Monday, June 29, 2009

Last Week: In Our Community

Immigration news and updates from Monday June 21 through Monday June 28.

On Thursday, President Barack Obama made his
biggest push yet to pass comprehensive immigration reform legislation this year. During a bipartisan, bicameral meeting at the White House with nearly three dozen lawmakers, Obama told immigration stakeholders that he wants to wrap up the issue by the end of this year, or by early 2010 at the latest.

An unofficial policy change at ICE exhibits the new administration's approach to the immigration issue. Obama has issued a directive wherein undocumented immigrants who were swept up on minor misdemeanors such as fishing without a license, for example, are to be released from federal detention centers and told to show up for a court date instead.

In detention news, Justice Denny Chin of the Federal District Court in Manhattan, ordered the Obama administration to address a petition filed to address enforceable regulations in federal detention centers across the country. However, the new administration still has yet to file a response to Chin's request.

In a more personal story, Maria Luis, a Guatemalan immigrant mother of two, has finally been given custody of her children, after she was deported and forced to leave Angelica, age 1, and Daniel, age 7, in a foster home in Nebraska.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Obama, Congress: Immigration Bill Coming Soon

Yesterday, President Obama met with key members of both the House and Senate to talk about how to move forward with a comprehensive immigration reform bill this year. From all the intel I've gathered, it looks like it was a pretty successful meeting.

In a statement last night, Obama said that they want to start debate over a comprehensive bill THIS YEAR (see his comments pasted below); Representative Luis Gutierrez then made similar comments on a debriefing call I was on later in the evening.

They also said that any reform package has to include a path to legal status for the 12 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States. This is a huge victory!

Overall, it seems like this is a positive step to move us forward!


    Office of the Press Secretary
    For Immediate Release June 25, 2009


    State Dining Room

    3:17 P.M. EDT

    THE PRESIDENT: Hello, everybody. We have just finished what I consider to be a very productive meeting on one of the most critical issues that I think this nation faces, and that is an immigration system that is broken and needs fixing.

    We have members of Congress from both chambers, from parties, who have participated in the meeting and shared a range of ideas. I think the consensus is that despite our inability to get this passed over the last several years, the American people still want to see a solution in which we are tightening up our borders, or cracking down on employers who are using illegal workers in order to drive down wages -- and oftentimes mistreat those workers. And we need a effective way to recognize and legalize the status of undocumented workers who are here.

    Now, this is -- there is not by any means consensus across the table. As you can see, we've got a pretty diverse spectrum of folks here. But what I'm encouraged by is that after all the overheated rhetoric and the occasional demagoguery on all sides around this issue, we've got a responsible set of leaders sitting around the table who want to actively get something done and not put it off until a year, two years, three years, five years from now, but to start working on this thing right now.

    My administration is fully behind an effort to achieve comprehensive immigration reform. I have asked my Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Secretary Janet Napolitano, to lead up a group that is going to be working with a leadership group from both the House and the Senate to start systematically working through these issues from the congressional leaders and those with the relevant jurisdiction. What we've heard is through a process of regular order, they would like to work through these issues both in the House and in the Senate.

    In the meantime, administratively there are a couple of things that our administration has already begun to do. The FBI has cleared much of the backlog of immigration background checks that was really holding up the legal immigration process. DHS is already in the process of cracking down on unscrupulous employers, and, in collaboration with the Department of Labor, working to protect those workers from exploitation.

    The Department of Homeland Security has also been making good progress in speeding up the processing of citizenship petitions, which has been far too slow for far too long -- and that, by the way, is an area of great consensus, cuts across Democratic and Republican parties, the notion that we've got to make our legal system of immigration much more efficient and effective and customer-friendly than it currently is.

    Today I'm pleased to announce a new collaboration between my Chief Information Officer, my Chief Performance Officer, my Chief Technologies Officer and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Office to make the agency much more efficient, much more transparent, much more user-friendly than it has been in the past.

