Amid widespread national coverage of protests over United States immigration policy, two human rights organizations are turning a spotlight on the plight of bi-national gay and lesbian couples who are treated as “legal strangers” by US immigration.

Last May, Human Rights Watch and Immigration Equality released the report “Family, Unvalued: Discrimination, Denial, and the Fate of Bi-national Same-Sex Couples Under United States Law,” based on research conducted between 2003 and 2006.

“Our immigration laws are undermining the traditional American values of fairness and family,” said Rachel Tiven, executive director of Immigration Equality in a media statement. “United States immigration policy is designed to keep families together. But the current law targets an entire class of American families and tears them apart.”

The report notes that any LGBT partnership in which one of the partners is a foreign national is denied the opportunity to obtain the lawful permanent resident status that could be granted if he or she were heterosexual. These same-sex couples often live with the fear that at least one of the partners and/or their children could be deported.

The report offers detailed explanations of the effects that current immigration laws have on many bi-national same-sex couples in the United States, including:

“The fact that many families have been separated, such as in cases where one parent and the couple’s children are forced to live on different continents.”

“The federal government’s discriminatory anti-gay marriage law takes a severe financial and emotional toll on bi-national LGBT families. If the foreign national member of an LGBT couple is unable to legally obtain citizenship status, that person has to endure the stress of maintaining work visas or student visas in order to stay in the country. Also, many families living on separate continents incur severe debt due to the cost of travel and legal fees.”

“HIV-positive foreign nationals are denied entrance into the US without a special waiver. This includes HIV-positive LGBT people. The United States ban on HIV-positive foreign nationals prevents LGBT people who find out they are HIV-positive once living in the United States from successfully applying for permanent residency. Human Rights Watch notes that the Hagel-Martinez immigration compromise proposal would extend this ban.”

Scott Long, co-author of the report said: “Discriminatory United States immigration laws turn the American dream into a heartless nightmare for countless United States citizens and their foreign partners. As Congress debates immigration reforms, it should end discrimination against lesbian and gay immigrants as well as their United States partners.”

Gay and Lesbians Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) also commented on the report in a media statement issued this week. “As immigration reform becomes a focal point in our national debate, it’s vital for the media to share stories of those impacted by discriminatory immigration laws that threaten the safety and stability of bi-national LGBT families,” said their spokesperson Mónica Taher.