What the DOMA Ruling Means for Gay Binational Couples

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Image: REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

After wrestling with the immigration system for 23 years, just like that, I have a clear path to citizenship, thanks to nine very human and very fallible Supreme Court justices. By ruling DOMA’s section 3 unconstitutional, legal marriages of lesbians and gays in 12 states and the District of Columbia are now recognized by the federal government. My husband can finally petition for a green card for me, just like any other American citizen or permanent resident. I am relieved, grateful, and more optimistic than ever about my family’s future in the country we love and call home.

But this is just the beginning, and there are more hurdles to overcome. We have to convince the U.S. government that ours is a marriage of love and commitment, not convenience, in order to get a provisional green card. After a couple of years, I can apply for a permanent green card. Finally, after a couple more years, I can apply for citizenship. In short, I will finally be a U.S. citizen after having been here close to three decades.

More importantly, the fight for civil rights continues for the LGBT community and its allies. Gay women and men are denied the freedom to marry in most states. Legally married lesbian and gay couples living in states that do not recognize same-gender marriages will continue to be denied state privileges and benefits bestowed straight couples. We can still be fired for who we are in a majority of states. Queer people of color are kept at the social, economic, and political margins.

Let us pause to celebrate, but tomorrow let us gird ourselves for the struggle that lies ahead.

Originally posted on the Huffington Post.

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The Immigration Bill’s Poisonous Gay Amendments

U.S. Senators have submitted their 301 amendments to the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013, with Republican Sen. Grassley responsible for 77, a quarter of the entire lot. Sen. Sessions comes in second with 49 amendments. Among the Democrats, who authored a third of the amendments, Mazie Hirono has the most, 24.

The Senate Judiciary Committee begins the amendment process Thursday. It will be interesting to see which amendments make the cut and how the measure will look after weeks of what will no doubt be spirited hearings.

LGBT advocates and their allies will be anxiously monitoring two proposals from Sen. Leahy. The amendments seek to rectify the immigration measure which currently excludes lesbian and gay binational couples. GOP senators and conservative activists have warned that inclusion of such couples would be a “poison pill” which would kill the legislation.

The purpose of Leahy’s first pro-LGBT submission is “to amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to eliminate discrimination in the immigration laws by permitting permanent 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.” In short, to treat permanent partnerships the same as marriages for immigration purposes.

Leahy’s second proposal seeks “to recognize, for purposes of the Immigration and Nationality Act, any marriage entered into in full compliance with the laws of the State or foreign country within which such marriage was performed.”

Neither amendment uses the words lesbian, gay, or homosexual. Everyone knows, however, that these changes have to do with same-gender couples. I have said elsewhere that I believe lesbian and gay couples will be left out of immigration reform. Not because I think we should. My husband and I are among the thousands of couples that would benefit. I say so because of the political realities of Washington.

You can watch the HuffPost Live segment where I join the discussion about the immigration bill and gay binational couples here.

LGBT Groups Fight for Inclusion in Immigration Reform

Rain on Dreams

May 2, 2103; The Advocate

This week, senators will be offering amendments to the immigration bill crafted by eight of their colleagues. Advocates have been working overtime on lawmakers to make sure that changes in the measure reflect their interests. LGBT groups have been among the most vocal, protesting the exclusion of same-gender bi-national couples and insisting that any bill voted on by the full chamber include LGBT immigrant families.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) has indicated that he would offer an amendment allowing gay Americans to sponsor their foreign-born spouses and partners for green cards, a privilege enjoyed by straight Americans. Republican senators have warned that such a move would be a “poison pill” which would kill any immigration bill. “It will virtually guarantee that it won’t pass,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) told POLITICO. “This issue is a difficult enough issue as it is. I respect everyone’s views on it. But ultimately, if that issue is injected into this bill, the bill will fail and the coalition that helped put it together will fall apart.”

Religious fundamentalists and other conservatives have weighed in, threatening to withdraw support if immigration reform were inclusive. “We strongly would oppose the provision and it could force us to reconsider our support for the bill,” said Kevin Appleby, director of the Catholic Bishops’ Office of Migration and Public Affairs.

