ALMA Endorses Uniting American Families Act (UAFA)

The Association of Latino Men for Action (ALMA) is adding our name to the list of official endorsements of the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA). This is a legislation that would allow a U.S. citizen or permanent resident to sponsor their same-sex partner for immigration purposes to the U.S., a right which heterosexual couples have. The bill currently has 130 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives, and 23 in the Senate.

See Bill Summary from Immigration Equality
See Bill Text, 2011-2012

At ALMA we believe that this is a crucial step towards recognizing equal rights of same sex couples by the federal government. At the same time our organization understands that the passage of this legislation would not solve the problems facing the millions of undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S. or in immigration detention, including those who are part of the LGBT community. Nevertheless, the legislation would open opportunities that currently do not exist for same-sex couples in a significant way, including those who have partners that are undocumented. Two examples of the potential impact of this legislation are:

  • A person with a federally recognized spouse of a U.S. citizen will go through the process of naturalization, by about 2 years, due to their relationship. Currently that only includes heterosexual couples.
  • If same-sex couples were to be recognized, there is a chance that undocumented members of U.S. citizens might be able to qualify for a green card without leaving the country, under a recently announced policy change by the Obama administration. Currently, only federally recognized spouses would qualify.

As we continue to support legislation that opens up conditional opportunities for LGBT immigrants, ALMA pledges to continue to fight towards comprehensive immigration reform that opens a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants in the United States.

Dear ALMA Supporters and Friends,

As the Association of Latino Men for Action (ALMA) begins its 23rd year of serve to the Latino LGBTQ community on January 1, 2012, we continue build off a very rich and remarkable history. Whether taking the role as the lead gay organization helping to build a coalition among LGBTQ groups and others on comprehensive immigration reform or helping community based gay or Latino agencies to develop organizational policies that help increase access to healthcare services to the Latino gay, bisexual and question men and who also may be undocumented as well as being a key player in helping to insure that the new Mayor of Chicago supports the rights of all it’s residents, we have and continue to be a recognized leader on Latino LGBTQ issues.

Another area we hope to continue to lead on is education, through our ALMA Scholarship program. The scholarship program has been a great source of pride for both participants and supporters of ALMA. Each year, ALMA awards scholarships to two young Latino gay or bisexual men for their leadership on LGBTQ issues in their community and to help them meet their educational goals. The young Latino gay or bisexual men that have received these scholarships have been remarkable individuals and we are honor to have recognized them for their achievements. In the years to come, we also hope to help to influenced the newly created “Illinois Dream Act Fund” which will provide financial support to young Latino undocumented students to continue their education beyond high school. Through our work with the LGBT Immigration Coalition, we want to play a leadership role around how these funds can be made available to Latino LGBTQ youth.

Also this year, ALMA was award anther health coalition building grant by the Chicago Community Trust, to expand and continue our health advocacy work with both gay and Latino organizations to increase access to the services for the Latino LGBTQ community including those who may be undocumented. Our “Strength in Unity” coalition has really helped us see the opportunities and challenges that both communities face and our partner organizations have worked with us to begin to develop new strategies for meeting the needs of the whole Latino LGBTQ community.

Finally, as ALMA moves forward, the hope is to continue our work helping to provide advocacy, leadership, support and visibility to the needs of gay, bisexual and questioning Latino men as well as issues effecting the broader LGBTQ and Latino communities.

As the President of ALMA and on behalf of my fellow Board members we want to thank you for your support and hope that we can count on you again.

We hope you will consider making a donation or contribution to our work this year by sending a check or going online to www.almachicago.org.

Sincerely,

Julio Rodriguez
President of ALMA

Chicago Legislators Hold Hearing on Same-Sex Marriage

At this hearing the LGBTQ Immigrant Rights Coalition provided a testimony explaining the relationship between the repeal of DOMA and the rights of immigrant communities (Read it here). Bellow is the press release from the office of Congressman Quigley.

