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Sunday, October 17, 2010

Queers and Immigration: A Vision Statement (2007)

By onto; Jan 31 2007 - Published on deleteTheBorder.org (http://deletetheborder.org)
Two of the most divisive issues in the United States today are those concerning Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer rights and immigration. There is little discussion of how immigration is also an issue for queer people, and even less analysis of the structural similarities between queer and immigrant struggles. Queer immigrants are marginalized or invisible at the intersection of two identities. As a whole, more complex family structures -- such as those of binational same-sex couples and extended families -- are completely absent from the larger struggle for immigration reform. The immigrant advocacy movement places undue emphasis on heteronormative relationships and conceptions of normality in an effort to gain basic citizenship rights. The mainstream LGBTQ rights movement tends to focus on those immigrants who are partners of US citizens. This leaves out the predicament of, for instance, single people and/or those who do not define themselves within conventional relationships like marriage or conjugality. Both movements are depriving themselves of the power and strategic insights that LGBTQ immigrants can provide. We, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and gender-nonconforming people and allies, stand in solidarity with the immigrant rights movement. With this statement, we call for genuinely progressive immigration reform that helps LGBTQ immigrants.

We recognize that many in our community live as queers and immigrants and
we are taking this opportunity, at a historic moment for both groups, to
articulate our analysis of the immigration debate. We call for an end to
the stigmatization of queer individuals, the recognition of our varied,
unique, and flexible kinship networks, the end of the restrictive and
dangerous criminalization of migrant and queer communities, and an
immigration reform package that puts progressive labor reforms into

The 2006 elections provided mixed results for our communities. Even though
anti-LGBTQ ballots were being passed around the country, Arizona voters
defeated a measure that would further stigmatize LGBTQ people (Proposition
107). Nationally, voters rejected anti-immigrant candidates running for
Congress. Sadly, draconian anti-immigrant amendments were approved at the
state level in Arizona (Propositions 100, 102, 103, and 300) and Colorado
(Referendums H and K). These measures will have a severely negative
impact on the lives of LGBTQ immigrants, virtually nullifying the positive
gains of the election. We are strongly against states initiating laws that
have detrimental effects on both queer and non-queer-identified people.
There are many problematic aspects of these bills; we focus on a few main
issues to highlight the injustices perpetuated by them:

We call for an immediate repeal of the HIV ban and bar on travel and
immigration. The bar forces several immigrants to hide their HIV status
and into criminalization. Moreover, the HIV bar is an unscientific public
health measure because it perpetuates the stigma about HIV/AIDS. In many
cases, the mandatory immigrant visa-related HIV test at the time of the
adjustment of status application is the first diagnosis of HIV for an
immigrant who may not be subsequently offered counseling or treatment
options. The ban is ostensibly designed to keep the virus out, but it only
penalizes HIV positive people, many of whom are already in the country.
Moreover, immigrants are often infected in the US. The ban defines them as
public health risks instead of ensuring their access to health care.
Under the current ban, waivers are offered on the basis of qualifying
familial relationships. The ban does not offer waivers for non-conjugal
relationships/kinship networks/same-sex partnerships and perpetuates the
traditional devaluing of non-heteronormative bonds. We call for the
reinstating of individual hardship waivers that would allow an individual
to self-petition for humanitarian reasons or reasons of public
interest —similar to those in place before the 1996 reforms which
instituted the familial relationship requirement.

Policing the Border

The proposal for a national wall along the 20,000 mile border between US
and Mexico is economically unsustainable and takes away from programs like
education and public assistance. A wall would expand the existing police
state and harm inflicted upon immigrants entering at the border. As the
National Immigration Forum has reported, increased surveillance only
results in increased desperation as migrant workers face injury,
exploitation by coyotes, and the increased possibility of dying: “From
January 1995 through March 2004, more than 2,640 migrants died. In the
last four years there has been on average more than one death per day. A
record 460 migrants lost their lives this past year compared to 325 in
2004, according to the U.S. Border Patrol.” Clearly, spending on border
security drains much-needed resources from US society and is not
effective. These same resources could be used to strengthen social
services for all within the US and to improve the economies of countries
that send immigrants. Paradoxically, the demand for the wall comes with an
increase in demand and need for immigrant labor in the US (Mexicans form
40% of California’'s agricultural labor force). It heightens anti-immigrant
sentiment among US citizens and only extends the exploitation of immigrant

