Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Solidarity: LGBT issues in our broken immigration system

Rachel listens to Richard.jpg
Rachel Tiven from Immigration Equality listens to Father Richard Smith.

On Monday Out4Immigration, a Bay Area organization that champions of the inclusion of LGBT issues within immigration reform efforts, held a panel at St. John the Evangelist Episcopal Church. I think of myself as fairly well-versed immigration issues, but I took away some new and reinforced insights.
  • Erik Schnabel pointed out that, under the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), LGBT families, however enduring and including those recognized by their states, remain effectively "illegal" just as are unauthorized immigrants. U.S. citizen gays still have less ordinary rights than other citizens since we cannot sponsor our non-citizen partners for immigration.
  • Chris Barnett reminded the group that until this year, a positive HIV status was a bar to entrance into the country.
  • Blanca is a 28 year old Latina who was brought to this country at age 6 without papers. She pointed out that she has never been to any other country -- this is her only home. She shared some interesting perspectives on DREAM activists -- campaigners for a path to legalization for the hundreds of thousands of young people like her who find themselves through no action of their own growing up "out of status." Lawyers always tell them "just get married to a U.S. citizen." Since Blanca is heterosexual, that could work for her, but she proves her absorption of the national core values by protesting that she doesn't want the government telling her who to share her life with! This makes her understanding of LGBT people who aren't allowed by the state to marry.

    Blanca reported that working on the not-yet-successful campaign for the DREAM ACT made her aware of the brave leadership of LGBT and women of color among her own cohort. Risking deportation for speaking up as an undocumented person is a kind of coming out; gay undocumented persons often have to take a double risk, effectively coming out twice amid fears that their communities might not stand alongside them.

    Blanca's account of the joint lobbying efforts of LGBT folks working to end Don't Ask, Don't Tell and the DREAM group were heartening. We do better when we stick together.
  • The Rev. Richard Smith shared both optimism and distress. The latter comes from the persistent attempts of the Roman Catholic bishops and some evangelical Protestants to exclude gay concerns from programs for immigration reform. But he noted that, at least among the Catholics, their people are not listening.
  • Rachel Tiven of Immigration Equality was generally upbeat. Despite the strains, there is a growing religious coalition advocating for comprehensive immigration reform - and all versions of the program do include equalizing LGBT rights in a system that is based on family ties. This is a huge step.

    Moreover the Obama administration is beginning to recognize that its practice of mass random detentions and deportations is arbitrary and unsuccessful. If recent regulation changes really come into force, the administration aims to focus deportation only on immigrants who pose some danger to communities. Peaceful people living productive lives should not face a dragnet.

    With the administration's effort to modulate its immigration enforcement should come some concrete benefits. Transpeople in immigration detention have experienced horrible mistreatment; orders have gone out to end this abuse.

    Advocates are pressing the administration to allow non-citizen partners of married gay people to apply legal status, for "green cards"; though the feds cannot actually issue the green cards because forbidden by DOMA, they could create a protected "hold" for partners who had applied. Tiven is cautiously optimistic that the growing political clout of the gay community nationally will win this concession from the Obama administration.
As in so many areas of gay civil rights, I marvel at the progress we have made and the dedication to the brave people who keep pushing for full equality.

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