CHICAGO – Today, U.S. Representatives Mike Quigley (IL-05), Luis V. Gutierrez (IL-04), and Jan Schakowsky (IL-09) held a congressional field forum to investigate the impact of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), specifically the denial of federal benefits to same-sex couples and their families in Illinois and around the country, and to review DOMA’s constitutionality and current court cases. The forum was hosted by Rep. Quigley in the Chicago City Council chambers, where the Members of Congress heard testimony from numerous same-sex couples affected by DOMA, as well as national legal expert Camilla Taylor of Lambda Legal, Gail H. Morse, a tax attorney and partner at Jenner & Block, LLP in Chicago, and Alderman James Cappleman of Chicago’s 46th Ward.

“It is incumbent upon us to put an unconstitutional law under the congressional microscope. Indiana officials, using the offensively-named Defense of Marriage Act, told a young grieving widow that the civil union recognized here in Illinois wasn’t valid a few miles away in Indiana, and so she has no right to seek damages or peace,” said Rep. Quigley, referring to this summer’s tragic Indiana State Fair stage collapse which killed Chicago LGBT advocate Christina Santiago, among six others. “Dr. Martin Luther King said that ‘the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.’ Let us hope that whilethis Congress may not strike down this discriminatory policy, the courts can still protect our civil rights. Our country’s foundation of justice and equality depends on it.”

“The main thing marriage needs defense from is an out-dated definition of marriage in American society,” said Rep. Gutierrez. “We need laws that reflect the many varieties and shades and circumstances of the American family as it really exists and not as some narrow or archaic definition constrains it. I have worked throughout my career for more inclusive policies, since before I was even a Congressman, so I see the Respect for Marriage Act as an important part of my work on civil and human rights issues in Washington.”

“It is essential that the United States of America provide full and equal marriage rights to all. The Defense of Marriage Act is a blatantly discriminatory law which must be overturned, either through Congressional repeal or a finding in the courts,” said Rep. Schakowsky said. “Equal treatment is a fundamental aspect of our democracy, and LGBT rights count too. Polls over the last few years have shown that the public largely agrees. The tide of public opinion is now in our favor, but the fight continues. We must keep pushing and lobbying Congress to end discrimination.”

“The old saying that nothing is certain except death and taxes, is wrong when applied to same sex couples. The social security benefits accorded to the survivor of a same sex union and the tax treatment of same sex couples are among the 1,000 or so federal laws that operate within the definition of marriage that are often referenced as off limits to same sex couples,” said Gail H. Morse of Jenner & Block, LLP. “DOMA allows for the discriminatory treatment of same sex couples at the federal level with respect to both death and taxes making application of either to same sex couples anything but certain. This uncertainty is made greater when a state cites DOMA as a limitation on the way it can interact with its own residents.”

“The so-called Defense of Marriage Act not only deprives legally married same-sex couples and their children of hundreds of vital protections,” said Camilla Taylor, Marriage Project Director for Lambda Legal, “it brands these families as less deserving than other families, and invites discrimination by businesses, employers, in health care settings, and in schools.”

Couples testifying before the panel include Angelica Lopez and Claudia Mercado and Janean Watkins and Lakeesha Harris, both in Illinois civil unions; Trish and Kate Varnum, who were the named plaintiffs in the 2009 Iowa Supreme Court decision (Varnum v. Brien) that legalized same-sex marriage in the State of Iowa; and Grant Gochnauer and Gabriel Fontes de Faria, a bi-national couple from Chicago. Written testimony was also provided by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), Equality Illinois, Heartland Alliance/National Immigrant Justice Center, CBA LGBT Committee, and theLGBT Immigration Coalition. Also in attendance were State Representative Greg Harris, State Representative Kelly Cassidy, Alderman Tom Tunney, Commissioner Debra Shore, Illinois Department of Human Rights Director Rocco Claps and City of Chicago Commissioner on Human Relations Mona Noriega.

Congressman Quigley is a member of the House Judiciary Committee where he serves on the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security and the Subcommittee on the Constitution. He is also a member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Congressman Quigley is an original co-sponsor of H.R. 1116, Respect for Marriage Act, which would repeal DOMA.

Congressman Gutierrez, a Member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and the Financial Services Committee, is in his 10th term in Congress. He is the Chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’ Task Force on Immigration and a co-sponsor of H.R. 1116, the Respect for Marriage Act, which would repeal DOMA.

