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Immigration Reform is a Gay Rights Issue


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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is about fairness and dignity. It is about moving out of the shadows and into the sunlight. It is about America living up to its full promise of equality — of ensuring everyone gets a fair shake. This is why we need immigration reform.
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