    In the next 90 days, USCIS will launch a vastly improved Web site that will, for the first time ever, allow applicants to get updates on their status of their applications via e-mail and text message and online. And anybody who's dealt with families who are trying to deal with -- navigate the immigration system, this is going to save them huge amounts of time standing in line, waiting around, making phone calls, being put on hold. It's an example of some things that we can do administratively even as we're working through difficult issues surrounding comprehensive immigration.

    And the idea is very simple here: We're going to leverage cutting-edge technology to reduce the unnecessary paperwork, backlogs, and the lack of transparency that's caused so many people so much heartache.

    Now, we all know that comprehensive immigration reform is difficult. We know it's a sensitive and politically volatile issue. One of the things that was said around the table is the American people still don't have enough confidence that Congress and any administration is going to get serious about border security, and so they're concerned that any immigration reform simply will be a short-term legalization of undocumented workers with no long-term solution with respect to future flows of illegal immigration.

    What's also been acknowledged is that the 12 million or so undocumented workers are here -- who are not paying taxes in the ways that we'd like them to be paying taxes, who are living in the shadows, that that is a group that we have to deal with in a practical, common-sense way. And I think the American people are ready for us to do so. But it's going to require some heavy lifting, it's going to require a victory of practicality and common sense and good policymaking over short-term politics. That's what I'm committed to doing as President.

    I want to especially commend John McCain, who's with me today, because along with folks like Lindsey Graham, he has already paid a significant political cost for doing the right thing. I stand with him, I stand with Nydia Velázquez and others who have taken leadership on this issue. I am confident that if we enter into this with the notion that this is a nation of laws that have to be observed and this is a nation of immigrants, then we're going to create a stronger nation for our children and our grandchildren.

    So thank you all for participating. I'm looking forward to us getting busy and getting to work. All right? Thank you.

    Oh, and by the way, I hope everybody has got their Hawaiian shirts -- (laughter) -- and their mumus for our luau tonight.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Rep. Polis Offers Commentary on Immigration Reform

Just today, the Denver Post published a wonderful opinion piece by Colorado House Representative Jared Polis. Here it is in its entirety:

    Some Americans are perfectly happy with our health care system. And although there is a scientific consensus that global warming is a man-made threat, there are still those who would not change our current energy policy. However, I have yet to meet a single person who is happy with our current immigration system.

    Americans from across the ideological spectrum are outraged that we have over 12 million undocumented immigrants living in our country. Our country is supposed to be a nation of laws, and yet the status quo is to allow the law to be violated every day.

    From the left we hear urgent concerns about the human rights tragedies occurring in our own neighborhoods: the 8-year-old boy in Thornton returning home from school to find that his mother has been sent to a detention center hundreds of miles away; the straight-A middle school student in Lafayette who asked me if we would fix our broken immigration system in time for her to go to college; a Denver woman who is afraid to report her abusive husband, unsure whether the police would help her or deport her.

    From the right we hear concerns about the sanctity of our border, the rule of law, tax evasion, the growing costs of emergency health services for the undocumented, and the competitiveness of our farms and businesses: The owner of a family farm in Weld County who cannot find documented workers to harvest crops; the father struggling to support his family but whose boss replaced him with an undocumented worker; the men and women who live near our porous border and worry about the trafficking of drugs.

    We can all agree that the burden on state and local governments because of the failure of federal education policy is grossly unfair. We can all agree that for our own safety and security we should know who is in our country. Business and labor agree that having a large undocumented workforce in this country is bad.

    But finally people are wising up. Judging by the overwhelming turnout at my recent immigration town hall, people aren't falling for it anymore. The overwhelming need for immigration reform is bringing Americans of all stripes together.

    Our town hall's special guest was Congressman Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill, who formed the United Families movement, bringing together businesses, unions, faith-based organizations and civil rights groups. Thanks to his leadership, progressives and conservatives are already working together to demand comprehensive immigration reform and urge President Obama and Congress to take up this important issue before the end of the year.

    Without quick action, the number of undocumented immigrants will likely double within a decade.

