No Surprise, Gays Left Out of Immigration Reform Bill

fi2w-capitol

(Photo: Flickr/mdfriendofhillary)

The Senate Gang of Eight has finally released its much-awaited immigration legislation. The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 is characterized by President Obama as a compromise bill which is largely consistent with his own principles for immigration reform.

The proposed law further fortifies our southern border and bolsters law enforcement, provides a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, creates guest worker programs for low-skilled and agricultural workers, increases the number of employment visas, and eliminates employment and family visa backlogs. It also cuts and limits the number of family visas and repeals diversity visa programs while creating a merit-based visa system based on education, employment, and length of residence in the U.S.

The comprehensive bill excludes LGBT families. Lesbian and gay Americans and permanent residents will still not be able to sponsor their loved ones for permanent residency.

The exclusion of families like mine comes as no surprise. I have been in Washington, D.C. long enough to know that compromises are made and deals brokered when crafting legislation. I am also aware that some constituencies are more influential than others. In order to get bipartisan buy-in, both sides had to give some. The Democratic senators decided that tens of thousands of LGBT families are dispensable. While the LGBT community has sway with Democrats, it was not enough in this battle. There are far more important players to please and the “greater good” to consider.

How do I feel? Angry, certainly. Resigned, mostly. This is how our democracy works. In the coming months, various interest groups and their champions will lobby Congress to make sure that they get something in the final immigration reform package. LGBT organizations and coalition partners will vigorously protest the exclusion of lesbian and gay binational couples. But at the end of the day, we will still be left out in the cold. And President Obama, who includes us in his own reform blueprint, will sign a comprehensive – but not inclusive – immigration law. And, I will be rational, saying to myself that this is a good thing.

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds and the Huffington Post.

Advertisements

Not All LGBT Immigrants Are Married to Americans

The inclusion of gay couples in comprehensive immigration reform legislation has turned into a highly contentious issue. The reality, however, is that there are more lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) immigrants than the estimated 32,300 individuals married to American citizens or legal permanent residents.

The Center for American Progress (CAP) reports that there are at least 267,000 undocumented adult immigrants who self-identify as LGBT. These individuals, because of their dual minority status as LGBT and as undocumented, are also among the nation’s most vulnerable, subject to employment, wage, and income disparities. They also face specific challenges when dealing with the immigration system.

The CAP report builds on the findings of the Williams Institute which profiles LGBT adult immigrants in the U.S. According to the institute’s research, in addition to the 2.7 percent of unauthorized adult immigrants who self-identify as LGBT, 2.4 percent of adult documented immigrants or 637,000 say they are LGBT. Gary J. Gates, the Williams Institute’s Distinguished Scholar, stressed at a CAP panel last week that these are conservative estimates and there could easily be more than 904,000 adult LGBT immigrants, both documented and undocumented. He also pointed out that about 11,700 lesbian and gay couples are both non-citizens, 58 percent of whom are raising over 12,000 children.

Jose Antonio Vargas, founder of Define American and undeniably the most high-profile undocumented immigrant in the U.S., also brought attention to queer undocumented youth who may not be counted among the 267,000 undocumented adults. Moreover, he highlighted the fact that many of the founders and leaders of the undocumented youth movement, the DREAMers, are LGBT themselves.

The CAP report argues that “passing an immigration reform bill with a direct road map to earned citizenship would lift these immigrants out of the shadows, treat them with the dignity they deserve, and enable them to become full and equal participants in our society, economy, and democracy.”

LGBT undocumented immigrants live in the shadows, marginalized by society’s bias based on sexual orientation or gender identity and immigration status. Shedding light on their numbers is a start in getting them out of the dark.

Originally posted on the Huffington Post.

Out of the Shadows: Counting Undocumented LGBT Immigrants

Shirt

March 8, 2013; Source: Fox News Latino

The inclusion of gay couples in comprehensive immigration reform legislation has turned into a highly contentious issue. According to a new report from the Center for American Progress (CAP), there are at least 267,000 undocumented adult immigrants who self-identify as LGBT. These individuals, because of their dual minority status as LGBT and as undocumented, are also among the nation’s most vulnerable, subject to employment, wage, and income disparities. They also face specific challenges when dealing with the immigration system.

