One of the major differences between President Obama's immigration reform proposal and the one announced by the "Group of Eight" Senators is that the president's proposal would grant green cards to spouses in same sex marriages. According to a February 2 article in the Washington Post, In immigration debate, same sex marriage comes to the fore, this could allow up to 40,000 people in same sex marriages to apply for green cards. The Senate Group of Eight's proposal has no such provision.
Predictably, the proposal to grant legal immigration status to people in same sex marriages has aroused strong opposition, especially from Republicans and some religious groups. According to the above WP article, some Congressional Republicans are warning that the proposal to recognize same sex marriage for immigration purposes could be a deal-breaker for immigration reform.
Certainly, one would not have to look hard to see a cynical political advantage for the Republicans in forcing the president to choose between two groups of people who gave him strong support in last November's election - Latinos and gay rights supporters.
If President Obama holds out for granting immigration benefits to same sex couples, and this sinks immigration reform, he may have a lot of explaining to do to Latino voters in the 2014 election. On the other hand, if he caves in on same sex marriage rights in order to get a deal that would help millions of unauthorized Latino immigrants, he may lose GLBT support (though it is hard to see how members of this community could ever go over to the Republican side, as opposed to just staying home on election day).
According to the same article, not all gay activists are insisting on a reform proposal which would grant immigration benefits to people in same sex marriages. These (unidentified) activists are quoted as saying that even without a same sex marriage provision, a reform that legalizes unauthorized immigrants would benefit 700,000 people who are estimated to be gay.
However, if one looks at the two types of "deal-breakers" that some Republicans are threatening in order to sink immigration reform, a major difference in kind is apparent. The first of the threatened deal-breakers, namely granting full permanent residency (as opposed to an undefined "provisional", or "probationary" legal limbo), to unauthorized immigrants without first "completely" securing the Mexican border (which is impossible almost by definition) is at least ostensibly related to the goals of law enforcement and protecting American workers against low wage competition.*
(Of course, if anyone thinks that these are the real reasons for the Republicans'*obsession with finding the Holy Grail of "complete" border security, there is a bridge across the Rio Grande that I would be glad to sell you.)*
However, there is no law-enforcement or economic pretext whatsoever for denying immigration benefits to people in same sex marriages. These marriages are legal in the states which permit them, and it is well recognized that many GLBT people are among America's most successful economically.
There is only one reason to continue denying immigration benefits to spouses in same sex marriages - bigotry, pure and simple. The main point of immigration reform is to remedy racial bigotry against Latinos and other brown-skinned people which has been part of American culture from the beginning and still influences many people in one of our two major parties. Why remedy one kind of bigotry only, while perpetuating another, equally pernicious one - prejudice against gays?
Not only Latinos and gay rights supporters, but all Americans who oppose bigotry should hope that the president will stand his ground and not give into threats by the would be "deal-breakers".*
Roger Algase is a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School. He has been practicing business immigration law in New York City for more than 20 years.