LGBT advocates are calling that bluff. “We do not believe that our friends in the evangelical faith community or conservative Republicans would allow the entire immigration reform bill to fail simply because it affords 28,500 same-sex couples equal immigration rights,” reads a joint statement from the National Center for Lesbian Rights, GLAAD, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, United We Dream, and the Queer Undocumented Immigrant Project. “This take-it-or-leave-it stance with regard to same-sex bi-national couples is not helpful when we all share the same goal of passing comprehensive immigration reform that provides a path to citizenship.”

The president, who has chosen to let Congress take the lead in forging immigration legislation, has hedged on the matter. While he continues to assure LGBT and other progressive groups that he supports the inclusion of gay bi-national couples, he has also made it crystal clear that he will sign compromise legislation that will leave some sectors disgruntled. “I can tell you I think that this provision is the right thing to do,” he said. “I can also tell you I’m not going to get everything I want in this bill. Republicans are not going to get everything that they want in this bill.”

President Obama is spot on in that not everyone will be happy. Should a final bill pass, it is very possible that gay bi-national couples will not be part of it. Fact is, compromises are made and deals brokered whenever legislation is crafted. Moreover, some constituencies are more valuable than others. In this situation, the LGBT lobby will not prevail as there are far more important players to please and the “greater good” to consider.

Originally posted on Nonprofit Quarterly Nonprofit Newswire.

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

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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.

Will LGBT Binational Couples Be Included in Immigration Reform?

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February 15, 2013; SourceMetro Weekly

Last week, two bills that address the plight of gay binational couples were introduced in Congress. Gay U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents, unlike their straight peers, are not able to sponsor spouses or partners for green cards because of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). The Family Equality Council, an organization that represents lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) parents and their children, points out that there are more than 36,000 binational couples in the country, about half of whom are raising children. These families run the risk of being torn apart by limited immigration options under the current system.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) announced that they would reintroduce the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA), which seeks to eliminate the discrimination suffered by LGBT families under immigration law. The following day, Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) reintroduced the Reuniting Families Act (RFA), which aims to shorten the long wait times for family-sponsored visas and also allows gay Americans to sponsor their foreign-born partners.

“Our family-based immigration system has not been updated in 20 years, separating spouses, children and their parents, who have played by the rules for years,” Honda said in a statement. “My proposed legislation is in line with American family values and with our need to grow our economy and save taxpayer money. American workers with families by their side are happier, healthier and more able to succeed than those distanced from loved ones for years on end. Our country deserves an immigration system that honors and supports key family values, like keeping families intact.”

“Family is the universal source of success and happiness for people of all faiths, nationalities, and sexual orientations,” said Rachel B. Tiven, executive director of Immigration Equality, a nonprofit that advocates for LGBT immigrants. “With family by your side, every American and every newcomer can work hard, study, and achieve.”

It is highly unlikely that either legislation will gain enough support to pass through both chambers of Congress. Instead, the best solution for LGBT immigrant families might be their inclusion in any comprehensive immigration bill. President Barack Obama’s immigration plan includes LGBT families, but the Senate’s bipartisan plan does not.

Many conservatives have expressed opposition to any law that would make allowances for gay binational couples and their families. It remains to be seen whether there may be enough equality-minded lawmakers in Congress to stand up for the rights of LGBT immigrant families.

Originally posted on Nonprofit Quarterly Nonprofit Newswire

Comparing Immigration Reform Proposals

Infographic courtesy of the Urban Institute.

Both the President and the Senate’s “gang of eight” introduced proposals for comprehensive immigration reform this week. They agree on key principles revolving around enforcement, employment, a path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants, and solutions for problems plaguing the system. But they also differ in several ways.

Immigrant advocacy groups have expressed their approval. The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund issued the following statement:

NALEO Educational Fund applauds the bipartisan efforts of U.S. Senators who today released their framework for moving comprehensive immigration reform forward. The principles acknowledge that our nation is struggling as a result of our broken immigration system, and aims to address this issue in a fair and humane manner that brings the more than 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the country today out of the shadows.