The CAP report builds on the findings of a Williams Institute report which profiles LGBT adult immigrants in the U.S. According to the Institute’s research, in addition to the 2.7 percent of unauthorized adult immigrants who self-identify as LGBT, 2.4 percent of adult documented immigrants (or 637,000 documented immigrants) say they are LGBT. At a CAP panel last week, Williams Institute Distinguished Scholar Gary J. Gates stressed that these are conservative estimates and that there could easily be more than 904,000 adult LGBT immigrants, both documented and undocumented. Gates added that there are approximately 11,700 lesbian and gay couples in which both are non-citizens, and of this group, 58 percent are raising children. That would equate to more than 12,000 children.

Jose Antonio Vargas, founder of Define American and undeniably the most high-profile undocumented immigrant in the U.S., also brought attention to queer undocumented youth who may not be counted among the 267,000 undocumented adults. Moreover, he highlighted the fact that many of the founders and leaders of the undocumented youth movement, otherwise known as the DREAMers, are LGBT themselves.

The CAP report argues that “passing an immigration reform bill with a direct road map to earned citizenship would lift these immigrants out of the shadows, treat them with the dignity they deserve, and enable them to become full and equal participants in our society, economy, and democracy.” LGBT undocumented immigrants live in the shadows, marginalized by society’s biases based on sexual orientation or gender identity and/or immigration status. Shedding light on their numbers is a start in getting them out of the dark. 

Originally posted on Nonprofit Quarterly Nonprofit Newswire.

Advocacy Groups Respond to Senate Immigration Reform Framework

0128-Immigration-reform-senate_full_600

Photo: Gary Cameron/Reuters

A bipartisan group of U.S. senators released a framework for comprehensive immigration reform yesterday. The “gang of eight,” which includes Senators Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), rests the framework on four pillars. Those pillars are a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, incentives for the world’s best and the brightest, strong employment verification systems, and a program for low-skill workers.

The final form of any immigration reform legislation, if passed after negotiations in Congress, is far from certain. A handful of lawmakers remain stridently opposed to legalizing the status of unauthorized immigrants and others prefer a piecemeal approach. President Barack Obama is scheduled to unveil his own vision for comprehensive immigration reform today.

Immigrant advocacy groups have nonetheless released statements on the Senate framework, knowing full well that they need their voices to be heard early in the game.

“Today’s announcement is a giant step forward for immigrant communities, and we welcome it with an open mind and look forward to working with our Senate leaders,” said Mee Moua, president and executive director of the Asian American Justice Center, a member of the Asian American Center for Advancing Justice. “While these are just principles and the devil is in the details, we are encouraged to see that both sides understand the importance of reforming our family-based immigration system, which will strengthen our economy, increase diversity and remove the bureaucratic barriers that force families to live apart for years.”

Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM), a network of community-based immigrant advocacy organizations in 30 states, released a statement saying they “are particularly encouraged” by the framework since “some Senate Republicans have embraced the concept of a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants in the principle announced today.” FIRM members are concerned, however, that “trigger mechanisms that condition movement on a path to permanent residency on yet more enforcement in the proposed outline appear to be more tough than fair.” A FIRM press release goes on to state, “Immense investments in border security have already been made, and net new undocumented migration has dropped to essentially zero so there is no need for a trigger mechanism. We are also disappointed by the exclusion of the Uniting American Families Act to ensure fair treatment of LGBT families from the bill.”

Immigration Equality, a group that works on behalf of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) immigrants, shared this disappointment. They protest the fact that the framework does not include explicit mention of LGBT binational families nor outlines a solution for keeping these families together. They point out that just a few months ago, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus had the protection of LGBT families as a top priority for immigration reform.

Nonprofits that advocate for immigrants will continue to lend their voice and lead in this rebooted effort at overhauling our decrepit and unworkable immigration system. They will do so until their constituents become full members of our society.

Also posted on Nonprofit Quarterly Nonprofit Newswire.

Will the “New” Consensus on Immigration Work with the Old?

Will the “new” consensus lay the groundwork for reform? (Photo:Jack Gordon)

A group of leaders that carry bibles, badges, and business plans gathered in the nation’s capital last week. Forging a New Consensus, a group of conservative faith, law enforcement, and business leaders convened to “tell the administration and the Congress that there is a new consensus on immigrants and America.” The coalition also released Voices of the New Consensus: Bibles, Badges and Business, a report that spells out a framework for comprehensive immigration reform.

