A group of House Democrats on Thursday will re-introduce the “Uniting American Families Act,” a bill that would provide same-sex couples with the same immigration rights as married heterosexual couples.

The measure, sponsored by Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), would allow gays and lesbians to sponsor their permanent partners for U.S. residency. Nadler and other House Democrats plan to announce the re-introduction of the legislation at a 1 p.m. news conference at the House Triangle.

In an interview Wednesday, Nadler, who said he has been working on the issue for the past decade, explained that the bill deals with gay couples in which one partner is an American citizen and the other is not.

Nadler acknowledged that the measure is unlikely to pass the Republican-led House, but said he felt it was important to re-introduce the bill.

“I think that recognition of same-sex marriage will come in this country,” he said. “The question is, would this come first.”

Currently, the law allows one member of a married heterosexual couple to sponsor the other for U.S. citizenship, because keeping families together is “one of the highest priorities of immigration law,” Nadler said. But same-sex couples have no such rights, in part because they’re often unable to legally marry. That often forces such couples to live apart from each other.

“Now that is simply cruel,” Nadler said. “It’s gratuitous cruelty.”

The measure would define a new term – “permanent partner” – as an individual 18 years or older who “(1) is in a committed, intimate relationship with another individual 18 or older in which both individuals intend a lifelong commitment; (2) is financially interdependent with the other individual; (3) is not married to, or in a permanent partnership with, any other individual other than the individual; (4) is unable to contract with the other individual a marriage cognizable under this Act; and (5) is not a first, second, or third degree blood relation of the other individual.”

The measure would also amend the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act to refer to the term “permanent partner” wherever it currently refers to a “spouse.”

Critics of the measure have argued that it would serve as a backdoor to legalizing same-sex marriage and would also be open to the possibility of fraud.

Nadler said Wednesday that “this is not a gay marriage bill, but it recognizes the fact that gays can’t get married.”

“It’s simply saying we should not keep loving couples apart,” he said.

On the question of fraud, Nadler contended that all the same provisions of existing law that apply to marriage would apply to permanent partnerships, including heavy penalties for fraud.

The measure would affect an estimated 33,000 same-sex couples in which one partner is a U.S. citizen and the other is not, Nadler said. The legislation had garnered 135 co-sponsors during the last Congress, but the bill was ultimately unsuccessful.