Obama signals he would sign immigration bill that omits binational gay couples

Obama Costa Rica.jpg

President Barack Obama lowered expectations further for an LGBT-inclusive comprehensive immigration reform bill Friday evening, telling reporters he would not speculate on whether he would sign a bill that does not include provisions for binational same-sex couples.

During a joint press conference with President Laura Chinchilla of Costa Rica, Obama said that while he supports an immigration bill that provides protections for binational same-sex couples, he reiterated that no side will get everything it wants in the final bill.

“Now, the provision that you’ve discussed that Senator Leahy has talked about is one that I support, and I’ve said in the past that the LGBT community should be treated like everybody else,” Obama said. “That’s, to me, the essential, core principle behind our founding documents, the idea that we’re all created equal and that we’re equal before the law, and it’s applied fairly to everybody.” 

The Senate immigration bill unveiled by a bipartisan group of eights senators last month did not include provisions for same-sex couples, despite a fierce push from advocates and the backing of President Barack Obama. Under the Defense of Marriage Act, foreigners in relationships with Americans of the same sex are denied various protections, including eligibility for green cards, because the federal government does not recognize such relationships. Since that bill was introduced, Obama has downplayed expectations for an LGBT-inclusive final bill, stating that no one will be entirely satisfied with the compromise reached by Democrats and Republicans, including him.

“I think it’s premature for me to start talking about what I will or will not do before I get a final product since the road is going to be long and bumpy before I finally see an actual bill on my desk,” Obama said Friday, indicating he would still sign an immigration bill that does not include LGBT protections. “But I can tell you I think that the provision is the right thing to do.” 

Amid reports that Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, will tack on the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA), which would recognize immigrants in relationships with Americans of the same-sex, as an amendment to the 844-page immigration bill, key Senate Republicans have threatened to derail immigration reform.

“I can also tell you that I’m not going to get everything I want in this bill. Republicans are not going to get everything that they want in this bill,” Obama said, adding, “I think that this comprehensive immigration bill has the opportunity to do something historic that we have not done in decades. But I don’t expect that, after we’re finished with it, that people are going to say, there’s not a single problem that we have with our immigration system, any more than is true after any piece of legislation that we pass.”

[Image: Barack Obama at Friday's press conference in Costa Rica (Screenshot via YouTube).]

Read the full exchange here:

Q: Thank you, Mr. President. Senator Leahy is pushing for a bill on recognizing same-sex couples as part of the immigration bill. Are you concerned at all that that undermines the success of the package? And given that you made a point throughout your presidency to make clear that you don’t think LGTB Americans should be treated any differently, will you sign a bill that will do exactly that?

And for you, Madam President, is there any concern that the more — that by creating more stringent immigration standards could hamper the ability of Costa Ricans to emigrate to the U.S.? Thanks. 

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Lisa, I hope you don’t mind, before I answer your question I want to get back to Mark because I realize there was one clause in your question — sometimes you guys have a lot of clauses in your question — (laughter) — that I didn’t specifically answer, and I didn’t want anybody to extrapolate from that.

You asked about boots on the ground and whether we’ve ruled boots out on the ground in Syria. As a general rule, I don’t rule things out as Commander-in-Chief because circumstances change and you want to make sure that I always have the full power of the United States at our disposal to meet American national security interests.

Having said that, I do not foresee a scenario in which boots on the ground in Syria, American boots on the ground in Syria would not only be good for America, but also would be good for Syria. And by the way, when I consult with leaders in the region who are very much interested in seeing President Assad leave office and stabilizing the situation in Syria, they agree with that assessment.

So I just wanted to make sure that my omission there did not turn into a story.

To your question, Lisa, as I’ve indicated, I’ve got four broad criteria for immigration reform. I want to make sure that our border is secure and well regulated, in part so that we can get down to the business of smoothing trade and commerce across our borders and creating jobs in the United States, but also making sure that negative actors aren’t able to penetrate the United States.

Number two, cracking down on employers who are breaking the law. Number three, making sure we’ve got a legal immigration system that works better, smarter, and so what we can continue to attract the best and the brightest to the United States.

And by the way, when it comes to legal immigration, the issue here is not going to be stringency, per se. The issue is do we make the system more rational, more effective, better. If there are smart engineers and young people and scientists and students who are looking to emigrate to the United States from Costa Rica, then we want them to know that we’re a nation of immigrants. But we want to make sure that the legal process is in place so that it’s easier and simpler, but also more effective in managing the legal immigration process.

And finally, that we’ve got a pathway so that the 11 million or so undocumented workers inside the United States are able to pursue a tough, long, difficult, but fair path to legal status and citizenship. 

So those are my broad-based criteria. Now, the provision that you’ve discussed that Senator Leahy has talked about is one that I support, and I’ve said in the past that the LGBT community should be treated like everybody else. That’s, to me, the essential, core principle behind our founding documents, the idea that we’re all created equal and that we’re equal before the law, and it’s applied fairly to everybody.

And so Senator Leahy may present this provision in committee. It may be presented on the floor. It will be one of many amendments and provisions that are presented, some of which I’ll support, some of which I’ll think are really bad ideas. And I think that the general principle for me is are we advancing, are we improving the immigration system — because ultimately this is an immigration bill.

And we’ll evaluate the end-product. I think it’s premature for me to start talking about what I will or will not do before I get a final product since the road is going to be long and bumpy before I finally see an actual bill on my desk. But I can tell you I think that the provision is the right thing to do.

I can also tell you that I’m not going to get everything I want in this bill. Republicans are not going to get everything that they want in this bill. But if we keep focused on what our main aim is here — which is creating a smart, effective immigration system that allows us to be a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants — then we’re going to be in a position to not only improve our economy and what’s happening inside the United States, we’re going to I think have a much stronger relationship with the region and that’s going to help enhance our economy and jobs and our growth over the long term. 

And, last point I’ll make, as is true with every bill, if there are things that end up being left out in this bill, or things that I want to take out of a bill, but if it’s meeting those core criteria around a comprehensive immigration bill that I’m looking for, then we go back at it and we fix what’s not there and we continually improve what’s been presented.

I think that this comprehensive immigration bill has the opportunity to do something historic that we have not done in decades. But I don’t expect that, after we’re finished with it, that people are going to say, there’s not a single problem that we have with our immigration system, any more than is true after any piece of legislation that we pass. 

Well, thank you very much everybody. Muchas gracias.

Justin Snow is Metro Weekly's political editor and White House correspondent. He can be reached at jsnow@metroweekly.com.

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