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Comprehensive Immigration Reform is an LGBT Issue

Comprehensive Immigration Reform is an LGBT Issue

by Karen Ocamb on April 11, 2013

(National Gay & Lesbian Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey speaking at comprehensive immigration reform rally in Washington DC on Wednesday. Photo courtesy NGLTF)

 

LGBT demonstrators were among the tens of thousands of immigrant reform activists who rallied outside the U.S. Capitol and in 30 cities around the nation Wednesday as a group of eight senators reached tentative agreement on a broad immigration bill. The New York Times reports that the bill“would require tough border measures to be in place before illegal immigrants could take the first steps to become American citizens, according to several people familiar with drafts of the legislation.” The bill would allow Homeland Security 10 years “to make plans and use resources to fortify enforcement at the borders and elsewhere within the country before it sets several broader hurdles that could derail the immigrants’ progress toward citizenship if they are not achieved.”

KNBC Channel 4 reports that activists, some holding signs for “Equality,” demonstrated at rallies in the Los Angeles area calling for immigration reform and family unification for the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants. They also pressed Sen. Dianne Feinstein for an agreement over workers wages and visas to bring agricultural workers to the US under a new program.

“There’s a tentative agreement on a number of things, and we’re waiting to see if it can get wrapped up,” Feinstein said told the AP. “I’m very hopeful. The train is leaving the station. We need a bill.”

Immigration is an up close and personal issue for many LGBT people in Southern California. For instance, LGBT Angelinos are keenly aware that Dolores Huerta and her United Farm Workers have long been a solid LGBT ally, including strongly opposing Prop 8 and serving on the board of Equality California. Additionally, LGBT Latino organizations such as the Latino Equality Alliance, Bienestar and The Wall Las Memorias, to name just three organizations, work on healthcare rights for LGBT immigrants who seek safety to come out and/or are HIV positive and come to the US seeking medical services without drawing homophobic attention that could get them beaten up, murdered or disappeared. The US doesn’t recognize asylum requests when the mortal danger is from family or neighbors. That’s one reason why a comprehensive immigration reform bill in Congress – whether initially or through amendments – must include LGBT protections. 

View more videos at: http://nbclosangeles.com.

Last month, Gary Gates at the Williams Institute released a new report  indicating that, “There are approximately 267,000 LGBT-identified individuals among the adult undocumented immigrant population and an estimated 637,000 LGBT-identified individuals among the adult documented immigrant population. The report finds that approximately 71 percent of undocumented LGBT adults are Hispanic and 15 percent of undocumented LGBT adults are Asian or Pacific Islander.” But among the documented adults, Gates finds that 30 percent of documented LGBT adults are Hispanic and 35 percent of documented LGBT adults are Asian or Pacific Islander. Since there is also a problem of data-collection in the self-identified LGBT population (some people don’t accept the label “gay,” for instance) as well as identifying people who live in the closet and the shadows, these numbers suggest under-reporting.


The Washington Blade reported Wednesday that a number of LGBT organizations participated in the national rally. Additionally, 26 national LGBT groups released a joint statement urging Congress to pass a “fair and comprehensive” immigration reform bill. (See more below)

When Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, addressed the crowd, (full statement below), she attempted to respond to those who suggest that immigration is not an LGBT issue:

From time to time, someone will ask me, a white lesbian: “What does immigration have to do with LGBT rights? Why are you spending your time on that issue?”

Here’s what I tell them, unequivocally: Immigration is a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and human rights issue!

A great many immigrants are themselves lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.

Take Esmeralda, a transgender Mexican woman who suffered horrific abuse for her gender identity while in immigration detention. Hers is among the terrifying stories shared by LGBT immigrants who experienced abuse because of their gender identity or sexual orientation AND their immigration status.

And, right now, countless binational same-sex couples are threatened with forced separation because they are blocked from sponsoring their partner for citizenship.

It is cruel and unfair to force loving couples and families to live apart …to make them choose between family and country.

Yes, LGBT people are immigrants — and immigration is an LGBT issue.

Immigration reform is about our common humanity. It’s no wonder then, that a broad cross-section of Americans supports immigration reform, of creating a clear path to citizenship, of keeping families together.

It is about fairness and dignity.

It is about moving out of the shadows and into the sunlight.

