What About LGBT Refugees in the United States?

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A line in a recent Christian Science Monitor article asks, “Are children fleeing Central American violence refugees who need asylum or illegal gold-diggers who need to go home?”

Politicians, talking heads, policymakers, and those of us interested in immigration have been transfixed by the surge of unaccompanied minors at our southern border. Whether these children are refugees worthy of asylum will eventually be determined by immigration courts, if and when their cases finally get there.

Another group fleeing violence but not getting as much press — if any at all — are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) refugees. In a report prepared for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Refugee Resettlement (ORR), the Heartland Alliance estimates that around 3,500 LGBT refugees arrive in the country annually. Another 1,250 are granted asylum every year.

Arriving in small numbers, they tend to fly under the public’s radar. Some also choose to remain in the shadows, due in part to the conservatism of their own ethnic communities. LGBT refugees might enjoy more freedoms here, but they often live among fellow immigrants, who tend to be more socially and religiously conservative than native-born Americans.

Queer women and men flee their homelands because of the oppression they suffer based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. They are routinely subject to human rights abuses, including sexual assault and corrective rape, physical violence, torture, imprisonment, and murder. In Iran, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Yemen, and parts of Nigeria and Somalia, people can be put to death for same-sex conduct. In an additional 76 countries, LGBTs can be imprisoned for living openly. While gay and transgender people are still subject to discrimination in some parts of the United States, their rights are generally and increasingly protected.

In a post for Urban Institute’s MetroTrends Blog, I discussed the crucial role immigrant organizations play in the lives of immigrants. These community-based nonprofits are community centers, social service providers, advocates, and network builders. They prop up the immigrant safety net. However, there are not enough to serve the needs of immigrant communities.

There are far fewer organizations for refugees. In 2012, over 58,179 refugees were admitted into the country and 29,484 individuals were granted asylum. A quick search on the National Center for Charitable Statistics database reveals a mere 128 community-based organizations dedicated to refugee relief.

Aside from limited capacities, these organizations are rarely equipped to deal with the housing, employment, medical, mental health, safety, and legal needs of LGBT refugees. While gay and transgender refugees avail of the same services as other refugees, they benefit from a sensitivity resulting from an awareness of queer concerns and realities. In 2011, ORR Director Eskinder Negash expressed concern for the lack of resource materials tailored for LGBT refugees, which are critical to their successful resettlement and integration: “The current resettlement network has limited understanding of the LGBT community.”

A lot of work is left to be done, from advancing international and domestic policies protecting queer refugees to increasing the number and capacities of refugee relief and resettlement organizations. But it all begins with education and storytelling. A trickle of LGBT refugees, however, simply isn’t as compelling as a tsunami of undocumented child migrants.

Originally posted on Urban Institute’s MetroTrends Blog and the Huffington Post.

How immigrant organizations can help with integration

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Originally posted on Urban Institute’s MetroTrends Blog.

Last week, a National Academies panel met to explore how institutions impact the integration of foreign-born individuals and their children. “The Integration of Immigrants into US Society” convening, hosted by the Academies’ Committee on Population, was part of a two-year project that will culminate in the release of a report summarizing knowledge about how immigrants are integrating into American society, laying out the policy implications of the panel’s findings, and highlighting crucial knowledge and data gaps.

Among the institutions vital to immigrant communities are nonprofits founded and tailored to address the needs and issues of the many racial and ethnic groups that make up our society. At the panel’s second meeting, I discussed immigrant organizations and integration, based on Urban Institute reports on community-based organizations and immigrant integration and immigrant legal-aid organizations and my own exploration of Filipino-American organizations.

Immigrant organizations are crucial to the lives of immigrants, their families, and communities. They act as community centers where newcomers can be among others who speak their language and where they can learn to navigate life in their adopted country. They are safe places where second- and third-generation immigrants can learn about their ethnic culture.

These centers also double as social service providers, especially in places that are not so welcoming, where immigrants don’t have access to health and other social services. Immigrant nonprofits also act as advocates and representatives and promote the civic and political engagement of newcomers.

