The LGBTQ Immigration Rights Coalition hosted an advocacy seminar June 29 at Loyola University Chicago School of Law.
The workshop focused on educating social workers, lawyers and other service providers about immigration issues for LGBT people.
“We want to arm people with information,” said Keren Zwick, supervising attorney of the LGBT Immigrant Rights Initiative at the National Immigrant Justice Center.
Lawyers working with undocumented people going through immigration proceedings explained the various routes for staying in the United States legally and the problems within the current system.
Most of the U.S. immigration system is family-based, and undocumented people can be sponsored for citizenship by spouses. Because of the Defense of Marriage Act, LGBT families are often excluded from these immigration benefits.
Undocumented LGBT people may also seek asylum in the United States because homosexuality is criminalized in their country of origin.
“Asylum is a true lifesaver for people persecuted for being LGBT in their country or who could be killed for being LGBT,” said Mike Jarecki, an attorney affiliated with the LGBT Working Group of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
Asylum is available to a refugee, someone who does not want to return to a country because of fear of persecution by the government on the basis of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. In 1994, sexual orientation was added to the list of protected social groups.
“In LGBT [asylum] cases, there’s often desensitization to the abuse experienced by LGBT people,” said Jarecki.
Undocumented LGBT people also shared their experiences at the workshop.
“We’re illegal in our own country. There is no word for what we are,” said an undocumented transgender woman from Mexico who wished not to be named. “Socially, it is very hard to live.”
Shortly before coming to the United States, two of her transgender friends were murdered. Mexico also has limited access to transition services, saying that most people use dangerous underground methods to medically transition.
Members of Immigrant Youth Justice League shared their experiences as activists working on immigration reform. They touted the importance of personal stories to help change immigration policies like U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Secure Communities, a program that checks detained people’s biometric information (fingerprints) against Department of Homeland Security databases.
Organizers of the workshop were enthusiastic about the turnout for the event and encouraged attendees to further educate themselves on LGBT immigration issues.
“There is a room full of people who care about this issue, and a room full of people who care about this issue in relation to LGBT people. We need to make sure we are as educated as we can be,” said Julio Rodriguez, president of the Association of the Latino Men for Action and chair of the LGBTQ Immigrant Rights Coalition.