This article, originally entitled “Rabbi: LGBTQ and immigration reform are allies” was written by Northwestern University student journalist Zen Vuong. It is based on an event on November 18, 2011, organized by Congregation Or Chadash and the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, member organizations of the LGBTQ Immigrant Rights Coalition.
Nineteen Jewish people discussed Friday how current immigration laws hurt lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer partnerships between people from different countries.
A member of Congregation Or Chadash, a synagogue in Edgewater, talked about his failed marriage with a German man.
“The contortions that we had to go through to legally keep him in status were exhausting and part of the reason why the marriage failed,” he said.
Though a U.S. citizen could help a spouse become naturalized, federal law only recognizes marriage between men and women. So Illinois’ civil unions cannot prevent deportation of foreign partners.
“Words are not repeated a lot in the Torah, but there are a lot of commands that we treat a stranger with respect,” said Emily Zucker-Burns, community organizer at the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs. “The Torah tells us to love a stranger 36 times. Just the emphasis that it has speaks to the Jewish story of immigration and how many migrations our families have made.”
Her relationship with an Ecuadorian woman ended because Zucker-Burns could not bring her partner to Central America, let alone the U.S, she said.
According to the Census, approximately 36,000 same-sex binational couples—including 1,800 in Illinois—lived in the United States in 2000. Additionally the U.S. Department of Homeland Security found 490,000 undocumented immigrants living in Illinois in 2010.
Both the LGBTQ community and undocumented immigrants feel like outsiders in their own community, said Zucker-Burns. “Feeling like you don’t necessarily want to volunteer information, feeling like you have to hide your status in certain situations.”
Undocumented advocacy coordinator Tania Unzueta planned to speak at the information session but had to help her undocumented father out of an Alabama jail. Police imprisoned him and 12 others for demonstrating against HB 56, state law requiring public school students to reveal their status and allowing police to racially profile anyone they suspect to be illegal.
“I am LGBT, and I’m undocumented, so I feel like how could I work for only one part of myself or one part of my community?” Unzueta said.
Although some conservative advocates balk at working with the LGBTQ community, Rabbi Larry Edwards said, others might think the group “is better organized or has more clout” because “don’t ask, don’t tell” passed on Dec. 18, 2010, but the Dream Act failed in a Senate vote on the same day. This legislation would have legalized immigrants who arrived as children and went through the U.S. education system—people like Unzueta, who is now a graduate student at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Identifying herself as queer or “non-hetero normative,” Unzueta said a united front is the best solution.
“If we start understanding that undocumented immigrants are also people—that we dream, that we want, that we love, that we work—then maybe people would start understanding why we want those rights, just like the LGBT community does.”
In August 2011, the Obama administration said it would exercise prosecutorial discretion or decide on a case-by-case basis about 300,000 deportation cases. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement memo did not specify gay and lesbian couples but included a person’s “ties and contributions to the community, including family relationships.”