The document hits the right notes. It stresses that the need for reform is “urgent and critical,” and that bipartisanship, along with a “willingness to compromise on short-term agendas to reach longer-term solutions that uphold America’s commitment to fairness and humane values” is necessary.

The report lists four points of consensus based on a series of interviews with faith, law enforcement, and business leaders. First, aspiring citizens and temporary workers should be afforded a path to lawful status and citizenship. Second, our immigration laws should be modernized to ensure that future immigration is legal, fair, and orderly. Third, our borders should be safe and secure. Finally, President Obama “must lead members of Congress from both parties through an honest, transparent legislative process” that results in comprehensive immigration reform. Conservative leaders acknowledge that “Congress will not be able to succeed without strong leadership.”

But there’s the rub. While the president has been calling for immigration reform from day one, and a framework that embodies the spirit of this “new” consensus has existed for some time now, obstructionist lawmakers, spurred by the anti-immigrant fringe, have stymied the process.

The report points out that “broad and non-traditional coalitions are powerful vehicles to help legislators see common interests. Faith, law enforcement and business leadership working together at the local level can provide unique support and pressure on a member of congress supporting practical immigration reforms.”

Will this legion of bibles, badges, and business be able to mobilize their constituencies to pressure representatives into action and compromise with a duly-elected president these lawmakers unabashedly abhor and long to fail? Moreover, will these conservative players, new to the immigration reform arena, play along with the progressive consensus which has already laid the groundwork for a truly comprehensive and inclusive immigration reform?

Stephan Bauman, President and CEO of World Relief, is quoted as saying “We call for a bipartisan solution for immigration that respects the God-given dignity of every person, that protects the unity of the immediate family, that respects the rule of law.” Does that include the dignity of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender immigrants and the protection of LGBT immigrant families? Will Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family, a rabidly homophobic organization, persuade its members to support immigration legislation that covers lesbian and gay binational couples?

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds, December 10, 2012. Re-posted on the Huffington Post, December 11.

Will Immigration Reform Be Comprehensive and Inclusive?

Pelosi and Boehner. (Photo: Flickr/talkradionews)

Republican leadership in Congress now appears to be on board with immigration reform, shocked into action by the potency of the Latino vote and awakened to a new political order that includes people of color. But will reform be truly comprehensive, offering a path to citizenship for some 11 million unauthorized immigrants? Will it be inclusive, embracing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) immigrant families?

Speaker Boehner, supported by talking heads who dramatically “evolved” on the issue a day after Gov. Romney’s drubbing, seems determined to fix our immigration system and address the plight of our undocumented neighbors. There are those in the GOP however, who bristle at the idea of a compromise that goes beyond tighter border enforcement and visas for much needed scientists and farm workers.

While I remain skeptical about any major legislation breaking Washington’s congressional impasse, comprehensive immigration reform is conceivable if both parties harken back to the day, not too long ago, when they actually agreed on a comprehensive immigration framework. I am concerned however that along the way, gay binational couples will be thrown under the bus as lawmakers “compromise.”

Steve Ralls, Director of Communications at Immigration Equality assures me that this is unlikely to happen. Immigration Equality has been at the forefront of pushing immigration reform that is both comprehensive and inclusive.

“All signs are pointing to an immigration reform effort early in the new Congress,” Ralls said. “Immigration Equality is confident we can ensure that effort will include LGBT binational families. The combination of steadfast allies on the Hill; a president who has vowed to end the separation of our families; and a vigorous grassroots mobilization makes us more optimistic than ever that we can win this within the next year.”

His confidence stems from having key lawmakers such as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on the side of LGBT immigrant families.

“Leaders on immigration and LGBT issues – such as Congressman (Jerrold) Nadler (D-NY), Congressman (Mike) Honda (D-CA), Congresswoman (Zoe) Lofgren (D-CA) and Congressman (Luis) Gutierrez (D-IL) – have committed that they will work for an inclusive bill,” he added. “And in the Senate, any immigration reform measure will first have to be approved by the Judiciary Committee before moving to the full Senate for a vote.”

The Judiciary Committee is chaired by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt), a lead sponsor of the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA)which brings equality to gay couples under immigration law. Senator Leahy has promised that only an inclusive bill will leave his committee, and that he will work hand-in-hand with other lawmakers – including Republicans – to make that a reality.

One of these Republicans is Senator Susan Collins. When asked whether Senator Collins would support an inclusive immigration reform bill, her office sent a statement reiterating her commitment to UAFA.

