On April 10, I had the opportunity to attend a Capitol Hill rally for Immigration Reform. Called by representatives from the United Auto Workers Union, the rally drew thousands of people and organizations like The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Immigration Equality and Make the Road New York. After listening to personal stories of rally goers and speakers alike, I have created a list of reasons why Immigration Reform is long overdue and crucial to the LGBT equality movement:
1. LGBT Families are Being Split Up
I spoke with a lesbian couple, Marlena and Javi, who have been partnered for nearly a decade. As Marlena has been here on a work visa for the majority of that time, they have not had to be concerned with documentation. However, due to new visa restrictions, Marlena was informed that while her native country is the Philippines, she would need to go to Canada to get her visa renewed. When she was unable to do that by the deadline, her employer worked with immigration services to give her and alternate deadline. “Our immigration attorney point blank told us we would not have to do any of this if she were a man,” explained Javi, on the brink of tears. The two are not sure what their next steps will be, but it will likely be a very expensive if they want to keep their family intact.
2. Queer Dreamers Dream Big
Sofia calls herself a “dreamer”, or a young person affected by the 2012 Dream Act. She and her family came to the U.S. from Bosnia when she was still an infant. Sofia will enter college as a sophomore as she has excelled in her advanced placement courses. In addition, to being incredibly smart and a very sharp dresser, she is lesbian identified. Sofia is my hero. If she were to go back to what the United States recognizes as her home in Sarjevo, she could be killed for being openly queer. Sofia and many of the other dreamers I spoke with want to go into careers in clean energy, fair housing, and LGBT health policy. All of them expressed fears of deportation, provided they do not meet the Dream Act criteria laid out by the Obama administration.
3. Immigration Reform is a Bipartisan Movement
Introduced by Democrats Patrick Leahy and Jerrold Nadler, and co-sponsored by Republicans Charlie Dent and Richard Hanna, the Uniting American Families Act is a 2013 bill that would amend The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 to extend permanent permissions to partners of United States Citizens and lawful permanent residents to obtain lawful permanent resident status in the same manner as spouses of citizens and lawful permanent residents. According to most recent Census data and Immigration Equality Org, the passage of this act would directly affect over 30,000 same-sex couples .
4. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is Struggling to Protect Undocumented LGBT Detainees
In late March, Senator Chuck Shumer wrote the director of ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) urging the agency to cease using solitary confinement or isolation on lesbian and gay immigration detainees . He underlined this directive be applied to Trans folks, reiterating isolation is not a form of protection. Human Rights advocates from the ACLU to the United Nations have declared solitary confinement to be torturous. Yet, the United States continues to be one of few countries still using solitary confinement regularly in detainment practices. This is especially true of trans immigration detainees as they are among those most often sent to isolation detainment for protection purposes.
5. LGBT Folks Find Safe Havens in Progressive Cities like Washington, D.C.
The world is not safe for many LGBT individuals. I come from a state where it is currently legal to fire me on the spot and evict me from housing for being queer. The rates at which queer youth in the U.S. experience homelessness, trans people are turned away from shelters and queer folks are victims of hate crime is terrifying. However, there are so many stories of undocumented LGBT individuals seeking a haven from persecution right here in the U.S. One woman I spoke with, who asked I not reveal her name or country of origin, shared her regrets, having not taken part of the first Pride event in her native country’s history. Her mother asked her not to take part because she feared for her life. Many participants received death threats and their families were subject to harassment. Others were turned away from their families due to fears of harsh government sanctions or potential bans from their places of worship. Yet, despite the possible consequences, she still regrets not taking part in an event created solely to allow people just like her to be proud of who they are. For her and many other expats, documented and undocumented, Washington D.C. is indeed a safe haven.
i The 2012 Dream Act is the current administration’s premise for ceasing deportation of alien minors meeting certain criteria relating to time in the U.S. and education. http://naid.ucla.edu/uploads/4/2/1/9/4219226/no_dreamers_left_behind.pdf