“The statements from President Obama and the bi-partisan group of Senators this week give us hope that immigration policy reform will soon become a reality. Our community members are deeply affected by every facet of our nation’s immigration laws and enforcement practices,” said Deepa Iyer, Chair of the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans (NCAPA). “Our communities also have sent the message that changes in immigration policy are critical in uniting families, accessing employment, education and health care, and living without fear of detention and deportation.”

There are several differences between the president’s and senators’ frameworks however, as outlined by the Urban Institute. Surprisingly, a key sticking point is no longer the fate of the estimated 11 million plus undocumented immigrants, but that of lesbian and gay binational couples and their families, who number less than 30,000. Because of the Defense of Marriage Act, U.S. citizens and permanent residents are not able to sponsor their same-gender foreign-born partners and spouses, unlike their heterosexual counterparts. While the president’s plan has a provision for gay families, the senators’ plan does not.

Conservatives in Congress warn against insisting on an LGBT-inclusive provision in any comprehensive immigration legislation.

“I think it is a red herring,” said Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) when asked about this issue. “I think then, do we want to guarantee a tax payer free abortion? I’m telling you now, if you load this up with social issues and things that are controversial, then it will endanger the issue.”

The idea of throwing LGBT immigrant families under the bus has advocates displeased. Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM), a network of community-based immigrant advocacy organizations in 30 states, released a statement saying they are “disappointed by the exclusion of the Uniting American Families Act to ensure fair treatment of LGBT families from the bill.” The Uniting American Families Act would guarantee the equal treatment of gay couples. Immigration Equality, a group that works on behalf of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) immigrants, shared this dissatisfaction.

“We were disappointed that the bipartisan framework did not specifically include lesbian and gay families,” said Steve Ralls, Immigration Equality’s Director of Communications. “Earlier this year, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus released their priorities for immigration reform and we were on their list that they wanted to see included.”

The administration and GOP leadership appear committed to passing immigration reform this year but there are no guarantees about what form it will take, whether it will be truly comprehensive and inclusive or not.

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds.

Immigration Reform: The President’s Plan versus the Senate’s

The president and Senate “gang of eight” introduced their proposals for comprehensive immigration reform this week. Both agree on key principles revolving around enforcement, employment, a path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants, and solutions for problems plaguing the system. Several differences remain, however, as shown in the table below.

Surprisingly, a key sticking point is no longer the fate of the estimated 11 million plus undocumented immigrants, but that of lesbian and gay binational couples and their families, who number less than 30,000. Because of the Defense of Marriage Act, U.S. citizens and permanent residents are not able to sponsor their same-gender foreign-born partners and spouses, unlike their heterosexual counterparts. Conservatives in Congress warn against including an LGBT-inclusive provision in any comprehensive immigration legislation.

While the administration and GOP leadership appear committed to passing a bill this year, there are no guarantees about what form it will take.

immigration reformOriginally posted on Urban Institute’s MetroTrends and the Huffington Post.

 

Updated: 2012 Ushers in New Laws Impacting Immigrants

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More states now require employers to use E-Verify to check work authorization status of new hires. (Photo: windley/flickr)

New state immigration laws took effect this week. These include Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and Tennesseestatutes which require employers to confirm that new hires have work authorization through E-Verify, a federal database that crosschecks employee information against the records of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration. Opponents of E-Verify say it burdens immigrants because the database is prone to error.

In this election year, laws in KansasRhode IslandTennessee and Texas will require all voters to present photo IDs come November.  Some of these laws are directly connected to the fear that non-citizen immigrants will vote in elections. A Tennessee statute will require election officials to compare the Voter Registration database with the Department of Safety database to ensure non-U.S. citizens aren’t registered to vote. If the database crosscheck reveals any discrepancies, these individuals must show citizenship papers.

On the other hand, California stands out in having a number of new laws which benefit the immigrant community.

California took the opposite stance of many states and made it illegal for municipalities to mandate that companies use E-Verify unless required by federal law.

AB 176 requires test sponsors of graduate exams such as GRE, LSAT, MCAT and GMAT to provide alternative methods for verifying a test taker’s identity. Newcomers who have yet to acquire driver’s licenses or other traditional forms of identification stand to benefit from this ordinance.

