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Susskind: In Immigration Debate, LGBT Issues Must Not Take Back Seat

American Jews have been deeply involved in nearly every social justice movement this nation has seen. Emma Lazarus sounded the clarion call of America as a welcoming nation of immigrants with the words “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

At one pivotal point in American history, Rabbi Joachim Prinz, then president of the American Jewish Congress, spoke these words at the 1963 March on Washington: “I speak to you as an American Jew. As Americans we share the profound concern of millions of people about the shame and disgrace of inequality and injustice which make a mockery of the great American idea.”

At Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice, we are the heirs to these prophetic voices and to thousands of years of Jewish commitment to justice and equality. Today, our continued struggle for justice and equality demands that we speak out on behalf of a just immigration system that includes equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans and their families.

American’s, both Democrat and Republican, all agree on the centrality of the family. Many of those same Americans also believe that loved ones should not be unnecessarily separated and that family reunification should be a priority in our overhaul of the immigration system. This basic belief in the sanctity of the family and the human right to be together should be extended to gay and lesbian Americans with the full equality under the law that they and their families deserve.

The Uniting American Families Act, introduced by Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., has already garnered bipartisan support from Republican Reps. Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania and Richard Hanna of New York, as well as support from nearly all of the House Democratic leadership. It would allow U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents with a same-sex partner the same ability as any other American or legal resident to seek a visa on the basis of a permanent relationship and to bring their families together. In other words, just because your spouse is the same sex, you should have the same rights if they were the opposite sex.

It should be noted that the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, and of course President Barack Obama have all included LGBT equality in their immigration proposals.

Support for equal recognition of LGBT Americans and their families is not limited to politicians in Washington D.C. In 2012, four states — Maryland, Washington, Maine and Minnesota — had marriage equality initiatives on the ballot. In all four states, the best face of America shined forth as equality was defended and affirmed.

Bend the Arc prioritizes family reunification because it is the right and moral thing to do. Strong families helped build the kind of nation we believe ourselves to be and aspire to remain. LGBT Americans, as an integral part of our national family, share these same hopes and aspirations and deserve these same rights.

Sadly, it has often been the voices of those claiming to speak for people of faith who have opposed granting legal recognition to LGBT families. But now people from across our religious traditions, from different political parties and from every part of America are coming together to declare that we hold this truth to be self-evident, all families are created equal and should be treated as such.

The American people have been through this before. We’ve had laws on the books about who could get married to who, whose marriage we would recognize and whose we would invalidate. But as a nation and as a people we learned, we grew and we changed. Little by little, we have bent the arc of history toward justice.

Now is the time for our elected officials to stand on the side of justice, our Constitution and families everywhere by supporting the inclusion of the Uniting American Families Act within our new immigration process.

As the great Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said after marching arm in arm with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: “When I marched in Selma, my legs were praying.” Today we are once again called upon to march for justice.

Hadar Susskind is the Director of Bend the Arc Jewish Action, the advocacy arm of Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice.

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