May 25, 2013

Immigration reform effort falls short, Leahy says

The Vermont senator says Republicans vowed to scuttle the bill if it included his amendment.

The Associated Press

MONTPELIER, Vt. – Sen. Patrick Leahy said Friday he was disappointed that he was unsuccessful in his bid to amend immigration reform legislation to protect same-sex couples in which one of the partners is foreign-born.

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Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., holds a news conference on Friday, May 24, 2013 in Montpelier, Vt. Leahy says reforming the U.S. immigration system requires a comprehensive, rather than a piecemeal, approach.The Vermont Democrat’s comments came three days after the Senate Judiciary Committee, which Leahy chairs, approved a package including a path to citizenship for an estimated 11 million people in the country illegally. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot)

Activists on the issue, including a Vermont man whose Brazilian partner has been barred from visiting the United States, said they were outraged.

At a news conference, Leahy, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Republicans made it clear they would scuttle a comprehensive immigration reform bill approved by the committee this week rather than include provisions to help bi-national, same-sex couples.

"It's hard for me to look at two couples in Vermont, both legally married, (and) say to one, 'We can help you with your immigration problems,' but to the other one, 'Sorry, the law requires us to discriminate against you.' But the Republicans made very clear that they would defeat the whole immigration bill if that amendment was in there," Leahy said.

Steve Rawls, spokesman for Immigration Equality, a Washington-based group that has been pushing the issue, had high praise for Leahy on Friday, but the opposite for other Democrats.

"We expected Republican opposition, but we also expected other Democrats to stand with Senator Leahy and pledge their support for our families," Rawls said. "And the fact they didn't was just disgraceful."

He said other Democratic committee members, Sens. Charles Schumer of New York, Diane Feinstein of California, Richard Durbin of Illinois and Al Franken of Minnesota each urged Leahy to withdraw his amendment.

"To see senator after senator tell Chairman Leahy they did not want him to offer his amendment for a vote was a betrayal of the promises and pledges that many of those senators had made to our families," Rawls said.

The praise for Leahy and anger at the others was shared by Michael Upton, a South Hero-based psychiatrist who said he has to leave the country to see the man he wants to marry, Jandui Cavalcante of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

The men met in Rio in 2008, Upton said, but Cavalcante has been barred since then from traveling to the United States, with federal immigration authorities expressing fear in a letter that he would overstay a tourist visa to stay with Upton. A letter from the U.S. consulate in Rio to a New York congressman who was working on the case cited Cavalcante's "unclear relationship with U.S. citizen Michael Upton."

"I've had to completely change my life," the 49-year-old Upton said, adding that he had changed jobs to one that could accommodate his traveling to see Cavalcante. At his family's urging, he followed through with plans for a trip to Brazil in March, even though his father was dying from brain cancer, he said.


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