“This legislation would simply update our nation’s immigration laws to treat bi-national couples equally,” Collins said. “More than two dozen countries recognize same-sex couples for immigration purposes. This important civil rights legislation would help prevent committed, loving families from being forced to choose between leaving their family or leaving their country.”

Another key player is the president himself who received overwhelming support from LGBT and immigrant communities in his bid for reelection.  Mr. Obama has signaled action on immigration in 2013.

“Immigration Equality’s team has already started reaching out to our key allies – on the Hill, in the Administration and among LGBT and immigration advocacy organizations – to ensure we have the public support, Congressional votes and allied support we need to get an inclusive bill introduced and passed,” Ralls said. “The seismic shift on LGBT and immigrants’ rights issues that has taken place in Washington and across the country makes us believe that passage of an inclusive bill isn’t just possible, but indeed is likely.”

Let’s hope so.

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds, November 19, 2012 and the Huffington Post, November 20, 2012.

Discretion Policy on Deportations of Gay Immigrant Spouses Doesn’t Go Far Enough

Janet Napolitano has put into writing what had been verbally promised by DHS. (Photo: Flickr/americanprogress)

Last week, a letter from Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano had some lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) and immigrant activists celebrating. Napolitano put into writing what had been verbally promised by DHS: gay binational couples are recognized like any other family and foreign-born spouses will not be deported under a directive issued last year.

The directive, known as the Morton Memo, gives Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) personnel leeway—prosecutorial discretion—in deciding which immigrants get reprieve from deportation. These include those who have lived in the U.S. since childhood, minors, the elderly, victims of serious crimes, veterans and members of the armed services, people with serious disabilities or health problems, and individuals with close family ties (such as marriage to a U.S. citizen or permanent resident).

LGBT binational families should be able to breathe easy under this mandate. Advocates have been pushing for clearer guidelines from day one, seeking confirmation that discretion would apply to lesbians and gays. Immigration is a federal matter, and legal same-gender marriages and civil unions are not recognized by the U.S. government due to the odious and discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

Spurred by a letter from 84 members of Congress, Napolitano finally affirmed in writing that gay families are to be treated no differently.

“In an effort to make clear the definition of the phrase ‘family relationships,’ I have directed ICE to disseminate written guidance to the field that the interpretation of the phrase ‘family relationships’ includes long-term, same-sex partners,” Napolitano wrote.

“This is a huge step forward,” said Rachel B. Tiven, executive director of Immigration Equality, the leading advocate for LGBT immigrants and refugees. “Until now, LGBT families and their lawyers had nothing to rely on but an oral promise that prosecutorial discretion would include all families. Today, DHS has responded to Congress and made that promise real. The Administration’s written guidance will help families facing separation and the field officers who are reviewing their cases.”

While, no doubt, this spells relief for some binational couples, the fact of the matter is that this is not progress, much less a real solution to a problem which shouldn’t exist in the first place.

Foreign-born spouses who are magnanimously granted reprieve by the administration remain in legal limbo and without status, unable to work or go anywhere outside the contiguous states. Gay Americans are still unable to petition their loved ones for permanent residency unlike their straight counterparts.

And what happens under an anti-LGBT Romney White House? I’m willing to bet that this directive goes out the window.

What is needed to address the unfair treatment and tenuous existence of LGBT binational families is the repeal of DOMA. Short of that, we need legislation which grants the same federal benefits enjoyed by straight couples to legally married gay binational couples. The harsh reality of partisan politics in both the Supreme Court and Congress makes neither likely to happen.

Now, if President Obama is re-elected however, he can issue an executive order recognizing legally married same-gender couples, granting them immigration and other benefits. Judging from the past four years though, the chances of this happening are slim to none.

Sorry for being such a killjoy.

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds, October 5, 2012. Also posted on the Huffington Post, October 8, 2012.

That’s My Issue: Binationals and Gay Marriage

that's my issue square logo

On March 9, 2010, lesbian and gay couples were finally able to legally wed in the District of Columbia. On April 5, John and I finally got married, eleven and a half years after we moved in together.

Friends and family were happy for us. Many were relieved. Our “problem” was solved.

Like most immigrants, I came to the United States with my American dream. I was going to work hard, improve my lot, and give back. I was going to live openly and with integrity. I was also going to fall in love, settle down, and have my own family.