    Amnesty alone is not the solution. We need real reform. The "enforcement only" policies of the last few years have only resulted in even more illegal immigration and the separation of American families.

    A common-sense solution would require undocumented immigrants to register within a year, pay a fine, and finally be able to lawfully work within our borders. Those with a criminal background would be kicked out and banned from re-entering. We would invest in state-of- the-art border security and stop the illicit flow of goods and people across our southern border once and for all.

    We are a nation of immigrants. Our diversity has always been our strength. The countries on the other end of this issue have a far more pressing problem: how to provide real opportunity at home and prevent their best and brightest from coming to America.

    Crafting a solution to this complex issue should begin without delay. Citizens and elected leaders must realize our common goal of putting an end to illegal immigration and demand reform now.

    U.S. Rep. Jared Polis represents Colorado's 2nd Congressional District.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Keeping Families--All Families--Together: A Personal Story

- a recent blogpost on "Of Peace and Politics" by my wonderful colleague Stephen Donahoe, Campaigns Program Assistant, Friends Committee on National Legislation

As a white male, I haven't had the experience of dealing with prejudice, racism or sexism that many people face every day. While I certainly try to understand how they feel, I have not been able to really know the struggles of women or people of color because I haven't experienced it myself.

I have also not truly felt the effects of laws that have been changed or created in order to create more justice for oppressed people. For example, I celebrated the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, but not from the perspective of someone who's life would be affected personally because of the law. While I know that all laws that promote justice have an impact on the world (and thus impact my life), I have not had the experience of feeling that my life would be made different if a law were passed.

The Reuniting Families Act, recently introduced by Rep. Honda, is changing this for me. This law would allow gay and lesbian Americans to sponsor their immigrant "permanent partners" for legal U.S. residency.

As a gay American with an Indian partner, this bill would make a tremendous difference in my life. This has an impact on many more things than I would have previously imagined, all the way from the big question of where my partner and I live down to the mundane details. For example, today my partner is spending the day at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles getting his license renewed because as a foreign national he has to get his license renewed more frequently than citizens or legal residents. He also has to go to the BMV in DC for foreign nationals which normally has a much longer wait than other BMVs. One of the most important differences this would make would be that my partner and I would not have to worry about him getting a work visa in order to stay here. It is extremely unnerving to think that if he lost his job and couldn't find another employer to sponsor his visa he would be deported to India.

Most importantly, the Reuniting Families Act would be a tremendous step toward the equal rights that gay couples deserve. There is no reason why my partner and I or any other gay couples should be discriminated against because of our sexual orientation. We should all be accorded the same fundamental right to choose our own relationships.

FCNL has taken the lead among faith-based organizations in lobbying for the Reuniting Families Act. I am so thankful to work for an organization that is working for my rights. As a matter of fact, FCNL hosted the press conference with Rep. Honda for the release of the bill. To find out more about the work of FCNL on this issue, check out our immigration blog--"Immigration: It's Our Community."

Monday, June 22, 2009

Last Week: In Our Community

We are a little behind because of Alex's trip to New Mexico, but we've done our best to catch up today. Stories below come from as far back as June 5, all the way up to news from this past weekend.

The Transitional Records Access Clearinghouse reported last week that a shortage of immigration judges has led to a 19 percent increase in backlog of pending immigration cases since 2006 and a 23 percent increase case resolution time. TRAC reports that only 4 more judges have been hired since August 2006, despite the fact that 351,477 cases were received in 2008. At the end of the fiscal year 2008, 186,342 immigration cases were still pending. A few hundred of those affected by lengthy backlogs will be relieved to hear that the new administration has decided to temporarily suspend the policy of deporting widows of U.S. citizens, at least until they tackle immigration policy on a larger scale.

Similarly, a new study conducted by Appleseed, a non-profit advocating for reform of the justice system, reports that low levels of professionalism accompanied by a lack of law clerks has indeed bogged the immigration courts down and obstructed justice for many. The study reports that a mere .0155% of immigration cases involve terrorism or national security concerns, and cases involving any type of criminal behavior amounts to 13% of all cases heard.

