Friday, December 23, 2005

New Bill Makes Felons of Binational Couples

(Link) Republicans are pushing a bill that would criminalize the US half of binational couples -- particularly those who can't marry their partners and make 'em legal spouses. "If a U.S. citizen were living with [an undocumented] partner, he or she could be subject to criminal prosecution, imprisonment, mandatory foreclosure of homes or assets."


LNewsEditor said...

JIC Post:
By Elizabeth Weill-Greenberg
Washington Blade

A bill that has already passed the House could make aggravated felons out of binational gay couples where one partner is an undocumented immigrant.

The Border Protection, Antiterrorism & Illegal Immigration Control Act, sponsored by Republican Congressmen James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin and Peter King of New York, passed the House by a vote of 239-182.

There is no companion bill in the Senate, but it could be tacked on to any of several Senate immigration bills.

The White House supports the House measure in principle, along with a new guest worker program that allows some undocumented aliens to enter the country temporarily to work.

The bill criminalizes undocumented immigrants and those who help them. It makes "unlawful presence," now a civil immigration violation, into a crime enforceable by state and local police. Under the House bill, once a person is convicted of unlawful presence, the immigration system considers it an aggravated felony, which bars them from seeking asylum and subjects them to mandatory detention.

An immigrant could fall under the unlawful presence provision one day after a visa expires. Student immigrants are at risk if they fall below required course loads. And green card carriers who move and fail to notify immigration services of a change of address also face punishment under the law, said Sarah Sohn, legal fellow with Immigration Equality.

Criminalizing binational couples?

The bill broadens the category of "smuggling" so it could include family members, partners, church volunteers, health care workers, friends and lawyers. Smuggling is a felony punishable by five years in prison and forfeiture of assets.

"If a U.S. citizen were living with [an undocumented] partner, he or she could be subject to criminal prosecution, imprisonment, mandatory foreclosure of homes or assets," said Sohn.

Debanuj Dasgupta, a board member of the Queer Immigrant Rights Project, said he fears that the smuggling provision could even extend to his organization's support groups.

The bill would likely push undocumented workers further underground, making them more vulnerable to exploitation and blackmail, according to advocates for gay immigrants of color and HIV-positive immigrants.

Emilio, a Venezuelan immigrant and his American partner, Tom, said if the House bill became law it would rock their already precarious situation.

"It makes us aggravated felons," Tom said. "It scares me that my government could seize my assets because I'm in love with someone."

Emilio and Tom asked that only their first names be used because they are still going through the immigration process.

The entire process has cost them $15,000, money many immigrants don't have.

"There are so many issues I have to face if I get out of the closet in Venezuela," he told the Blade in a telephone interview. "Troubles with neighbors, on the street, harassed by police."

If Tom and Emilio were a straight couple, they could marry and Emilio could stay legally. But there are no accommodations for gay couples in immigration law. U.S. Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) sponsored the Uniting American Families Act, which lets gay couples stay in the U.S.

Sensenbrenner's bill "takes all gay and lesbian couples, one of whom is a foreigner, unless they're here as legal immigrants, which is often not the case, and makes criminals of both of them," said Nadler.

A spokesperson with FAIR, a conservative immigration organization that supports the bill, said it would help immigrant workers and strengthen national security. Most importantly, the bill requires employers to verify employees' immigration status, spokesperson Jack Martin said.

"We think it would usher in a period in which employers are increasingly weaned off of exploiting illegal aliens, and wages and working conditions for the poorest would increase," said Martin.

badphairy said...

Can we criminalize being a Republican?