Gay activists have hailed the reintroduction yesterday of the Uniting American Families Act.

The bill will allow US citizens and legal residents in same-sex relationships to sponsor their partners for immigration purposes.

One of the fundamental principles of U.S. immigration law is the notion of family unification.

Approximately 75% of the 1 million green cards or immigrant visas are currently issued to family members of U.S. citizens or permanent residents.

Same-sex couples are not recognised as families under U.S. immigration laws, and are unable to sponsor their partners.

“For too long Congress has ignored the heart-wrenching real life consequences this policy has had on same-sex couples in committed, lifelong relationships,” said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese.

“Thousands of same-sex couples are separated or live in constant fear of being stopped by officials who demand to see documentation and threaten detention.”

The Uniting American Families Act applies the same standards to same-sex couples that the United States applies to opposite-sex couples where one member is seeking to bring a foreign partner into the country.

“Dividing loving families, simply because they are gay or lesbian, is un-American,” said Rachel Tiven, executive director of Immigration Equality.

“We call on Congress to end the very real separation that thousands of same-sex couples and their families must endure because of this unequal treatment by our immigration system.

“Our immigration laws treat gays and lesbians in committed relationships as second-class citizens.

“This injustice needs to change. It is the right thing to do for the people involved, it is the sensible step to take in the interest of having a fair and consistent policy.

“I hope that Congress will act to help demonstrate our nation’s commitment to equality under the law.”

In many cases, binational same-sex couples face prosecution, hefty fines and deportations by the Immigration and Naturalisation Service.

As a result, many U.S. citizens must often emigrate with their partners and families to countries with more fair-minded immigration laws.

“We have struggled so hard to play by the rules,” states Kelly McGowan, a U.S. citizen who, along with her partner Natalie Fuz, a French citizen who competes internationally for the United States in kickboxing tournaments, is affected by the current immigration policy.

“If Natalie were not so talented we would be out of options and be forced abroad. It’s great that her abilities have helped us remain in the U.S. together, but I know so many talented people who have been forced to leave the country because of these discriminatory laws. It’s such a waste.”

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