For the most part, I have been fortunate and have done okay. I am working part-time while completing a doctoral degree. I volunteer and help out when I can. I am doing what I love and believe that in my small way I am making a difference. Best of all, I have fallen in love, settled down, and started a family with someone whom I share the same faith and core values.

Until we had the freedom to marry, John and I did our best to get whatever legal protections were doled out to same-gender couples. While living in New York, we registered as domestic partners. Upon relocating to Washington, we again signed up as domestic partners and eventually got a marriage license.

Although no one can deny the fact that we are a married couple, the hard and unfair reality is that our marriage license isn’t worth much outside the District. Because of the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act, which precludes the U.S. government from recognizing lesbian and gay unions, we and thousands of other committed couples are denied over 1,100 benefits and privileges blessed upon straight couples. Only because of whom we love.

Even though we have been paying our taxes and contributing to Social Security, neither of us will be entitled to the other’s benefits. Anything we give or bequeath each other – property, money, and other material possessions – will be taxed. The list goes on.

My mother was among those who thought my marriage to John solved the problem. When I shared the news, she congratulated us and said “Great, so he should be able to sponsor you.”

Thanks to the vagaries of our immigration system, I still do not have a green card, a Damocles sword that has hung over our heads since we committed to each other fourteen years ago.  I may consider the United States my home, having lived here legally for over two decades, and in my heart feel American, but at the end of the day I am still technically a foreign visitor, a foreign student.

I explained to my mom that because immigration is a federal matter, John will not be able to sponsor me for legal permanent residency. If we were a straight couple however, I’d have a green card by now. In the meantime, the choice we face is to find some way to keep me here legally or leave friends, family, and country we love once I get my Ph.D.

Originally posted on WNYC It’s A Free Country, August 20, 2012.

Evangelicals Are Polarizing the Immigrant Rights Movement

Latin Evangelical Immigration Services

Latinos are a rapidly growing population in Evangelical churches and have led Christian groups to embrace immigration reform. (Photo: Kent Kanouse/flickr)

Latinos are a rapidly growing population in evangelical churches and have led many Christian groups to embrace immigration reform. The groups mean well, but they pose a danger of fracturing the immigrant rights alliance.

The Evangelical Immigration Table, which counts more than 150 influential evangelical leaders among its ranks, is openly making immigration reform a priority. The group came to Washington on Tuesday to release a set of principles for reform meant to spur Congress into action. They had strong words:

Our national immigration laws have created a moral, economic and political crisis in America. Initiatives to remedy this crisis have led to polarization and name calling in which opponents have misrepresented each other’s positions as open borders and amnesty versus deportations of millions. This false choice has led to an unacceptable political stalemate at the federal level at a tragic human cost.

The group calls for a bipartisan immigration solution which treats immigrants with dignity while upholding the rule of law and ensuring national security.

“There are not many things that a group of evangelical leaders this diverse can agree on when it comes to public policy,” Jim Wallis, President and CEO of Sojourners said. “The unity we have found around these principles for comprehensive immigration reform is unprecedented. Many Christians are weary of the political polarization in Washington D.C. these days, and are ready to come together around biblically based and common sense solutions that cut across traditional political boundaries.”

One would think that long-time advocates of immigration reform would welcome the evangelicals—who have powerful allies in Congress—into the movement’s fold. The National Immigration Forum, which has sought “practical solutions for immigrants and for America,” for three decades certainly has.

But the evangelicals are getting push-back from others in immigrant rights movement. Immigration Equality, a national organization fighting for equality under U.S. immigration law for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and HIV-positive individuals has expressed disappointment with National Immigration Forum’s embrace of the Evangelical Immigration Table. In particular, Immigration Equality is alarmed by one fundamentalist organization among the evangelical coalition, Focus on the Family.

“As an organization dedicated to building a coalition for immigration reform that includes all families, we are dismayed by the decision [of National Immigration Forum] to embrace an out-of-step organization like Focus on the Family,” said Rachel B. Tiven, Immigration Equality’s executive director.

“Many religious denominations and people of faith support fully inclusive immigration reform. Focus on the Family, however, is neither a church nor a denomination. It is a divisive political organization with a disturbing history of advocating exclusion – including the exclusion of women and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people – from the progress of our country. Those exclusionary principles are exactly the opposite of what our immigration movement should be embracing,” Tiven said.

