2009 at 4:32 AM #


    Fantastic! I have forwarded to all my peeps. Lets go!

    Best to you and yours

  2. David July 19, 2009 at 12:29 AM #

    Wonderful article here, Mel. As always you have “hit the nail”!

    I have always been concerned about the lack of national co-ordination to keep the pressure on. LBGQT orgs ought to be backing UAFA in full!! We all must focus on UAFA fully, never mind CIR which will come later. We cannot wait too long.

    Perhaps there ought to be a national UAFA conference somewhere?

    Onwards true and fair Immigration Equality.



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