The proposed wall is also detrimental to Native Americans and indigenous
peoples. There are 26 federally recognized Native American tribes that
live between Mexico and the US. These tribes are currently allowed to move
freely in the border region; the wall would drastically change their way
of life. Immigrants follow a travel cycle dependent upon work demand. This
cycle would be interrupted by a wall and increased security by forcing
them to stay in the US when it may be in their best interests to travel
back to their country of origin. The construction of a wall would be
counterproductive, increasing rather than reducing undocumented migration
into the US.


The current definition of family in immigration law is limited to parents,
spouses, and children. This definition also implies a heterosexual family
structure. Unfortunately it is very restrictive because it leaves out most
of the family structures in which LGBTQ immigrants live. Partners in
same-sex binational couples, aunts and uncles, grandparents, cousins,
nieces and nephews, and other extended family members are not considered
eligible under this narrow definition (if recognition is granted, such as
in the case of siblings, the time it takes to obtain a family-based visa
is so long that it is equivalent to not having the benefit at all). As a
result, the broad universe of non-heteronormative family units created by
LGBTQ immigrants is automatically excluded from receiving immigration
benefits. Both the LGBTQ and immigrant rights communities need to work
towards expanding their narrow definitions of “family” in order to better
serve all immigrants, including LGBTQ immigrants.


Applying for asylum based on sexual orientation is the only way for some
of the most vulnerable LGBTQ immigrants to legalize their status.
Currently, those who apply for asylum based on sexual orientation must do
so within a year of entering the country. This disproportionately affects
LGBTQ immigrants since many of them are unaware of the asylum provision or
are recovering from torture and persecution. Many LGBTQ immigrants are
affected by homophobia and transphobia in their day to day lives. This
leads to isolation and lack of access to information and resources and
delays their applying for asylum based on sexual orientation. We call upon
removing the one year deadline for applying for political asylum.
Moreover, the category of aggravated felony is being expanded to include
offenses such as shoplifting and prostitution; this expansion only applies
to immigrants. Individuals charged with aggravated felony are barred from
any immigration relief including asylum. This is unjust and only a way of
keeping more people from applying for immigration relief.

Harboring Provisions

Harboring is the act of protecting or in any way assisting an undocumented
immigrant. Harboring provisions appear in both the House and Senate Bills
and target individuals and organizations that provide assistance to
undocumented immigrants with financial aid, food, housing, and other basic
social services. Currently individuals--friends or partners--who live with
undocumented immigrants and immigrants who overstay their visas for any
significant length of time are targeted under harboring provisions. US
citizen partners of many foreign nationals, who are often denied legal
relationships with their partners, could be targeted and prosecuted under
harboring provisions and face fines, asset seizure, and imprisonment. We
oppose efforts to criminalize those who assist the immigrant community,
their families, and loved ones through harboring provisions.

Guest Worker Programs

The guest worker program provisions create a two-tiered system that
divides our communities into “better” and “worse” immigrants depending on
how long they have been in the country and what kind of work they do. It
establishes hierarchies among immigrants based on their income potential
and class categories. Under the guest worker program, employers may
underpay and/or mistreat low-wage, temporary workers who cannot seek
redress for fear of being left without employer sponsors. The program
allows work-visa holders in supposedly more prestigious industries to gain
citizenship more quickly. Such programs undercut and divide the labor
rights movement in the U.S. by making it impossible to regulate immigrant
workers’ rights. This hurts US workers, especially those with fewer skills
and low income. Moreover, the proposed guest worker program calls for
mandatory HIV testing, making it the only non-immigrant visa worker
program that actively discriminates against immigrants by requiring them
to take an HIV test. We support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and
call for it to be extended to immigrants, especially since an LGBTQ
immigrant may lose his or her ability to live in the U.S. if fired for
sexual or gender identity.