SB 126 makes it easier for farm workers, who are predominantly immigrants, to join unions and advocate for labor rights. Employers are prohibited from engaging in unfair labor practices such as preventing farm workers from holding a secret ballot election.

AB 353 prohibits impounding the vehicles of those stopped at sobriety checkpoints and found to be without a valid license.

SB 657 requires large retailers and manufacturers to inform consumers what steps have been taken to ensure that their supply chains are free from slavery and human trafficking which disproportionately victimizes immigrants.

The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that a wide range of laws in at least 21 states took effect on New Year’s Day. Many of these statutes affect the lives of the 37 million immigrants who call America home.

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds, January 4, 2012. The editors cut the following section which might of  interest to some readers:

New civil rights laws are now in place which can protect some immigrants.

California has amended its Fair Employment and Housing Act to protect members of the LGBT community, particularly transgender women and men, some of whom also belong to the immigrant community.

Delaware and Hawaii legalized civil unions for lesbian and gay couples. The Williams Institute estimates that there are 28,500 binational gay couples in which one partner is an immigrant and nearly 11,500 gay couples in which neither is a U.S. citizen. Although gay unions, unlike straight ones, do not currently provide a path to citizenship for foreign-born spouses, the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act will eventually allow gay Americans to sponsor their immigrant spouses.

 

Gay Binational Couples Fight Back

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A gay couple outside of the City Clerk’s office in lower Manhattan on July 24. (Photo: asterix611/flickr)

After last week’s commentary on the response of gay binational couples to new Department of Homeland Security (DHS) deportation guidelines, I received quite a few heated reactions.

Kathy Drasky, whose story is featured in Torn Apart: United by Love, Divided by Lawsent me a link to an online petition spearheaded by the organization she co-founded, Out4Immigration, an all-volunteer grassroots group made up of binational couples and their supporters.

The petition criticizes DHS, which the group says has left the LGBT community “disappointed” because the new guidelines “fail to specifically mention gay and lesbian binational couples,” who are in danger of deportation because the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) prevents them from equal protection. It also offers a way for people to get involved.

“We like to go on record and empower as many of us as possible,” Drasky told me via email. “So many couples are living in exile, or under the radar, or from visa status to visa status that they find it hard to get involved and do something.  We strongly encourage people to use these petitions to educate their friends, families, colleagues and communities about our issue. What same-sex binational couples face is a very complex issue. It is rarely even understood by other LGBT people, so our work is cut out for us.”

C., who asked not be identified since his husband is an undocumented immigrant, said, “You must have seen the video of the cop pepper-spraying the students at UC Davis. The rage I feel at the sight of that is the rage I have so often felt at our government’s failure of its LGBT citizens where it comes to immigration. The very fact that it continues to let itself tear committed families and couples apart, squandering resources for all involved, is nothing but gratuitous cruelty, just as the officer’s stupid display of power was.”

C. has been with his spouse for 18 years and they recently got married in New York.

“The lack of language clearly protecting families like mine where immigration is concerned, is a de facto policy statement that only some families count, only some families are valued, and government officials still allow fear of us to rule their ability to take a stand on our behalf,” C. said.

He is concerned that the lack of clarity on who is allowed to stay and who will be deported leaves them vulnerable to the whims and prejudices of an immigration official, particularly one who does not care for gay people.

“Our almost two decades together would be torn apart, spreading circles of hardship to employees, extended family, and our community,” C. said.

“This is not consistent, in my opinion, with the ideals upon which this republic was founded—and counter to the reality I see in the real world of my community, where we are acknowledged by everyone we know as a couple, committed as any other,” he added.

C. and his husband have run a small business since 1997 and they are very much embedded in their community.

“We have our house, we have our dogs, we have our business, we are active in our neighborhood’s redevelopment…we have our life here.”

C. and his husband are not giving up without a fight. They do what they can to raise awareness about the plight of binational same-sex couples. They even speak up in a video produced by the Devote Campaign, albeit in the shadows.

“Some of the most impressive couples I know are binational same-sex couples who have endured against all odds.  We bring much to our families and communities, and I believe am keeping the American Dream alive by fighting for it,” C. said, “by speaking out about this issue, by taking risks.”

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds, December 1, 2011.