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Longtime Ally, former Rep. Jim Kolbe, Testifies For LGBT Inclusive Immigration Reform

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Today, former Congressman Jim Kolbe gave powerful testimony at the Senate Judiciary Committee about the need to make sure the immigration reform legislation includes all families, including his own. The “Gang of Eight” bill did not include the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA), which has the support of America’s Voice and many of our allies. From TPM’s Benjy Sarlin:

 “I know, as the partner of an immigrant how difficult it can be to build a life and protect the system under the current system,” he said. “While this is an excellent starting point, I submit to you it is still incomplete. Families like mine are left behind as part of the proposal.”

Immigrant and gay rights groups were disappointed last week when the “Gang of 8’s” bipartisan immigration bill did not include measures allowing Americans to bring same-sex partners or spouses from abroad on family visas. Because of the Defense Of Marriage Act, now under review by the Supreme Court, the federal government is barred from recognizing gay marriages for immigration purposes, forcing many families into effective exile abroad.

“My partner was born in Panama and came to the United States on a scholarship to pursue [a graduate degree] in special education,” Kolbe, who was outed in 1996 after voting in favor of DOMA, said. “He has been a dedicated teacher for almost two decades. He was…was forced to turn to Panama when his visa expired. The separation was painful.”

When Kolbe served in Congress, he was a very strong ally for comprehensive reform. Back in 2005, Rep. Sensenbrenner led the effort to pass harsh punitive legislation in the U.S. House. At the same time, Kolbe joined with Rep. Howard Berman to push for real reform.

Earlier today, Politico wrote an article about Kolbe in advance of his testimony:

The 11-term congressman from Arizona is expected to talk about the hardship of the current system on his relationship with his partner of eight years, Hector Alfonso, a Panamanian native. Alfonso is now in the U.S. on a green card, but the couple were forced apart for a year because a previous visa expired and the federal government doesn’t grant any legal status to gay couples.

Kolbe, who was not available for comment, is planning to wed Alfonso on May 18 in Washington D.C., where same-sex marriage is legally recognized. That ceremony, the plans for which are detailed on their website, won’t alter Alfonso’s legal status.

Ralls, who is advising Kolbe, said there are 36,000 binational same-sex couples living together in the U.S., according to 2010 Census data.

“It’s always good to show how issues affect people personally, and Congressman Kolbe can show how this issue impacts the life of one of their former colleagues,” said Jimmy LaSalvia, co-founder of the gay Republican group GOProud. “He can personalize this issue for members of Congress like nobody else can.”

Kolbe was an amazing ally while in Congress – and a powerful witness today. Let’s hope members of Congress heed his message.