Frequently Asked Questions
FAQs about the Uniting American Families Act
What is the Uniting American Families Act?
The Uniting American Families Act ("UAFA" and formerly known as the Permanent Partners Immigration Act or "PPIA") is a bill that if passed, would provide a mechanism under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) to allow U.S. citizens (USCs) and legal permanent residents (LPRs) in binational same-sex relationships to sponsor their foreign born partner for immigration benefits to the U.S.
How is a permanent partnership defined?
Under the UAFA, to qualify as a permanent partner, a person must be able to show: (a) a relationship with another adult in which both parties intend a life-long commitment; (b) financial interdependence; (c) exclusivity; (d) inability to marry in a manner that is "cognizable" under the INA; and (e) absence of close blood relationship.
Why is the UAFA necessary?
One of the primary objectives of the INA is to encourage family unification. Like any other non-citizen, a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender individual may immigrate to the U.S. as the parent of a USC or the child or sibling of a USC or LPR. But being someone's parent, child, or sibling is an incident of birth beyond the individual's control. Thus, gay and lesbian immigration rights for same sex binational couples focuses on the spousal (partnership) relationship, which is the primary relationship adult individuals can enter voluntarily. Many adult gay and lesbian individuals fall in love with a foreign national of the same sex and seek to build a life and family with that individual. U.S. immigration law does not recognize same-sex relationships, however, and this discriminatory practice often forces the couple to separate or move abroad in order to stay together. The UAFA seeks to fulfill the promise of family unification in the U.S. immigration system by extending immigration eligibility to the foreign-born partners of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent resident partners.
Is a permanent partnership equivalent to marriage?
A permanent partnership is not equivalent to marriage. The UAFA does not seek to add same sex couples to the category of spouse in the INA. Instead, it creates a new category of relationship, permanent partnership, which is recognized under the INA. Although an application for permanent partner status under the INA would be subjected to the same intense scrutiny as a marriage-based application, a successful application would confer no benefits other than immigration status for the foreign national. Permanent partnership is therefore analogous to local domestic partnerships that only confer limited, enumerated rights to the couple, such as the ability to include a domestic partner on a health insurance policy.
If a permanent partnership is not a marriage, isn't fraud more likely?
No. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), currently charged with enforcing U.S. immigration laws, will be able to apply the same standards that it applies to marriages in determining whether a permanent partnership is genuine. Permanent partners, like married couples, would be required to prove emotional and financial commitment through documentation such as: jointly owned property; shared child custody; joint bank accounts; joint credit cards; shared insurance policies; evidence of a commitment ceremony; and photographs of shared vacations and holidays with extended family. Applicants for permanent partnership benefits would face the same rigorous "green card" interview as married couples. If the interviewer suspects fraud, the couple would be required to complete a second more rigorous interview in which the couple is questioned separately and the interviewer determines whether the answers are sufficiently consistent. Criminal penalties and deportation for fraud provide an increased deterrent against sham marriages, and they should do the same to deter against sham permanent partnerships.
Moreover, as with any family-based petition for immigration benefits, the sponsoring USC or LPR will be required to submit an Affidavit of Support on behalf of her or his partner. The Affidavit of Support is a binding contract between the sponsor and the government which permits the government to sue the sponsor if the immigrant accesses means-based benefits before working for an aggregate 40 quarters (generally, ten years) or becoming a U.S. citizen. The Affidavit of Support provides another strong deterrent against fraud. Finally, like married couples, partners who have been together for two years or less are only eligible to apply for conditional residence. Conditional residency requires an additional interview with immigration officials at the end of the two-year conditional status to show that the couple is still together and that the relationship was indeed bona fide. Conditional residency is another deterrent against fraud.
Why not sue for immigration benefits for same sex couples?
Congress has virtually limitless power to make decisions about who can immigrate to the U.S. This is an area of law in which the courts almost always defer to the wishes of Congress and almost never extends immigrants' rights.
Why support the UAFA rather than full marriage recognition for gay men and lesbians?
We believe they are not exclusive. Immigration Equality supports the movement for marriage equality in the U.S. and has signed a letter in opposition to the Federal Marriage Amendment, a Congressional Joint Resolution that seeks to amend the U.S. Constitution by defining a marriage as between one man and one woman. We believe that this proposed amendment is mean-spirited, discriminatory, and an affront to the dignity of every gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender person in the U.S. We advocate for passage of the UAFA because we believe that a legislative alternative directed at obtaining immigration benefits is the best way to achieve immigration benefits for the foreign national same-sex partners of USCs and LPRs. Only the federal government can make and change U.S. immigration laws. Thus, nothing short of federal recognition of same-sex marriages or partnerships would suffice to confer immigration benefits, because of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) passed in 1996 and signed into law by President Clinton. DOMA states that the federal government recognizes only marriages contracted between one man and one woman and that no state need recognize a same-sex marriage contracted in another state. We believe strongly that the federal government will one day recognize same-sex marriage, but we also believe that federal recognition of same-sex marriages is first going to have to overcome DOMA. A challenge to DOMA is likely to come and likely to succeed, but we have decided that we cannot wait for this challenge to succeed. The federal government should recognize same-sex relationships for immigration purposes immediately and the UAFA provides this ability.