They also partner with other organizations and build networks, broadening the net that supports immigrants and the community in general. They serve as channels through which funders, government agencies, and elected officials can reach immigrants.

Héctor R. Cordero-Guzmán, who studies immigrant organizations in New York, argues that these nonprofits “play a central role during all parts of the immigration process and in the social, cultural, political, and economic” integration of immigrants. Immigrant organizations help individuals and families find a community, achieve economic stability and self-sufficiency, learn and participate in a new social and political system, and become legal residents or citizens.

These indispensable organizations, however, tend to cluster around urban centers, away from suburbs and exurbs where immigrants have been settling down. It will take time before immigrant organizations are established and scale up; in the meantime, immigrants trek into cities or are left to their own devices.

Moreover, immigrant organizations tend to be underresourced and stretched to capacity due to the great demand for their services. Immigrant legal aid nonprofits, in particular, will have a challenging time serving undocumented immigrants eligible for legalization, should immigration reform pass.

Immigrant nonprofits are important to immigrants, but they can only do so much. Other nonprofits, public agencies, philanthropic groups, and community entities can partner with immigrant organizations in facilitating immigrant integration, and in the process, strengthen and enrich the entire community.

Hector Estrada, top center, who teaches social justice in a theater setting at the Refugee Youth Academy, addresses a group of immigrant students at the academy in the Brooklyn borough of New York. The Refugee Youth Academy is a six-week program run by the International Rescue Committee that tries to help refugee parents and children get familiar with what American school is all about. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

World Records Broken at Walkathon for Philippine Typhoon Survivors

February 16, 2014; ABC News (Associated Press)

Last November, super typhoon Haiyan ravaged the central islands of the Philippines, killing 6,200 people, destroying 1.1 million homes, and rendering more than four million people homeless. To date, nearly 2,000 people remain missing. The United Nations warns that millions of survivors are still without adequate shelter.

“The authorities, UN agencies and non-governmental organizations, and the Filipino people should be commended for the pace of progress…but we cannot afford to be complacent,” UN resident and humanitarian coordinator for the Philippines, Luiza Carvalho, said. “The need for durable shelter for millions of people whose homes were damaged or destroyed is critical.”

Among the Filipinos worldwide responding to the continuing crisis in their homeland are followers of the Iglesia ni Cristo (Church of Christ), an independent and indigenous Christian group. Members participated in a walkathon staged in the Philippines and 55 other sites in Asia, Australia, Europe, and the United States, and in the process broke a couple of Guinness World Records.

Guinness adjudicator Kirsty Bennett certified that 175,509 congregants marched in Manila on Saturday, breaking the record set 14 years ago in Singapore when 77,500 people walked to promote healthy living. Bennett also confirmed that 519,221 Iglesia ni Cristo members worldwide set a new record for the largest charity walk in multiple venues, more than doubling the previous record set in Canada seven years ago.

Edwil Zabala, a church spokesperson, said funds raised would be used in constructing new homes and providing livelihoods for survivors of typhoon Haiyan. “The amount that will be raised through this activity will be allocated by the church through the FYM (Felix Y. Manalo) Foundation as additional assistance to our countrymen especially our brethren, who were devastated by Super Typhoon Yolanda.” The total amount raised has not been released. Walkathon participants contributed a 250 Philippine peso (approximately $5.63) registration fee.

This is not the first time Iglesia ni Cristo members broke Guinness world records. In 2012, the group set new records for the largest dental health check, the biggest number of blood pressure readings, and the most numerous blood glucose level tests, conducted in eight hours.

Iglesia ni Cristo established its first congregation in 1914. Today, it has at least 5,500 local congregations in about 100 countries and territories.

Originally posted on the Nonprofit Quarterly.

When a Pat on the Head Becomes Spit on the Face

It’s perfectly okay to pat a dog’s head. It’s fine to pat a very young child’s head. It is not acceptable, however, to pat another adult’s head.