Congresswoman Schakowsky currently serves on the Energy & Commerce Committee and the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. She is a vice-chair of the LGBT Equality Caucus, and is currently in her 7th term in Congress. Congresswoman Schakowsky is an original cosponsor of H.R. 1116, the Respect for Marriage Act, which would repeal DOMA.

Gail H. Morse is a tax partner and chair of the State and Local Tax Practice at Jenner & Block, LLP a national law firm headquartered in Chicago.

Lambda Legal is a national organization committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and those with HIV through impact litigation, education and public policy work.

Congressional testimony on the repeal of DOMA

Testimony form the LGBTQ Immigration Rights Coalition of Chicago

Congressional Field Forum to Investigate the Impact of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)

Friday, October 7, 2011, 10 a.m.
Chicago City Hall – 121 N. LaSalle Street, Chicago, Illinois
City Council Chambers, 2nd Floor

The LGBTQ Immigrant Rights Coalition of Chicago (“Coalition”) submits this letter urging Congress to act on a swift repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in favor of marriage equality. Our non-partisan Coalition is comprised of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer (LGBTQ) and supporting groups all of whom seek fair and respectful immigration policies that address the human and civil rights of all people, including the LGBTQ immigrant community. In that vein, our group fully supports the recognition of gay and lesbian marriages and civil unions at the federal level.

In passing DOMA in 1996, Congress statutorily enacted a discriminatory law directed at gays and lesbians. Despite six states and the District of Columbia that now recognize marriage equality and a handful of other states, including Illinois, that recognize civil unions for same-sex couples, the federal government continues to bar validly executed relationships from any and all benefits at the federal level. This bar totals over 1,100 benefits in areas of taxation, health care and survivor benefits that same-sex married couples cannot access or receive, while equally-positioned heterosexual married couples may. The repeal of DOMA will allow for the equal applicability of federal benefits (and obligations) to same-sex couples, easing the hardship that has been imposed statutorily on gay and lesbian couples for the last 15 years. DOMA is discrimination in its most capricious form and we call on Congress to act quickly in its repeal.

The impact that DOMA has on immigration benefits for same-sex couples is one of the principal issues of the Coalition. As stated above, many states in our union now recognize same-sex marriages legally performed in the United States and in jurisdictions abroad. Yet, a United States citizen is not able to sponsor a foreign national spouse because such relationships are not cognizable under the Immigration & Nationality Act (INA) due to DOMA.

Continuing to define marriage as a union between one man and one woman is not only offensive to the many same-sex couples who are legally married, it has far-reaching destructive effects in separating families, many of whom have children – whether through deportation or due to the pressures of instability where a foreign national may not be able to legally stay in the United States. More troubling, there are undocumented spouses who cannot seek Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) status through their United States citizen spouses or LPRs who are delayed in qualifying for naturalization due to DOMA. In the case of undocumented spouses, such individuals are forced to live in the shadows of our society and in constant fear of deportation. There is nothing fair, just or rational in the targeted destruction of a family that DOMA mandates. Congress must recognize this and should immediately repeal DOMA.

The longer Congress delays in repealing DOMA, the greater the suffering will be for gay and lesbian Americans, especially those in committed same-sex bi-national relationships. The 2010 U.S. Census reports there were 131,729 married same-sex couple households and 514,735 unmarried same-sex partner households in the United States. Immigration Equality, a national immigration rights group, estimates that there are at least 36,000 bi-national same-sex couples in the United States. Households headed by same-sex couples will continue to have a strong and growing presence in the United States. Congress must now act to pave the way to allow for the repeal of DOMA so that same-sex couples can receive the same, not different or special, benefits that have long been afforded heterosexual married couples.

The Coalition is also in strong support of the United American Families Act (UAFA). This legislation has been introduced in Congress so that same-sex permanent partners or those in marriages or civil unions would be recognized for immigration benefits. However, this is the moment for Congress to recognize and make available all federal benefits for all same-sex couples that are married or in civil unions by and through the full repeal of DOMA.

