“On Tuesday September 27th we are collaborating with the Chicago LGBTQ Immigrant Rights Coalition to present a community forum on the intersection between immigrant rights and the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) communities. Using the event as an excuse, here is a short list of these intersections put together by the Association of Latino Men for Action’s LGBT Immigrant Rights Project coordinator and IYJL organizer Tania Unzueta. Find more info here, or watch the live broadcast.”
7 simple reasons why the LGBTQ community needs to care about immigrant rights:
#1. We are immigrants too: Of the 10.8 million people who live in the United States undocumented, many are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ). Some of these are LGBTQ youth who came with their families as minors and consider the U.S. their home, while others came to escape persecution in their own countries. They have built their lives here, fallen in love, and started families, but under current U.S. immigration law there is no legal process for them to become citizens. Today they remain in the country in limbo, vulnerable to abuse, and under constant threat of being deported.
#2. Our families have limited options: LGBTQ immigrants, both documented and undocumented, face hurdles when attempting to regularize their status or become citizens. If an immigrant with a visa happens to fall in love with a U.S. citizen of the same sex, their partner cannot help them change their immigration status to that of a permanent residentv. Because same-sex relationships are not recognized under the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), for an immigrant who is in a same-sex marriage, there are an extra 2 years of residency before citizenship if the application is accepted compared to one who is in a heterosexual marriage. But if the application is denied, the immigrant partner will be put in deportation proceedings. There are at least 35,000 same-sex couples in the U.S. that are affected by the immigration system.
#3. We can’t help our immigrant partners: If a person is in deportation proceedings, whether it is because they traveled undocumented or were denied adjustment of status, there are very few options for them to remain in the country – heterosexual or LGBTQ. Some get a “cancelation of removal” from immigration when they have family members- children, husbands or wives, except that for same-sex couples, their citizen spouses do not count. As of May 2011 the policy of the Obama administration has explicitly been to deport immigrant same-sex partners of U.S. citizens, regardless of marital status. This year the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has estimated that they will deport over 400,000 people, the most annual deportations in the country’s history. According to statistics by DHS a third of immigrants detained have no criminal record, many of them include LGBTQ people, and permanent partners of U.S. citizens. [NOTE: This may change under the recent change in enforcement priorities announced by the Obama administration, and the guidelines for prosecutorial discretion announced by DHS. These procedures include LGBT people and same-sex couples, according to the White House, however there are still many questions about the implementation and efficacy of the policy].
#4. We are here escaping persecution: Many LGBTQ and HIV positive immigrants leave their country of birth escaping homophobic and transphobic violence, including threats to their lives. Since 1994 the U.S. considers this ground to request asylum and eventually permanent residency. However, the process for asylum can be a long and harsh process, where in the end, there is no guarantee that it will be granted. There are several cases of gay and transgender immigrants, who could not meet the burden of proof for their asylum claim. Some of them have accused immigration judges and officials of holding biased standards based on stereotypes of safety and behavior, and are still in limbo, or detained.
#5. We face harassment & death in detention: A civil complaint by the National Immigrant Justice Center against DHS details “sexual assault, denials of medical care, arbitrary confinement, and sever harassment and discrimination” against LGBTQ immigrants. The complaint is on behalf of 13 transgender and gay people who came to the U.S. to escape persecution in their won countries. In addition, there have been several documented cases where transgender immigrants have been denied access to hormones, and HIV+ detainees denied access to medication, resulting in a number of deaths and investigations into human rights abuses. These abuses reflect the wrongful treatment that thousands of immigrants face in detention facilities throughout the country, under a system that disproportionately affects LGBTQ immigrants.
#6. Queer undocumented youth are fierce: LGBTQ undocumented organizers have taken leadership roles in the national campaign for immigrant rights. This has been most visible in the campaign for the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act (DREAM), which would provide a conditional path to citizenship for immigrant youth who arrived to the country before the age of 16. LGBTQ youth have “come out” to speak about being LGBTQ and undocumented, using their stories to advocate for change.xiv Additionally some of these youth make specific references to the gay liberation movement as inspiration, citing Harvey Milk’s activism in the 1980s. If these youth were to be deported, some would be going back go countries that they have never known, and that may not be accepting of their sexuality and gender. For many of these LGBTQ undocumented youth the only country they have known is the U.S. and they are fighting for their lives.
#7. Our struggles are intertwined: The same politicians and organizations that oppose the rights of undocumented immigrants oppose the rights of LGBTQ people. Data shows that we are more likely to encounter a person who favors both immigrant and LGBT rights, than someone who supports immigration, but opposes same-sex marriage. Homophobic politicians are likely to attempt to block immigration reform to prevent LGBTQ immigrants from gaining legal status through same-sex permanent partnerships. LGBTQ movements need to build strategic alliances with immigration movements to ensure equal rights for all.