Of particular interest to us at FCNL and other faith-based advocacy groups across the nation: Benjamin Knoll, a graduate student at the University of Iowa has arrived at an interesting conclusion in his master's thesis. Knoll has found that the more often people say they attend worship services, the more likely they will have a liberal attitude towards immigration reform.

Also last week, America Fraternity, a Miami nonprofit, held a birthday party for 10-year-old Ronald Soza, who is suing President Barack Obama. Soza, along with 100 other U.S citizens whose parents face deportation, is asking the courts to halt the deportation of their parents until Congress overhauls America's current immigration policy.

On Wednesday, religious leaders with ties to immigrant communities met in Washington and held a prayer vigil in anticipation of President Obama's meeting on immigration scheduled for this week.

Jacqueline Stevens from 'The Nation,' reports from Arizona, where she attempts to gain entry to clandestine deportation hearings. In order to watch deportation proceedings in Eloy, Arizona, a member of the public must submit to a 2 week pre-screening background check, which is bloated with many bureaucratic steps.

Amnesty International reports on human rights abuses in detention facilities, including physical violence, deprivation of legal assistance, substandard medical care and use of restraints. Across this country, ICE houses more than 30,000 detainees each night for a myriad of reasons in substandard living conditions. A compelling case in point comes to us from Atlanta, where on June 11 activists from Georgia Detention Watch conducted a vigil for Roberto Martinez Medina, 39, who died on March 11 in a Georgia Detention Center. There was no investigation into Medina's death. ICE reported that he died of "apparent natural causes." In spite of this, ICE has plans to build a new 1,500-inmate federal immigration prison in Arizona this year. The construction of this new prison will help ICE detain almost 440,000 immigrants this year, up from 311,000 in 2008, reports the ACLU.

The U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services signed a contract with a Union County, NJ juvenile detention center which would house 15 undocumented immigrant minors with criminal records. The facility would provide a secure setting for the young men, ages 12-17.

The Tenneseean ran a story last week about Irving Palomo, a U.S. Citizen of Mexican descent who gained his citizenship from the little-known 'citizenship-by-derivation' clause. After 15 days where he was taken 264 miles from home against his will, Palomo was released and told to find his own way back to Nashville. Another personal story comes to us from the San Antonio Express-News, where Rama Carty, 39, a legal permanent U.S. resident in detention for a drug charge, faces deportation to Haiti, a country he has never been to. Carty was born in the Republic of Congo to Haitian parents, and was transferred to another detention center after his outspoken complaints about conditions in his detention center spurred an investigation of the facility by Amnesty International. Outside the gates of Rama Carty's detention center, one unidentified person conducts a hunger strike.

In an uplifting story of family reunification, a Sudanese family reunites in Brooklyn.

Last but not least, a 'desktop raid' in California leaves workers devastated and jobless.
Thanks for reading!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Faith Leaders Announce Support for the Reuniting Families Act

Rabbi, Quaker, United Methodists and Eucharistic Minister Call on Congress to Uphold Family Unity

Washington, D.C. – Today, several leaders from diverse faith denominations joined with Congressman Mike Honda at a telephone press conference to announce their support of his bill, the Reuniting Families Act (H.R. 2709). If enacted, this bill would implement critically needed reforms to the U.S. family immigration system and restore family unity as a fundamental principle of U.S. immigration policy. At least 10 mainstream faith organizations support this bill.

“Family is the fundamental unit in society through which individuals are able to grow and experience the love of God,” said Joe Volk, Executive Secretary of the Friends Committee on National Legislation. “As people of faith, we are given hope by Congressman Honda’s introduction of the Reuniting Families Act. The passage of this bill would offer pragmatic solutions to a broken system and ensure that families are reunited in a timely and humane manner.”