Congress must take a stand for all Americans and their families in favor of marriage equality. Additionally, the Coalition continues to advocate for comprehensive immigration reform, against the criminalization and stigmatization of immigrant communities, and against the forced separation of families through deportation.

For these reasons, DOMA must be repealed and the Coalition urges swift and immediate action in its repeal.

Signed by Coalition Members:

Affinity Community Services
AIDS Foundation of Chicago
AIDS Legal Council of Chicago
Amigas Latinas
Association of Latino Men for Action
Center on Halsted
Chicago Community and Worker’s Rights
Civil Rights Agenda
Congregation Or Chadash
Equality Illinois
Immigrant Youth Justice League
Jewish Council on Urban Affairs
Latino Organization of the Southwest
National Immigrant Justice Center
Unid@s: The National Latino LGBT Human Rights Organization

Congress Urge Consideration of LGBT Family Ties in Deportation Cases

[Posted from Press Release]

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and lead sponsor of the Uniting American Families Act, was joined by Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and 67 additional Members of Congress in pushing to protect LGBT binational families from unnecessary deportations. The 69 Members sent letters to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Attorney General Eric Holder requesting that LGBT family ties be considered in pending deportation cases involving binational same-sex couples.

“The recognition of LGBT family ties as a positive factor is a critical step forward in identifying key family and community ties to implement common-sense immigration enforcement,” wrote the Members. “We ask that you ensure that this recognition is reflected in the work of DHS and DOJ employees and the newly-established working group in implementing your priorities for immigration enforcement….Without specific guidance, it is unlikely that agency officers, agents, and attorneys making decisions about individual cases will be aware that LGBT family ties are a factor for consideration for exercising discretion in closing or not initiating removal proceedings.”

The Obama administration recently announced a concerted effort to prioritize immigration enforcement. Identification of high-priority deportation cases would be based on the June 17, 2011 prosecutorial discretion memo released by the Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, John Morton. While that memo discusses the importance of recognizing family ties in analyzing immigration cases, it does not explicitly say that LGBT family ties, including those of spouses and partners of U.S. citizens and permanent residents, are to be included. The Obama administration also announced that a working group made up of officials with the departments of Homeland Security and Justice would be formed to review removal cases and prepare new guidance for the field on immigration enforcement.

The letters are attached as PDFs and included below:

September 27, 2011

The Honorable Janet Napolitano The Honorable Eric H. Holder, Jr.
Secretary Attorney General
United States Department of Homeland Security United States Department of Justice
Washington, DC 20528 950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530

Dear Secretary Napolitano and Attorney General Holder:

We applaud the August 18, 2011 announcement that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) plans to close many low-priority immigration deportation proceedings. We especially commend DHS for stating that it will consider the family ties of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people as a factor in determining cases that merit relief from deportation, including for gay and lesbian foreign nationals who are the spouses and partners of U.S. citizens and permanent residents. We write to you today with two requests that will further the enforcement of this important mandate.

The August 18 announcement made clear that the identification of high-priority deportation cases would be based on the June 17, 2011 prosecutorial discretion memorandum released by the Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, John Morton, and explained that a DHS and Department of Justice (DOJ) interagency working group would be created to review removal cases and prepare guidance for the field. Director Morton’s memorandum identifies “Factors to Consider When Exercising Prosecutorial Discretion.” These factors include “the person’s ties and contributions to the community, including family relationships” and “whether the person has a U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse, child, or parent.” The memorandum does not, however, explicitly say that LGBT family ties, including those of spouses and partners of U.S. citizens and permanent residents, are to be included among the family relationships that weigh in favor of an exercise of discretion.

We ask that consideration of LGBT family ties be communicated in the guidance being prepared by the new DHS/DOJ working group. All field staff implementing the new policies in all relevant DHS and DOJ agencies must be made aware of this new consideration as they exercise discretion in deciding which new cases to place in removal proceedings and which current cases to close. Without specific guidance, it is unlikely that agency officers, agents, and attorneys making decisions about individual cases will be aware that LGBT family ties are a factor for consideration for exercising discretion in closing or not initiating removal proceedings.

