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Gay Former Congressman Lobbies for Immigration Equality

By Michelle Garcia

Former Rep. Jim Kolbe urged members of the Senate to include language allowing a path to citizenship for same-sex binational couples in a bill to reform immigration policies.

Kolbe, the second openly gay Republican to serve in Congress, was one of 20 people who who testified Monday before the Senate Judiciary Committee on proposals to reform American immigration policies, but he was the only person to specifically speak about the rights of gay and lesbian binational couples. He met his partner, Hector Alfonso, a Panamanian citizen who came to the U.S. as a Fulbright Scholar eight years ago.

However, the schools where Alfonso taught special education students, nor Kolbe, could provide sponsorship for Alfonso's green card.

"Despite being in a committed relationship and despite the fact that he remained in lawful status every day he had been here, Hector was forced to return to Panama when his work visa expired," Kolbe said in a prepared statement shared by Immigration Equality. "Our 12 month separation -- like that of any American from their spouse -- was painful."

Eventually, Alfonso obtained an additional visa after a long, expensive process, which Kolbe said is beyond the financial capabilities of most people.

"Our laws should not separate American citizens from their loved ones for such unacceptably long periods of time."

Kolbe and Alfonso have plans to marry on May 18 in Washington, D.C., but that still does not secure a path to citizenship or residential status that heterosexual couples have when they marry a foreign-born partner, because of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act.

"We are immensely fortunate that Hector has now secured an investment visa that allows him to remain here with me," he said. "Many other couples, however, are not as fortunate. Even if they, like us, have a marriage, civil union or life-long commitment to each other, their ability to secure a permanent solution that would allow them to build a home, family or business together is elusive and difficult to realize. It shouldn’t be that way, and this Committee has an opportunity to fix this problem."

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