Senate Judiciary Chairman Leahy Supports Gay Immigrant Rights

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Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy has pushed an amendment to grant full immigrations rights to LGTB couples.

Leahy told the news site, Politico, in a recent interview that at least one dozen U.S. states now legally recognize same-sax marriage. It does not make sense, Leahy said, for the federal government to help one married couple with immigration issues, but not another, simply based on their same-gender marriage.

One of the amendments backed by Leahy includes green cards for a foreign-born partner of a gay or lesbian U.S. citizen. Another amendment would give green cards only to a foreign-born partner if the couple is married.

Leahy stated that his goal is a fair and transparent process when it comes to the changes to immigration law, and for all people for whom it is important to get their say about those changes. In addition to the LGTB amendments, Leahy stated that the “trigger” issues are a number of border security benchmarks which must be agreed upon prior to allowing the more than 11 million undocumented immigrants apply for legal status. But critics are concerned that the compromise crafted by the Gang of Eight does not adequately address real border security issues and have countered with much tougher amendments.

The trigger encompasses extensive, new border fences; an agreed-upon, operational border security plan; the E-Verify system which would allow employers to check on the citizenship status of existing and potential employees; and a tracking system for both entry and exits at seaports and airports. Leahy said that he hopes any controversy is not enough to derail the important bill. Though the issues are serious, he said, they really should not be bones of contention. If the Senate truly wants an immigration bill, they will agree upon amendments to improve it and vote on them. Only people who really do not want a workable immigration bill, he said, will raise amendments with the intention of stalling it.

Currently, for married heterosexual couples, the spouse of a U.S. citizen can get immigration benefits, but the noncitizen of a same-sex couple cannot get the same benefit. This is due to DOMA, the Defense Of Marriage Act, a federal law which defines legal marriages as between one man and one woman. DOMA is currently under review in front of the Supreme Court. Will the majority of Justices strike down DOMA or will LGTB equality come into the country through the federal “side door” – immigration rights for same sex couples? We will know soon enough.

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New Immigration Reform Bill Would Open Up Foreign Work Visas

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A new immigration reform bill is written to favor those who enter the U.S. with employment visas rather than family visas.

A new Senate immigration reform bill is poised to shift the U.S. immigration system to better help those immigrants who enter the country with an employment-based visa. According a senior policy analyst with the Migration Policy Institute, the employment-based immigration caps placed on other countries would be eliminated. Currently, no country can send more than 7 percent of their total visa allotment within a one-year period to the U.S. The limit for each country has been set at 7 percent of the total visas; the other 97 percent have been allotted as family visas, but that figure would be raised to 15 percent.

This limit has greatly hampered countries such as China and India who have large number of qualified immigrants, but who cannot get their U.S. visas because their country reaches the cap so quickly.

Under the new bill, that cap would be raised to 15 percent, which open the employment pathways for immigrants from China and India, but, as critics are quick to point out, that loss of a cap also means the U.S. may see a less diverse group of immigrants. Advocates say the cap may mean more employment immigrants from Mexico and the Philippines.

The bill will also allow some additional ways to gain employment-based “green cards,” including a merit-based visa. A merit-based visa would allow some workers in the U.S. on a temporary visa to become permanent residents and then citizens, based on a point system. Points are allotted for education, family, work history English-language fluency. The merit-based visa system would be put into place to clear the immigration backlog, and run for an estimated five years.

The program would then have 120,000 visas for new immigrants every year, evenly split between higher-skilled and lower-skilled workers, with a skill-specific point system. Higher-skilled workers would be allotted points for post-graduate education and entrepreneurship, while lesser-skilled workers would be allotted points for U.S.—based family and for the household’s primary caregiver. For both higher- and lower-skilled visas, points are heavily awarded for already being employed in the U.S. The merit-based system is designed to be able to expand, based in large part on the U.S. unemployment rate, with a cap of 250,000 visas per year.

A second tier of the merit-based program has also been proposed; it would help undocumented workers who have been employed in the U.S. for 10 years or more to transition to permanent status.

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