Last Sunday, at church, a fellow parishioner walked by my pew during communion and patted me on the head. I felt violated, disrespected, and my anger grew by the second. At the end of the service, I told a friend in the next pew what happened and asked if I was overreacting. He assured me I was not. Others agreed. Indeed, as I recount the incident, the response has been universal: incredulity and anger on my behalf.

Rather than confront the man and make a scene, I chose to leave and walk off my fury in the winter cold. I sent him an email telling him never to do that again. His response was a flippant, “received, apologies.” He didn’t seem to realize the gravity of his offense until my husband called him out the next day. Even then, the offender was too swift and slick in feigning remorse.

How could he possibly think it was okay to pat a grown man on the head? Would he have done the same to any other adult? To another white man?

A Filipino-American friend mused, “I wonder if he was inclined to do that because you’re a “little brown boy?” The thought also crossed my mind. As the smaller and darker spouse in a gay biracial marriage, some people readily assume that I am the younger, dependent and subservient exotic. Never mind that my husband and I are highly driven, middle-aged professionals who treat each other as equals and partners.

A gay Asian-American friend characterized the incident as a not so micro microaggression, one of the “everyday insults, indignities and demeaning messages sent to people of color by well-intentioned white people who are unaware of the hidden messages being sent to them.”

The man told my spouse that he meant to tap me on my shoulder but somehow ended up patting me on the head.

“A touch on your shoulder would have been much more appropriate and probably would have conveyed a totally different meaning,” an African-American friend pointed out. “The fact that he chose to pat you on the head says volumes about perceived and real power in this situation … microaggressions are so draining.”

Who knows for certain what spurred the man to treat me like a small child. I can’t help but think, however, that my being brown had something to do with it. This man, after all, has a habit of flaunting his Southern bona fides and recently bragged about his family’s Black help.

Yes, microaggressions are draining. And I sure am pretty damned tired of it all.

Reposted on the Huffington Post.

Marriage Equality on Hold in Utah But Progress is Inevitable

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January 6, 2014; Washington Post

On December 20, lesbian and gay Utahans got a surprise holiday gift from U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby, who ruled that the state’s ban on same-gender unions was unconstitutional. Hundreds of couples rushed to get marriage licenses, resulting in what Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker called a “thrilling pandemonium.” Within a week, close to 1,000 marriage licenses were issued to gay couples, easily shattering records and providing counties with thousands of dollars in revenue.

The ruling caught conservative Utah by surprise, and state lawyers scrambled to halt marriages, asking both Shelby and the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals for an emergency stay as Shelby’s decision was being appealed. The requests were not granted, prompting the state’s Attorney General’s office to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to step in.

On Monday, the nation’s highest court took away the gift of legal unions from same-sex couples who were about to get licenses and left those who got married during the past two weeks in legal limbo. The justices gave no indication which argument convinced them to halt marriage equality in Utah or who among them dissented.

Opponents of the freedom to marry may count this as a victory, but the tide has long turned. Not counting Utah, 17 states and the District of Columbia have sanctioned unions for couples who happen to be of the same gender. A majority of Americans view marriage equality favorably. Moreover, in states all across the union, lesbian and gay couples are fighting in the courts for their right to marry. However the U.S. Supreme Court rules in Utah, there are many cases in the pipeline. It can only get messier. In time, though, all couples will be recognized, not by their biology but by their love and commitment.

Originally posted on Nonprofit Quarterly.

The Importance of Counting Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders

Press release from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have launched a new project aimed at improving health data collection for Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders. The information will be collected through the National Health Interview Survey, which is conducted by CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics.

As a way to increase the number of Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander households included in the survey, the Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander National Health Interview Survey uses the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, which collects data on approximately 3 million households in the United States annually.

The Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders National Health Interview Survey will include a sample of approximately 4,000 households. Data collection for the survey begins in February 2014 and findings will be available in the summer of 2015. The data will help public health researchers to produce reports on a wide range of important health indicators for the Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander population.