Additionally, we ask that the working group include a member experienced in working with LGBT immigrants and their families to ensure that these factors are recognized and understood in the working group’s case-by-case review of all individuals currently in removal proceedings as well as its review of new cases placed in removal proceedings. The vulnerability of LGBT immigrants – the historical stigmatization of whom both within and outside the U.S. is well-documented – makes knowledgeable review a necessity.

The announcement on August 18 constitutes a major step forward in ensuring that immigration enforcement resources prioritize enhancing border security, national security, and public safety as well as in exercising discretion when warranted. The recognition of LGBT family ties as a positive factor is a critical step forward in identifying key family and community ties to implement common-sense immigration enforcement. We ask that you ensure that this recognition is reflected in the work of DHS and DOJ employees and the newly-established working group in implementing your priorities for immigration enforcement.

We appreciate your consideration of these two requests and look forward to working with you to address these important issues.

Sincerely,

Jerrold Nadler, Nancy Pelosi, Barney Frank, Tammy Baldwin, Jared Polis, David Cicilline, Gary Ackerman, Shelley Berkley, Howard Berman, Earl Blumenauer, Lois Capps, Michael Capuano, Andre Carson, Judy Chu, Yvette Clarke, Joe Courtney, Joseph Crowley, Susan Davis, Diana DeGette, Michael Doyle, Eliot Engel, Anna Eshoo, Sam Farr, Bob Filner, John Garamendi, Raul Grijalva, Luis Gutierrez, Alcee Hastings, Brian Higgins, James Himes, Maurice Hinchey, Rush Holt, Michael Honda, Steve Israel, Jesse Jackson, Jr., Hank Johnson, Rick Larsen, John Larson, Barbara Lee, Sander Levin, John Lewis, Zoe Lofgren, Carolyn Maloney, Doris Matsui, Jim McDermott, James McGovern, Gwen Moore, James Moran, Eleanor Holmes Norton, John Olver, Gary Peters, Chellie Pingree, Mike Quigley, Charles Rangel, Steven Rothman, Lucille Roybal-Allard, Jan Schakowsky, Adam Schiff, Jose Serrano, Adam Smith, Jackie Speier, Fortney Pete Stark, Edolphus Towns, Niki Tsongas, Nydia Velazquez, Henry Waxman, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Peter Welch, Lynn Woolsey

Some background on the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA):

· UAFA would add the term “permanent partner” to sections of the Immigration and Naturalization Act that apply to married heterosexual couples.

· “Permanent partner” is described as an adult who is in a committed, intimate relationship with another adult in “which both parties intend a lifelong commitment.”

· This legislation would afford equal immigration benefits to permanent partners as exist for married heterosexuals, and it would impose the same restrictions, enforcement standards and penalties as are currently in immigration law.

· Because the U.S. does not legally recognize gay and lesbian couples and their children as families, many same-sex binational couples are torn apart.

· Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) also introduced UAFA in the Senate.

· At least 25 countries currently allow residents to sponsor gay and lesbian permanent partners for legal immigration, including Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Israel, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

ALMA Welcomes New Immigration Project Coordinator

Chicago, IL.- The Association of Latino Men for Action (ALMA) has hired organizer Tania Unzueta to coordinate work with the organization’s LGBT Immigrant Rights Project, a position made possible by a grant from Hispanics in Philanthropy (HIP). Unzueta’s role is to support the work of a city-wide coalition of organizations advocating for just immigration legislation that respects human rights, promotes economic opportunities, provides a path to legalization for the undocumented, and includes members of the LGBTQ community and same-sex families.

Unzueta has been an immigrant rights organizer since she was 17. In the last year she has been at the forefront of advocating for passage of the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, which had it not failed in December would have provided a conditional path to citizenship for undocumented immigrant youth. She is co-founder of the Immigrant Youth Justice League, and has organized with immigrant youth all over the country. Her work with the LGBTQ community includes organizing with the Chicago Dyke March Collective, being producer of the Spanish-language LGBTQ radio show Homofrecuencia, and recipient of WCT’s 30 under 30 award.

The association of Latino Men for Action (ALMA) works to empower Latino gay, bisexual, and questioning gmen by providing support, advocacy, and leadership opportunities, through innovative cultural programming.