We demand genuine legalization and opportunities to adjust status for all
undocumented immigrants. We believe that the current immigration system is
broken and in need of repair. To that end, we demand the following:
· Enact genuinely progressive immigration legislation at the state level
that respects the human rights of immigrants. We call for all states to
opt out of the Real I.D. Act, reinstate in-state tuition fees for
undocumented immigrant students, and not pass legislation that will
disallow undocumented immigrants from accessing public benefits. Proposed
legislation would allow for greater collaboration between local police and
immigration enforcement officials. We are against such collaboration
because turning police officers into immigration officials would further
jeopardize the already fragmented relationship between police and
immigrant communities.
· Repeal the HIV ban immediately.
· End the one year deadline for applying for asylum
· End the heightened policing and criminalization of immigrant
communities, including the increased militarization of the border, the
construction of any wall around the US-Mexico border, and/or the use of
city and state government agencies to enforce federal immigration law.
· End the indefinite and mandatory detention of non-citizens and ensure
the safety and self-determination of all people, regardless of national
origin, race, gender or sexuality. Detention is particularly harsh for
LGBTQ and HIV positive detainees. Rape, harassment, abuse, and denial of
HIV treatment/hormone therapy are some of the routine forms of hardship
that LGBTQ people face in detention.
· Strengthen labor laws and protections for all workers, native and
foreign born, and end guest worker proposals that would continue the
exploitation of many low-wage workers.
· End penalties imposed upon service providers and family members of
undocumented immigrants.
· Repeal the Real I.D. Act, which creates a national database and makes it
more difficult to obtain legal identification, thus causing hardship for
thousands of people who cannot obtain identification. In addition, we
demand that the Federal government not penalize states that opt out of the
Real I.D. Act by, for instance, withdrawing support for educational
programs. This Act is particularly hostile to transgender people who can
be penalized and deported if birth records do not match current IDs. The
national database is also worrisome for transgender workers who may not be
open about their transitions at work.
· Eliminate the high-income requirements for immigrant sponsors.
· Eliminate the 3 and 10-year bars for so-called unlawful presence.
· Support efforts to create and affirm the broader definitions of family
and kinship patterns in which LGBTQ people already live. Currently, LGBTQ
US citizens and Green Card holders cannot sponsor their partners for
immigration. The Uniting American Families Act would allow them to do so.
We urge the passage of the Uniting American
Families Act. But this is only a first step in the direction of the
expansion of the definition of “family.” A truly fair immigration system
should recognize all families in our LGBTQ and immigrant communities,
including non-immediate relatives and non-traditional families of our
choice. We call for the end of immigration reform based on the notion of
conjugality and instead support efforts to broaden definitions of “family”
and end inequality.
· Support legalization for all immigrants, including undocumented
immigrants. End the criminalization of immigrants by preventing the
expansion of deportation criteria and increased penalties for minor

As LGBTQ people (both immigrants and non-immigrants) we would like to
express our disappointment with President George W. Bush. In addition to
promoting the Federal Marriage Amendment, he has given in to the radical
elements in his party and backed down on his commitment to immigration
reform by choosing to focus on enforcement. The LGBTQ community is once
again let down by lawmakers who are playing with our lives.

The undersigned are coming out as LGBTQ immigrants and allies in support
of genuinely progressive immigration reform. Our natural allies are the
LGBTQ and immigrant rights communities and we are eager to work with you
towards achieving social justice for all. We will insist that both
movement's’ strategies address the intersection where we live and love and

List of Endorsing Organizations as of 1/26/2007:
The Audre Lorde Project
85 South Oxford Street
Brooklyn, NY 11217-1607
Phone: (718) 596-0342
Fax: (718) 596-1328
Chicago Area Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Immigrants Alliance
c/o Yasmin Nair
Phone: (773) 784-3216
Filipinos for Affirmative Action
310 8th Street, Suite 306
Oakland, CA 94607
Phone: 510-465-9876
Immigration Equality, Inc.
40 Exchange Place, 17th Floor
New York, NY 10005
Phone: (212) 714-2904
Fax: (212) 714-2973
Love Sees No Borders
P.O. Box 60486
Sunnyvale, CA 94088
Fax: (413) 502-4758
National Center for Lesbian Rights
870 Market Street, Suite 370
San Francisco, CA 94102
Phone: (415) 392-6257
Fax: (415) 392-8442
Queers for Economic Justice
16 W. 32nd St., #10H
New York, NY 10001
Phone: (212) 564-3608
Fax: (212) 564-0590

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