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LGBTQ and Immigration Reform: Two Movements Joined at the Heart
Photo: LGBTQ Immigration Rally
Late last month, Congressmen Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL, 4th) and Mike Quigley (D-IL, 5th) met with leaders of the Chicago’s LGBTQ Immigrant Rights Coalition, an emerging alliance between members of the LGBT and immigrant communities who find themselves in a political struggle for basic rights. The event was held at Adler School of Professional Psychology and was moderated by Mona Noriega, a longtime activist leader in Chicago’s LGBT community and the current Commissioner of the Department of Human Relations.
Gutiérrez and Quigley, along with leaders from various LGBT and immigrant advocacy groups, spoke of ways in which the battles for LGBT rights and immigrant rights are linked and how the two campaigns can work together to achieve more effective outcomes.
The alliance between the LGBT and immigrant communities seems like a natural fit and, if can be strengthened, could prove a force to be reckoned. Struggling to survive on the fringes of society, the LGBT and immigrant communities have a common enemy: marginalization. The LGBT rights and immigrant rights movements – once separated but now tied together – represent the fight against marginalization.
The goals of the two movements converge on the concept of family: what is a family, what does it mean to be a family, and what is society’s role in keeping families together? The narrow – heteronormative and nativist – concept of family describes one man and one woman, both American citizens, and their American children. Increasingly, however, this image of the typical American family is becoming less and less typical, and progressive Americans have long included non-heteronormative and immigrant families, as well. Progressives argue that families simply are not and cannot be defined by laws.
The more enlightened concept of family also suggests that many American families are being torn apart and kept apart by American laws. The 15-year-old Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) prohibits the federal government from legally recognizing same-sex couples. DOMA also allows each state to nullify same-sex marriage sanctioned in another state (despite the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the U.S. Constitution which requires each state to respect the “public acts, records, and judicial proceedings of every other state”). Marriage licenses, however, are now granted to same-sex couples in six states – Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont – and the District of Columbia. Same-sex civil unions have been granted in eight others, including Illinois.
Yet, despite recent success in the fight for LGBT rights, countless same-sex couples in the United States are being denied basic civil liberties. Besides not being able to marry the person of their choosing, many LGBT partners are denied visitation rights in hospitals, spousal pension and Social Security benefits, insurance benefits, tax benefits, adoption rights, health care decision-making rights, and a plethora of other rights and benefits that opposite-sex couples enjoy through marriage. And while today’s generation may slight a marriage license as just a little piece of paper, not having that little piece of paper makes it difficult for couples in any community to stay together.
Another piece of paper keeping families apart is Permanent Residency Cards. Current immigrant law and the unprecedented rate of deportation under President Obama have led to the deportation of husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, parents and children – in the worst cases, leaving entire families scattered across two hemispheres. Given the statistics on the achievement rates of children who come from either a broken home or an immigrant family, children who come from both hardly stand a chance.
As the LGBTQ Immigrant Rights Coalition of Chicago pointed out at last month’s event, individuals who are part of both the LGBT and the immigrant community find it even more difficult to overcome the web of legal restrictions placed on them by the local, state and federal governments. For instance, since same-sex marriages are not recognized by the federal government, securing a path to citizenship by marrying a U.S. citizen – the traditional route to legal status for past generations – is not an option for an LGBT immigrant.
For both the immigrant and LGBT communities there is hope on the horizon. President Obama has consistently supported passage of the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, which would provide a path to citizenship for individuals who immigrated at a young age and have either served in the military or have enrolled in a college or university. A 2007 report by the Center for Immigration Studies estimated that the DREAM Act would affect 2.1 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States. As of early October, 13 states – California, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin – have passed statewide versions of the DREAM Act that grant in-state tuition rates to undocumented immigrant students with American high school diplomas or GEDs.
In August, after carrying out a record-setting pace of deportations during his first two years in office, the President announced that his administration would review the approximately 300,000 deportation cases currently pending and only proceed with those involving serious crimes or serious threats to national security. Many immigrant rights advocates see the new policy shift as granting virtual immunity to DREAMers, undocumented immigrants who would be affected by the federal DREAM Act. Leading politicians like Congressman Gutiérrez, however, are warning the undocumented that the shift does not represent virtual amnesty for DREAMers.
On the LGBT rights front, things are also looking good. In December 2010, after mounting pressure from the Obama administration, the Democrats and LGBT advocacy groups, Congress passed the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act, thereby eliminating the policy of restricting members of the LGBT community from openly serving in the military. The new policy officially went into effect last month.
In February the administration determined that DOMA is unconstitutional and that, while it would continue to enforce the law as part of its executive duties, the administration would not defend DOMA’s legitimacy in federal courts. Then, in April, Attorney General Eric Holder suspended the deportation of an Irish undocumented man based on his marriage to a New Jersey man. The administration’s move sent a ripple across the federal court system, and an immigration judge soon followed suit in May by suspending the deportation of a Venezuelan man in a same-sex marriage.
It seems that in its new attempts to keep immigrant families together, the Obama administration will include same-sex couples in its definition of family.
Nonetheless, some challenges still face the new LGBT-immigrant rights coalition. Many members in either movement may fear the dilution of their cause by joining forces with the other camp. Sustained success in the fight for LGBT rights may prompt members of the LGBT community to feel that such a coalition with the campaign for immigrant rights is unnecessary and potentially damaging. And those pushing for immigrant rights might see their cause being upstaged by the movement for LGBT civil rights.
All members of the LGBT and immigrant communities must see their struggles for equal rights as inextricably linked to one another. As Frederick Douglass once wrote, “All great reforms go together. Whatever tends to elevate, whatever tends to exalt humanity in one portion of the world, tends to exalt it in another part.” This idea was echoed by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a century later when he wrote in a letter from an Alabama jail, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” The notion is simple enough: when a certain group is targeted by the government and denied basic rights, it makes it easier for other groups to be abused in the same way.
As Latinos, the fight for immigrant rights is our struggle to bear since it directly affects our family members, friends and the members of our community. Therefore, as advocates of the immigrant rights movement, we must ally ourselves with a LGBT community that finds itself in a similar political battle, the outcome of which will either hurt or help our cause.
Seemingly unrelated struggles for human dignity are never so separate. The advancement of any minority group in America means the advancement of all minority groups.
In 2007 Hector Luis Alamo Jr,started his online blog, YoungObservers.blogspot.com, and has contributed regularly to the site since then.From December 2010 to May 2011, Hector was Opinions Editor for UIC’s Chicago Flame.Hector has a B.A. in history from the University of Illinois at Chicago, where his departmental concentration was on ethnic relations in the United States.