Policy Position: Immigration and Family Diversity

Immigration and UE’s leadership

UE Board member Jo VanEvery recently moved back to Canada with her unmarried partner and their daughter. Canada has long had a family reunification policy and it was amended in 2002 to be more inclusive of unmarried families. Although Jo and her partner are not married, she was able to sponsor him as a “family class relative” because they are cohabiting partners. They needed to demonstrate that the relationship was genuine. Evidence included the fact that they had a joint bank account, jointly owned a home, and had a daughter together. The forms also requested information about whether and when members of one partner’s family had met the other partner, and photographic evidence of the family relationship. Jo included a photograph taken at her partner’s grandparents’ 60th wedding anniversary, and photographs of the ceremony they had had when their daughter was born. Two friends swore affidavits about the length of the relationship and its genuineness. As with all sponsorships of family class relatives, Jo had to agree to support her partner for 3 years should he be unable to support himself.

Unmarried Equality believes family is defined by emotional and practical ties that may include shared residence, financial interdependence, emotional and physical care for member of the family, and the like. We thus agree that family is an important part, even a “building block,” of wider social and community relations. However, it is our position that families do not necessarily involve a married couple. The ability to enter into and protect mutual activities, including the purchasing property, sharing income, providing health care, etc., should be protected regardless of marital status.

Immigration law in many countries, including the United States, gives priority to family reunification, enabling close family members (and often more distant family members) a route to immigration based on their family relationship with an existing citizen or resident. Although marriage is often privileged as an indicator of family relationship, it is rarely treated as a guarantor of a genuine family relationship. Married couples, or couples seeking immigration with the intention to marry, are required to provide additional proof of the genuine nature of their relationship through documentation, affidavits sworn by persons known to each individual, photographs, and even interviews with immigration officials. The possibility that a marriage might not be genuine is so well known that “green card” marriages have been the topic of films, books and other popular cultural narratives.

Because the purpose of immigration policy is to be selective about who is admitted to the country, and thus to exclude some people from admittance, immigration procedures will always be onerous. We support efforts, such as the Uniting American Families Act, to make the process fair to families that aren’t based on a marital relationship for whatever reason. We agree with the authors of the joint report of Human Rights Watch and Immigration Equality, “Family, Unvalued: Discrimination, Denial, and the Fate of Binational Same-Sex Couples under U.S. Law” that recognition of non-marital family relationships would likely reduce fraud by removing a major incentive for individuals to enter into sham marriages for purposes of immigration.

Although the Human Rights Watch report focuses on same-sex couples, many of the issues raised also apply to other unmarried people. In particular, the report provides a summary of the Uniting American Families Act (Appendix A) and a review of policies in nineteen countries around the world (Appendix B). What unites these policies is recognition that the valuable aspects of family are long-term commitment, co-residence, financial interdependence, and emotional connections. Most of these retain a privileging of conjugal relationships though family reunification provisions in immigration policy usually also contain provisions for non-conjugal family relationships, including the adult children of citizens/residents, the parents of adult citizens/residents, cousins, aunts and uncles, etc.

In an increasingly globalized economy, opportunities to meet potential partners in another country and opportunities (or requirements) to travel to other countries for work are increasing. The Unmarried Equality takes the position that governments should recognize that their policies are based on the fact that marriage or the intent to marry is not a guarantor of a genuine family relationship, and that growing numbers of genuine family relationships are not based on marriage. We urge governments to amend their policies to eliminate marital status discrimination in the family reunification provisions. A policy based on existing evidential requirements—proof of co-residence, proof of enduring nature of the relationship, proof that the relationship is known and recognized by others in the community, proof of financial interdependence, etc.—pwould meet the policy goals of family reunification, reduce immigration fraud, and end discrimination in this important area of policy.