“This project represents a significant milestone in our implementation of the HHS Action Plan to Reduce Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities by enhancing the availability and quality of data collected and reported on racial and ethnic minority populations,” said Dr. J. Nadine Gracia, HHS Deputy Assistant Secretary for Minority Health. “This unprecedented survey, which further advances the goals of data collection as called for by the Affordable Care Act, will shed important light on the health status of the Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander population.”

CDC’s National Health Interview Survey is the nation’s largest in-person, household health survey, providing information on an individual’s health status, access to and use of health services, health insurance coverage, immunizations, risk factors, and health-related behaviors. The data play a crucial role in monitoring and improving the health of the nation. For example, Healthy People 2020, the set of public health goals and objectives for the nation, uses information from the survey to track progress toward its targets.

According to the 2010 U.S. Census, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders comprise just 0.4 percent of the total U.S. population, which makes it difficult to include them in sufficient numbers in most national population-based health surveys. The lack of reliable health data for this population has made it difficult to assess their health status and health care utilization. However, the available data for this population indicates that they experience significant health disparities when compared to other groups.

“CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics regards this project as a major step forward in providing much needed health data about the ethnically and culturally diverse U.S. population,” said Charles Rothwell, NCHS director.

For more information about the National Health Interview Survey visit www.cdc.gov/nchs/nhis.htm.

Just Say No to Red Kettles?

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December 14, 2013; Christian Post

It’s once again the time of year when the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community points an accusatory finger at the Salvation Army and wags another at anyone who drops a dollar into a red kettle. Activists argue that the Salvation Army is prejudiced against LGBT people and encourage everyone to donate their money elsewhere. The religious organization counters that they do not discriminate and that they serve all those in need, including homosexuals.

Through a public relations firm, the Salvation Army told the Christian Post that their “mission is clear: to provide services to those in need without discrimination. The Salvation Army treats everyone with equal love, dignity and respect regardless of who they are. We are especially proud of our service to thousands of LGBT community members each and every day.”

As a matter of fact, the nonprofit has taken steps to appease the queer community. Last month, the Salvation Army dropped links to two ex-gay ministries, which it had listed as sexual addiction resources, from its website. This garnered the applause and gratitude of Truth Wins Out, a “non-profit organization that works to demolish the very foundation of anti-gay prejudice.”

No Red Kettles, an online community, is not as forgiving. A blog post explains that the issue is not about who is being served or not. “Our objections to the Salvation Army lie in their continued promotion of a bigoted ideology, and how they have used their clients as bargaining chips while discriminating against their LGBT employees,” Sarah writes. She gives a couple of examples from the group’s history of Salvation Army discrimination, including turning down government contracts, which resulted in closure of homeless and elderly programs, so as not to provide spousal benefits to same-gender couples.

Another No Red Kettles blogger, Lauren, dismisses any olive branch the Salvation Army offers because “the church has yet to repudiate any of its explicitly anti-gay beliefs.”

The Salvation Army will not declare gay is okay any time soon. It is a Christian organization, and an evangelical one at that. Like the pope, it is softening its image, but the core dogma remains intact. So, as you walk by the cheerful bell ringers and contemplate tossing money into the red kettle, stop and ask yourself, “Do I want to keep the Salvation Army and its ideology going, or would I rather donate to another organization?”

Originally posted on Nonprofit Quarterly.

Asian-American Groups Name Housing Project after Filipino Labor Leader

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December 14, 2013; Asian Journal

Last Friday, two Asian American community organizations, the Pilipino Workers’ Center (PWC) and the Little Tokyo Service Center Community Development Corporation (LTSC) opened the Larry Itliong Village in Filipinotown, Los Angeles.

Named after the “forgotten” labor leader, the development includes 44 affordable housing units reserved for low-income families, homeless individuals, and transitional-age youth, defined as those between the ages of 16 and 24 and leaving foster care or state custody. The village also provides community spaces and social service programs including healthcare assistance, immigration case management, and employment workshops.

This is one of the few affordable housing projects that’s been able to be built in many years. And it’s really needed,” the Asian Journal quoted Aquilina Versoza, PWC’s executive director.