It is about America living up to its full promise of equality — of ensuring everyone gets a fair shake.

This is why we need immigration reform.

Carey, National Center for Lesbian Rights Executive Director  Kate Kendell and Ben De Guzman also explain in the Huffington Post today that immigration reform is a family issue for LGBT people, too. 

As advocates for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, we understand how crucial it is that our immigration system work to unify all families. Right now, same-sex binational couples are kept apart because our immigration policy is ill-equipped to protect these families. Because most states still do not recognize marriage equality, and because the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) prevents the federal government from recognizing the marriages legally performed in those states that do have marriage equality, U.S. citizens cannot sponsor their same-sex foreign partners for citizenship.

For the same reasons that we demand that immigration reform include protections for same-sex binational couples and families, we join our colleagues in being equally adamant that the number of family sponsorship visas not be reduced, and that no categories of family sponsorship be eliminated. Reducing the number of family sponsorship visas would add to an already alarmingly high backlog of people waiting to reunite with their families. This logjam has had a particularly devastating impact on the Asian-American community: Nearly half of the 4.3 million family members currently waiting for family-sponsored visas are relatives of Asian Americans.

And not to forget that immigrants come not just north to California from South and Latin America but also as a beacon of hope, fairness and equality for the Pacific Rim.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pacific_Rim Immigration reform is an LGBT issue not just as a matter of compassion or coalition building but because LGBT people do not live in silos: we are the most marginalized of immigrants who dream of safety, opportunity and the promise of fairness and equality. 

Here’s the press release from the 26 national LGBT organizations supporting immigration reform:

Today, national lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) advocacy organizations join local, state and national immigration, civil rights and LGBT groups and advocates marching for justice for all immigrants on National Immigration Day of Action.

Standing in solidarity with the immigration movement in calling on Congress to do the right thing and pass fair and humane comprehensive immigration reform are the 26 undersigned groups, including the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force; GLAAD; the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR); the Queer Undocumented Immigrant Project (QUIP), a project of the United We Dream Network; National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance (NQAPIA); and Immigration Equality.

“LGBT people are immigrants and immigration is an LGBT issue,” said Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, who spoke from the stage on the West Lawn of the Capitol representing a broad range of allied organizations at the march.

The groups also call on media to tell the stories of undocumented people that shed light on the many ways the broken immigration system harms millions of Americans, including through family separation and inhumane conditions and abuse in detention facilities.

“Federal immigration reform is about respecting the humanity in each and all of us, including DREAMers and our families, migrant farm workers, LGBT binational couples, and transgender people in need of asylum,” said Jorge Gutierrez, project coordinator of the Queer Undocumented Immigrant Project (QUIP), a project of the United We Dream Network. Gutierrez is openly gay and undocumented.

“As a transgender woman who was detained by immigration authorities, I have first-hand experience with the inhumane treatment and abuse in detention facilities that for years have threatened the health, safety and even lives of millions of immigrants,” said Bamby Salcedo, president of the Trans-Latin@ Coalition. “I was sexually assaulted when I was forced to be housed in a dorm with about 100 men in a detention facility, and I was denied adequate access to HIV medication and hormone treatment. These are the harms countless transgender detainees face; we must put an end to these atrocities. We all deserve a chance to live with dignity, to pursue our dreams, and to work for a better future and better quality of life.”

“The current broken system hurts, scapegoats and vilifies all immigrants, including LGBT immigrants, and their friends and families. Comprehensive federal immigration reform is an urgent priority for our nation and the LGBT community,” said Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

“It is important for the LGBT and immigrants’ rights communities to work together and support one another. We’re all working to be treated equally and to be able to enjoy lives free of discrimination and fear, for ourselves and our families. We’ve seen the success of unity in places like Maryland, Colorado and Washington. In all of these places, our two communities prevented our opponents from pitting us against each other. We cannot stop now,” said Dave Montez, chief of staff of GLAAD, a member of the coalition.

Immigration Equality Executive Director Rachel B. Tiven said, “Immigration Equality helps thousands of LGBT immigrant families every year: undocumented families, mixed-status families, DREAMers, asylum seekers fleeing persecution, and detainees locked in immigration jail. LGBT people demand reform of a system in which our families are invisible. In the words of binational couple activist Pablo Garcia: ‘I want a path to citizenship. But I don’t want to wait 13 years to be a citizen. If I were straight I would be one already.’”