Immigration Equality is concerned that this development will jeopardize LGBT immigrant families whose inclusion in any comprehensive immigration reform effort has long been considered as non-negotiable by leading immigrant advocates and lawmakers. It is a concern I share as a gay foreign-born spouse.

Although the Evangelical Immigration Table has as one of its principles the protection of “the unity of the immediate family,” I expect some, if not most, of these new “allies” not to fight for the dignity and worth of LGBT immigrant families like mine. I expect Focus on the Family and others to insist that LGBT families be thrown under the bus.

As Steve Ralls, Immigration Equality’s communications director points out, Focus on the Family “has been almost singularly focused in attacking LGBT families and women.” He adds that groups such as the Southern Poverty Law Center have been critical of Focus on the Family’s anti-gay advocacy and have branded the fundamentalist organization as a hate group.

At a time when unity among immigrant advocates is crucial, Focus on the Family and other fringe groups can easily sow discord.

“The organization is polarizing on Capitol Hill and is better known for burning bridges than building them,” Ralls said.  “It is simply, in our view, a strategic blunder on the part of the National Immigration Forum to embrace a group that is so polarizing among lawmakers and families at a time when building consensus and inclusion is so important if we are going to secure reform legislation that helps as many families as possible.”

I am all for coalition-building, especially at a time when so many voices are stifled by money and influence. But fundamentalist groups like Focus on the Family are insidious and dangerous. Rather than help advance comprehensive immigration reform, they will derail the cause.

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds and the Huffington Post.

The U.S. Recognizes Straight Binational Marriages with Transgender Spouses

Eternal Love by Holding Hands

Bride and groom (Photo: Frozen Canuck)

The U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued a memorandum last week that updates the Adjudicator’s Field Manual, a guide binding all agency staff overseeing immigration procedures. It spells out policy around immigration documents issued and marriage benefits given to transgender individuals. The interim memo, released for comment from stakeholders, is in effect until further notice from USCIS.

The directive is welcome news for the transgender community and its allies.

USCIS will now issue immigration documents that reflect an individual’s gender identity, so long as the individual presents “an amended birth certificate, passport, or court order recognizing their new gender; or medical certification of the change in gender from a licensed physician.” The memo points out that these criteria are “based on standards and recommendations of the World Professional Association for Transgender Health who are recognized as the authority in this field by the American Medical Association.”

USCIS will also approve green-card petitions by American citizens or permanent residents for their spouses if a petitioner establishes that the transgender individual has legally changed their gender and subsequently married an individual of the other gender; that the marriage is recognized as a heterosexual marriage under the law where the union took place; and that the law where the marriage took place does not bar unions between transgender individuals and persons of the other gender.

The directive explicitly says that gender-reassignment surgery “is not required in order for USCIS to approve” petitions “unless the law of the place of marriage clearly requires sex reassignment surgery in order to accomplish a change in legal gender.”

The National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) and Immigration Equality, advocates for transgender rights, applauded the development. The organizations have been working in tandem to advance these urgently needed policies, part of a comprehensive agenda for the fair treatment of transgender immigrants.

“Today’s announcement is another example of the Obama Administration’s long-term commitment to equality,” NCTE Policy Counsel Harper Jean Tobin said Friday. “These revisions mean that trans people and their families can obtain accurate identification while maintaining their privacy. It’ll also reduce bureaucratic delays, intrusive questions, and wrongful denials of immigration benefits.”

“This Guidance is an important step forward for transgender immigrants and their families,” added Victoria Neilson, Legal Director for Immigration Equality. “It brings USCIS in line with DOS [the Department of State] in its guidance for updating gender markers on identity documents — no longer requiring any specific surgery, but instead allowing a doctor to certify the individual’s gender.” She added, “The memo affirms existing law and precedents, and recognizes that if a marriage is considered valid and opposite sex under state law, it is valid for immigration purposes.”

This is certainly a step in the right direction, and the administration should be given credit for taking this move, but it leaves gay binational married couples, who are not afforded immigration benefits because of the Defense of Marriage (DOMA), out in the cold. Some of these couples also include a spouse who is transgender.

Tobin acknowledges the long path ahead: “While these two revisions aid some trans immigrants and their U.S. citizen spouses, and vice-versa, the revisions only highlight the need to eliminate the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act.”

Originally posted on the Huffington Post, WNYC’s It’s A Free Country, and Feet in 2 Worlds, April 16, 2012.