PWC was founded in 1997 and provides immediate services and resources to low- and moderate-income workers and their families. LTSC was established in 1979 and serves the needs of the Asian and Pacific Islander communities throughout Los Angeles County.

Larry Itliong, along with other Filipino laborers, started the 1965 Delano Grape Strike and were joined by Mexican farmworkers. The historic protest led to the unionization of farmworkers and formation of the United Farm Workers of America (UFW).

Originally posted in Nonprofit Quarterly.

At Last I Have A Green Card, But Many Others Still Wait

(Photo: Erwin de Leon)

After 23 years in the U.S., I finally have in my hands on that much- coveted green card.

I got permanent residency thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling last June upending section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). My husband and I finally have our marriage recognized by the federal government.  It was an easy and expeditious process, which belied our struggle with the immigration system throughout our 15 years together.

Two months after my spouse submitted his petition, we were called in for an interview. We were asked the most basic of questions, confirming who we claimed to be, how we met, and when the other was born. The adjudicator examined our legal and financial documents and made copies of our wedding pictures. That was it.

He didn’t even bother with other “evidence” we had painstakingly and obsessively put together for months, collected in a three-ring binder. A week and a day after the interview, my permanent resident card arrived in our mailbox.

John and I are very happy and extremely relieved. We are well aware that we are among the more fortunate ones. Not all lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) immigrants are as lucky. The Williams Institute estimates that there are about 7,000 non-citizen gay couples and that some 267,000 undocumented immigrants identify as LGBT. These individuals have not benefitted from the Supreme Court’s ruling, but they will benefit from comprehensive immigration reform which includes a path to legalization.

A couple of weeks ago, President Obama once again called for passage of immigration reform. He rightfully argues that fixing our immigration system is good for the economy and our national security, and, ultimately, for all of us.

“It doesn’t make sense to have 11 million people who are in this country illegally without any incentive or any way for them to come out of the shadows, get right with the law, meet their responsibilities and permit their families then to move ahead,” Obama said. “It’s not smart. It’s not fair. It doesn’t make sense.”

It is highly unlikely, however, that Congress will take up immigration reform this year with only a short time left in the legislative calendar and the Tea Party Caucus controlling the Republican majority in the House.  So the work continues.

My husband and I and other gay binational couples may have won our own personal battles with the immigration system, but we still have the responsibility to help other immigrants out of the quagmire.

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds.

Moving Beyond Marriage Equality

A couple of days ago, my husband and I were interviewed by an immigration adjudicator. The gentleman deemed our relationship legit, approved us on the spot, and told us to expect a green card in the mail. Thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court’s June ruling upending Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), he treated our marriage just like any other. My spouse and I are very fortunate.

Not all lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) immigrants are as fortunate, however. The Williams Institute estimates that about 7,000 gay couples are both non-citizens, and that approximately 267,000 undocumented immigrants identify as LGBT. These individuals do not benefit from the Supreme Court’s ruling, but they will benefit from comprehensive immigration reform. A path to legalization will free them from the shadows to become more productive, engaged, and committed members of our society.

On Thursday, the president once again called for passage of immigration reform. He rightfully argues that fixing our immigration system is good for our economy and our national security, and, ultimately, for all of us.

“It doesn’t make sense to have 11 million people who are in this country illegally without any incentive or any way for them to come out of the shadows, get right with the law, meet their responsibilities and permit their families then to move ahead,” President Obama said. “It’s not smart. It’s not fair. It doesn’t make sense.”

As we celebrate breathtaking progress on the marriage equality front, we need to be mindful that other pressing issues beset our community. We can be fired in 29 states for being ourselves. Our transgender sisters and brothers are not welcome in the military. We suffer poverty more than straight people, especially those of us who are of color. And too many in our community are further marginalized by their immigration status. Just as we rallied behind the freedom to marry, let us rally behind the freedom to live, love, and work in this country of immigrants.

Originally posted on the Huffington Post.