The Reuniting Families Act, introduced on June 4, 2009, reforms the U.S. family immigration system to end the lengthy separation of loved ones, promote family stability, and foster economic growth. There are 5.8 million people caught in the backlog of family immigration cases waiting unconscionable periods of time to reunite with their relatives. The current immigration system has not been updated in 20 years – keeping spouses, children, and their parents separated for years and often decades, despite the fact that the family has played by the rules. The Reuniting Families Act takes important steps toward fixing the broken family immigration system by reducing wait times for legal immigrants and ending discrimination against same-sex, permanent partners and their families.

“The United States is based on family values,” said Congressman Honda. “Upholding family is the American thing to do.”

This sentiment was echoed by other faith leaders during the conference. “The fair treatment of the stranger, the sojourner, the immigrant is a core concern of biblical religions and the Bible itself. This is part of the reason why we who are Christians care so much about this legislation,” said Rev. Dean Snyder of the United Methodist Church. “Keeping spouses, children and their parents separated for years and often decades is unnecessary and unacceptable.”

“For the Jewish community, immigration is a core concern. So rarely have we been accepted openly, yet this is one country that did,” said Rabbi David Saperstein of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. “We came for love of our families, to create for them the life that families deserve. To have an immigration system that tears and keeps families apart is counterproductive.”

Shirley Tan, a Filipina and Eucharistic minister from the Good Shephard Catholic Church in Pacifica, California, also shared her personal story of getting caught in the broken family immigration system. “Our lives were almost perfect until January 28, 2009 when Immigration and Customs agents came to our door. I was handcuffed and taken away like a criminal,” she said. “My partner and my children are all US citizens, yet none of them can petition for me to stay in the United States.”

Rev. Bud Heckman of the World Conference of Religions for Peace concluded by stating, “Why should religious communities speak up about this issue? Because immigrants and their families are also people of faith.”

The faith leaders expressed their hopes that the Reuniting Families Act will be included in a broader comprehensive immigration reform bill this fall.

For information:

# # #

The Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) is the oldest registered religious lobby in Washington, DC. Founded in 1943 by members of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), FCNL staff and volunteers work with a nationwide network of tens of thousands of people from many different races, religions, and cultures to advocate social and economic justice, peace, and good government. FCNL is a nonpartisan 501(c)4 public interest lobby.

ADVISORY: FCNL Hosts Press Conference With Congressman Mike Honda

Hey all...sorry I've been MIA for a week. I was out in New Mexico with Intermountain Yearly Meeting (a yearly Quaker gathering of sorts). And then came back and had to catch up on all the madness I had missed in Washington last week.

But out of this madness has come something really exciting.

Today, FCNL will host a press conference with Congressman Mike Honda to talk about his bill, the Reuniting Families Act (H.R. 2709). On the call will be our executive director Joe Volk, Rev. Dean Snyder of the United Methodists Church, Rabbi Saperstein of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and Rev. Bud Heckman from World Religions for Peace. We'll also hear from Shirley Tan, a Filipina woman who will tell her own story of dealing with the broken family immigration system.

I'll update you after the conference, but for now, check out the press advisory!


Contacts: Alexandra Douglas 202.903.2513/
- or - Caroline Anderson 202.903.2516

For Immediate Release

June 18th media call includes Rabbi, Quaker, United Methodists


WHAT: Introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives on June 4, 2009, the Reuniting Families Act (H.R. 2709) is landmark legislation, sponsored by Congressman Mike Honda (CA-15), addressing a broad range of obstacles families encounter in their efforts to remain together under U.S. immigration law. The bill contains practical solutions for reducing family visa backlogs and promoting humane and timely reunification of immigrant families.

WHO: Congressman Honda will be joined by Joe Volk, Executive Secretary of the Friends Committee on National Legislation. Other participants will include Reverend Dean Snyder from the United Methodist Church, Rabbi David Saperstein from the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and Reverend Donald “Bud” Heckman from the World -Conference of Religions for Peace. The call with also feature Shirley Tan, a Filipina and Eucharistic minister from Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Pacifica, California. Shirley will share her compelling story, including the overwhelming support she received from her pastor and faith community after being threatened with deportation and separation from her partner of 23 years and their 12-year-old twin sons.