“At stake in the comprehensive immigration reform debate is our ability to keep our families together and to recognize the diversity of all our families. LGBT people are challenged across the entire spectrum of the broken immigration system and comprehensive reform is needed now,” said Ben de Guzman, co-director, National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance (NQAPIA).

For more stories of undocumented people, please contact any of the media contacts listed above.

National LGBT Organizations in Support of National Immigration Day of Action:

American Civil Liberties Union
Center For Black Equity
CenterLink: The Community of LGBT Centers
Freedom to Marry 
Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC)
GetEQUAL
GLAAD
GLAD
GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network)
Human Rights Campaign (HRC)
Immigration Equality
Lambda Legal
National Black Justice Coalition
National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR)
National Center for Transgender Equality
National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC)
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force 
National Minority AIDS Council
National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance (NQAPIA)
Out & Equal Workplace Advocates
PFLAG National
Pride at Work AFL CIO
Queer Undocumented Immigrant Project (QUIP), a project of the United We Dream Network
Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE)
The Trevor Project
Trans-Latin@ Coalition

Here’s Rea Carey’s entire address to the rally

Good afternoon! It is so incredible and inspiring to be with all of you here today!

My name is Rea Carey, and I am executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

AMERICA IS COMING TOGETHER to support immigration reform! I am proud to represent diverse sectors of society that are united for immigration reform – and I’d like to recognize my colleagues here with me today.

From progressive organizing groups like MoveOn.org, USAction, Campaign for America’s Future, Presente.org, National People’s Action, and Jobs with Justice!

To student and youth organizations like the United States Student Association and the League of Young Voters.

To women’s organizations like MomsRising, Family Values at Work, the National Asian Pacific Women’s Forum, We Belong Together, 9 to 5, Breakthrough, UltraViolet, New Immigrant Community Empowerment, Domestic Workers United, Filipino Advocates for Justice, National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, Women’s Refugee Commission, Brazilian Immigrant Center, and the National Domestic Workers Association.

To environmentalists like Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, and Green4All.

And, of course, the LGBT community, including my organization the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, as well as the Human Rights Campaign and Immigration Equality!

We stand for immigration reform.

Today, there are 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country — including hundreds of thousands of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Under our broken immigration system, immigrants are forced to live in hiding, spending every day fearful that they will be discovered, sent into detention, and separated from their families, possibly forever.

No one should ever be forced to live this way.

We believe everyone should be free to live their lives openly and fully, to be and to flourish no matter who they are, who they love, or where they come from.

Yet current immigration law makes this impossible, and only serves to punish people.

America can do better than this.

America needs humane and comprehensive immigration reform now.

Creating a direct pathway to citizenship will ensure better and brighter futures — not just for the 11 million undocumented immigrants who are here already — but for our entire nation.

We know that America would not be what it is today without the grit, guts, ingenuity, creativity and work ethic of millions of immigrants who have come to this country with a dream.

These dreams have built and sustained America — from science and industry, to agriculture and domestic work, to commerce and innovation.

The American dream dies when the dreamers are shut out.

From time to time, someone will ask me, a white lesbian: “What does immigration have to do with LGBT rights? Why are you spending your time on that issue?”

Here’s what I tell them, unequivocally: Immigration is a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and human rights issue!

A great many immigrants are themselves lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.

Take Esmeralda, a transgender Mexican woman who suffered horrific abuse for her gender identity while in immigration detention. Hers is among the terrifying stories shared by LGBT immigrants who experienced abuse because of their gender identity or sexual orientation AND their immigration status.

And, right now, countless binational same-sex couples are threatened with forced separation because they are blocked from sponsoring their partner for citizenship.

It is cruel and unfair to force loving couples and families to live apart …to make them choose between family and country.

Yes, LGBT people are immigrants — and immigration is an LGBT issue.

Immigration reform is about our common humanity. It’s no wonder then, that a broad cross-section of Americans supports immigration reform, of creating a clear path to citizenship, of keeping families together.

It is about fairness and dignity.

It is about moving out of the shadows and into the sunlight.

It is about America living up to its full promise of equality — of ensuring everyone gets a fair shake.

This is why we need immigration reform.

The time is now!

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