President Obama spoke out on immigration soon after being reelected to the highest office of this nation. With support from both parties, he plans to chart the course to common-sense immigration policies. It is a profound moment in our country's history. His call to unite immigrant families goes hand in hand with his historic support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people and our families.
As a pastor and the leader of Metropolitan Community Churches (MCC), a denomination with members on almost every continent, I know firsthand how important these policies are. From a biblical perspective, I remember that Jesus and his parents were refugees in Egypt when he was a child. Welcoming strangers and foreigners has a bold place in the Bible. Moses and Abraham, Ruth and Naomi, and so many other sojourners were strangers in a strange land -- and were lifted up.
Today, the majority of families affected by the immigration proposal are Hispanic, but President Obama's outspoken support for marriage equality is a good sign that, in the long run, all couples, regardless of gender, will be included in immigration policies and practices. The deportation of spouses of the same gender will stop.
In the short run, to move forward on fair immigration, DOMA must fall. The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) blocks all chances of equality for same-gender couples, because no federal benefits can be granted to any couple except a dual-gender couple. Until then, same-gender couples who are immigrants to the United States face deportation or exile. When spouses see no other option, they follow their loved one out of the country and into exile.
President Obama and members of Congress are talking to each other -- and we vociferously applaud this -- but common-sense immigration policies must recognize all families. When immigrants contribute to this country, its economy, its defense and its intellectual capital, they should be treated with respect and given a place at the table, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.
ABC reports that Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has prioritized the deportation of violent offenders and is avoiding the deportation of some same-sex partners. Still, ColorLines reports that a coalition of 50 LGBT and immigration advocacy groups asked President Obama to announce an official freeze on deportations of LGBT people until DOMA can be decided, but no action has been taken.
We need to move forward. Another strategy is to support the Uniting American Families Act, introduced in 2011 by Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.). The bill would allow citizens to sponsor their non-citizen partner for residency without waiting for DOMA to be overturned; rather, same-gender couples in a committed relationship could apply for residency, even if not married.
American values of patriotism, fairness, equality and diversity are at the core of these proposed shifts in immigration policy. As people of faith, we are called to mercy, compassion, justice and love for the sojourner. These core values call us to greatness, as both citizens and believers.