WHY: There are 5.8 million people caught in the backlog of family immigration cases waiting unconscionable periods of time to reunite with their relatives. The current family-based immigration system has not been updated in 20 years – keeping spouses, children and their parents separated for years and often decades, despite the fact that the family has played by the rules. The Reuniting Families Act takes important steps toward fixing our broken family immigration system by reducing wait times for legal immigrants and ending discrimination against same-sex, permanent partners and their families.

WHEN: Thursday, June 18, 2009 at 10:15 AM [EST]

WHERE: Via Conference Call – To dial-in, call 480-629-9868 (or toll free at 1-888-561-1721) The conference ID is 4096721


The Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) is the oldest registered ecumenical lobby in Washington, DC. Founded in 1943 by members of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), FCNL staff and volunteers work with a nationwide network of tens of thousands of people from many different races, religions, and cultures to advocate social and economic justice, peace, and good government. FCNL is a nonpartisan 501(c)4 public interest lobby.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

An Important Announcement from the Department of Homeland Security

DHS announced yesterday that they will not be deporting widows and widowers of U.S. citizens for the next two years who have been waiting for their family-based visa petitions to be adjudicated by DHS/CIS. DHS also called for legislation to address this unfortunate predicament. Senators Menendez (D-NJ) and Gillibrand (D-NY) have weighed in with their support of DHS' decision, and have introduced legislation building upon these new rules.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

News Flash: Reid Says Immigration Reform Still in His Top Three Priorities

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said today that just behind healthcare and climate legislation, immigration reform is his top priority.

He said:

“I am not going to deal with immigration on a piecemeal basis. It has to be comprehsensive...We need to have a pathway to legalization for those people. I believe what we need to do is to have penalties and fines. I think they have to learn English, stay out of trouble, pay their taxes. Then they don’t go to the head of the line, they go to the back of the line. But at least that keeps them so that they are not subject to arrest and can be more productive than they are today.”"

Honda Introduces a Key Component of Comprehensive Immigration Reform

As I type, Representative Mike Honda is holding a press conference announcing the introduction of a key component of comprehensive immigration reform: the Reuniting Families Act.

The Reuniting Families Act takes important steps in helping immigrant families reunite more quickly by ending backlogs that create unconscionable wait periods and helping protect families from being separated.

At FCNL, we see family as the bedrock of U.S. society and believe that it is critical in the development of healthy individuals and strong communities. Immigration policies should make expeditious family reunification a top priority and should include all families as part of that foundation which holds our communities together. It is atrocious that our current system requires siblings of US citizens to wait between 10 and 22 years to be reunited and that the children and spouses of permanent residents must wait as long as seven years to legally come to the United States. Families should be together.

We are also pleased that Rep. Honda's bill upholds the rights of both same-sex and opposite-sex partners. Under current immigration law, LGBT persons cannot sponsor their foreign born partners for immigration, no matter how long they have been together or how committed their relationship, even though U.S. immigration law is based on the principle of “family unification.” This is simply a matter of unequal treatment and clearly a matter of civil rights. We applaud Rep. Honda for this attempt to reverse years of discrimination against LGBT people in immigration law.

The Reuniting Families Act goes a long way in righting the injustices of the current family immigration system and moves towards keeping families together. Thank you, Rep. Honda!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

800 Gather for the Reform Immigration for America Campaign Summit

Yesterday, the Reform Immigration for America campaign kicked off its national summit with over 800 people attending. I was around in the morning to talk with the New Sanctuary Movement, but let me tell you, you could feel the energy in that place. The crowd was going wild about speeches by Representative Gutierrez and William McNery, President of US Action.

Check out this video they just put up to get a flavor of the Summit:

Uniting American Families--Equally and Fairly

This morning, the Senate Committee on the Judiciary held its first ever hearing on LBGT discrimination in family immigration law.

The hearing in particular examined the Uniting American Families Act (S.424), a bill which would afford equal rights to same-sex partnerships under U.S. immigration law by allowing U.S. citizens and permanent residents to petition for their foreign-born partners under the family immigration system. Testifying were two bi-national same sex couples--one who has been issued orders of deportation that would separate her from her partner of 23 years and her twin sons and another who has moved abroad to be with his partner. Also testifying was a representative of the American Bar Association.

To share a couple of the key points of the testimony:

Gordan Stewart, a man who sold his family farm in Vermont and moved to London where his partnership with a Brazilian man would be recognized said--

"The United States' discriminatory immigration laws have also affected my extended family. I am lucky to have five siblings. In August, I will attend my niece's wedding in California. It will be a big family reunion but my partner will not able to join us. Renato cannot even get a tourist visa to visit the US. Imagine what that means.

If I want to be with my family for important occasions such as weddings, graduations, Thanksgiving, Christmas and the recent baptism of my godchild, I have to travel alone and leave Renato in London. Or if we want to celebrate an important occasion together, it is usually the two of us alone, far away from our family and close friends.

Recently, when my sister was diagnosed with cancer, Renato could not travel with me to visit her and I could not spend as much time with her as I wanted because I live and work in London. That is the reality of our life together.

Last year, I reluctantly and sadly sold our family farm in Goshen, Vermont because I cannot vacation there with Renato. Our family had the farm from when I was 6 years old, and our parents both died and were buried there. Imagine what it is like to own a property to which you cannot travel with your partner. It is impossible to maintain a 19th century farmhouse from the other side of the Atlantic. That is the reality of American immigration law for couples like us."

Shirley Tan, a Phillipino woman married to a US citizen who has two twin boys and cares for her partner's elderly mother shared--

"Our lives, I can say without any doubt, were almost perfect until the morning of January 28, 2009. That morning, at 6:30 a.m., Immigration Custom Enforcement agents showed up at my door. They were looking for a "Mexican girl," and, having nothing to fear, Jay did not think twice about allowing them into our home when they asked permission to search it. It turned out they were really looking for me.

The agents showed me a piece of paper, which was a 2002 deportation letter, which I informed them I had never seen. Before I knew it, I was handcuffed and taken away, like a criminal, as Jay's frail mother watched in hysterics. I was put into a van with two men in yellow jump suits and chains and searched like a criminal, in a way I have only seen on television and in the movies.

All the while my family was first and foremost the center of everything on my mind.

How would Jay work and take care of the kids if I was not there?

Who would continue to take care of Jay's ailing mother, the mother I had come to love, if I was not there?

Who would be there for my family if I was not there?

In an instant, my family, my American family, was being ripped away from me.

And when I did return home, I had an ankle monitoring bracelet. I went to great lengths to hide it from my children.

I have a partner who is a U.S. citizen, and two beautiful children who are also U.S. citizens, but not one of them can petition for me to remain in the United States with them. Because my partner is not a man, she cannot do anything to help me. Nor can my children, who keep asking why this happened to us and what will ultimately happen to our family.

Passage of the Uniting American Families Act, UAFA, will not only benefit me, but the thousands of people who are also in the same situation as I am. And so I respectfully submit to the committee today that changing the immigration laws of this country to include permanent partners will serve in the long run to keep families like ours together. Americans will be able to live at home with their partners rather than living in fear or in exile."

One of the most encouraging points of the hearing was the emphasis that this bill is simply a matter of civil rights. As Senator Russ Feingold quoted the American Bar Association as saying, "The current failure to recognize same-sex permanent partnerships for immigration purposes is cruel and unnecessary." Senator Patrick Leahy said "unequivocally that the issue of gay rights is an issue of civil rights." He then quoted Chairman Bond as saying, "Gay and lesbian rights are not special rights in any way. It isn't 'special' to be free from discrimination. It is an ordinary, universal entitlement of citizenship."

FCNL applauds Senator Patrick Leahy for holding this hearing. To read the written testimony that we submitted for the hearing, click HERE.