Undocumented Immigrants Part of LGBT Community Assesment

The Association of Latino Men for Action (ALMA) and Amigas Latinas are co-hosting a focus group specifically for undocumented gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) immigrants in Chicago. This is taking part as part of the LGBT Community Needs Assessment, a project of the Chicago Community Trust’s LGBT Community Fund. The information collected will help foundations and other institutions to better understand the needs of our communities, including those of undocumented immigrants.

La Association of Latino Men for Action (ALMA) y Amigas Latinas esta co-organizando un grupo de foco para personas indocumentadas parte del colectivo gay, lesbico, bisexual, transgenero, y sexo-genero diverso (LGBTQ) en Chicago. Este grupo es parte de la Evaluación de las Necesidades de la comunidad LGBT, un proyecto dirigido por la el Fondo Comunitario LGBT, a iniciativa del Chicago Community Trust. Los resultados de la investigación seran usados por fundaciones y otras instituciones para tener una mejor idea de las necesidades diversas de nuestras comunidades, y la participación de inmigrantes indocumentedos LGBT es indispensable.

Date/ Fecha: December 9th, 2011/ 9 de diciembre, 2011
Time/Hora: 6:00-7:30 PM

To register and find out the location, please e-mail Tania, or call 773.661.0926 be-
fore December 1, 2011. Food will be provided.

Para registrarse y saber la dirección, por favor mande un correo electrónico a Tania o llame al 773.661.0926 antes del 1ro de Diciembre, 2011. Habran aperitivos.

Anuncio PDF sobre Grupo de Enfoque
PDF Flyer on Focus Group 

LGBTQ Organizations Call for End of Secure Communities Program

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) Organizations Call for the Immediate Elimination of ICE’s “Secure Communities” Program. The Association of Latino Men for Action is one of the endorsing organizations. The text below is re-posted from the Coalition United Against Violence website, where you can also find an updated list of the signing organizations and information on how to endorse the event.

On August 5, 2011, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director John Morton informed governors that ICE would terminate all agreements with states to implement its controversial fingerprint-sharing “Secure Communities” (S-Comm) program, despite previously saying that states and counties could opt-out or modify that agreement. This announcement came as a result of powerful community mobilization throughout the country to challenge S-Comm and expose the harmful consequences of police/ICE collaboration.

LGBTQ immigrants–particularly LGBTQ youth of color, low-income LGBTQ people, and LGBTQ survivors of violence–are disproportionately impacted by S-Comm and all “ICE ACCESS” programs, a set of thirteen federal programs that create partnership between federal law enforcement and local, state, and tribal police and courts.

Because of widespread police profiling, selective enforcement, and poverty, LGBTQ immigrants come into high rates of contact with law enforcement, leading to a greater risk for deportation, now made even greater by programs such as S-Comm. Unfortunately, these programs are only the first steps in the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) biometric-sharing “Next Generation Identification” (NGI), a massive searchable database of palm print, fingerprint, and iris scans as well as scar, mark, tattoo, and facial recognition that will be accessible across federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security.

As LGBTQ leaders, activists, and community members, we call on President Obama to take decisive action to eliminate these destructive programs that target and have severe consequences for LGBTQ people, low-income people, immigrants, people of color, survivors of violence, and young people.

How S-Comm Harms LGBTQ Communities:

  • Police/ICE collaboration further endangers LGBTQ communities and all communities with less access to resources. All immigrants in this country struggle to find safe and secure housing, healthcare, employment, and education while living in fear of deportation. Immigrants who are LGBTQ are particularly vulnerable to detention and deportation because they are more likely to come into contact with law enforcement through police profiling and discriminatory enforcement of minor offenses, as well as through false or dual arrest when they attempt to survive or flee violence. Officials often use excessive force and coercion against LGBTQ people at the scene of arrest, including threats of deportation. Once in jail, prison, or immigration detention, LGBTQ people experience rampant and sometimes fatal sexual, physical, and emotional abuse, mirroring the abuse many face from partners, employers, and neighbors outside.
  • Police/ICE collaboration programs scapegoat LGBTQ immigrant communities and all marginalized groups of people by labeling them as “criminals.” LGBTQ communities like all marginalized communities face higher rates of poverty, violence, and unemployment. By labeling these communities “criminals,” S-Comm and other similar programs undermine the ability of communities and policymakers to create long-term solutions to these critical issues.
  • Deporting and increasing surveillance of people does not create safety. Removing people from their homes and communities breaks apart biological and chosen family, drains resources, and creates a culture of fear. In addition to anticipating anti-LGBTQ bias, the fear of being referred to ICE can discourage LGBTQ immigrants from accessing supportive services. Many LGBTQ people face strained relationships with their biological families, and depend on others in their community for support. S-Comm and other similar programs tear at the fabric of these life-saving networks. True safety comes from whole, fully-resourced communities where everyone has the support they need to thrive.
  • Complex problems require complex solutions. Programs like S-Comm distort and exacerbate the real problems communities face. For example, LGBTQ people often immigrate to the U.S. because of persecution and discrimination in their countries of origin. Upon finding similar discrimination in this country, LGBTQ people often turn to criminalized and underground economies to survive or are profiled or subjected to selective enforcement for minor offenses based on their sexual or gender non-conformity, leading to criminal charges and a greater risk of deportation under S-Comm and other similar programs. Instead of punishing people for their survival, we would be wise to address the underlying lack of economic and educational opportunity, destructive economic policies, and intergenerational legacies of trauma and bias that truly jeopardize our communities.

For these reasons and more, we invite LGBTQ leaders, organizations, and elected officials to join in this critical opportunity to defend the dignity and well-being of our most vulnerable community members and urge President Obama to immediately eliminate S-Comm and all police/ICE collaboration. Click here to endorse this statement.

Please see the 2010 National Report on Anti-LGBT Hate Violence for stories and statistics documenting LGBTQ interactions with law enforcement. If you or someone you know would like to share your experience being impacted by S-Comm or challenging the program, please contactmorgan@cuav.org or (415) 777-5500 x318.

GROWING LIST OF ENDORSERS:

3rd Space, Phoenix, AZ
AIDS Legal Council of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Ali Forney Center, New York, NY
An American Rainbow Foundation, Boulder, Co
API Equality – Northern California, San Francisco, CA
Asian & Pacific Islander Institute on Domestic Violence, San Francisco, CA
Association of Latino Men for Action, Chicago, IL
Astraea Lesbians Foundation for Justice, New York, NY
Audre Lorde Project, New York, NY
Beloit College DREAMers, Beoit, WI
Best Practices Policy Project, Washington, DC
Black and Pink, National Office in Boston, MA
Black and Proud, Baton Rouge, LA
BreakOUT!, New Orleans, LA
Brown Boi Project, Oakland, CA
Capital City Alliance, Baton Rouge, LA
Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), New York, NY
COLAGE, National Office in San Francisco, CA
Colorado Anti-Violence Program (CAVP), Denver, CO
Corcoran College of Art and Design, Washington, DC
Community United Against Violence (CUAV), San Francisco, CA
Desiree Alliance, National
Different Avenues, Washington D.C.
El/La Program Para TransLatinas, San Francisco, CA
Equality Louisiana, Baton Rouge, LA
FIERCE, New York City, NY
Gay Asian Pacific Islander Men of New York (GAPIMNY), New York, NY
Gay-Straight Alliance Network, San Francisco, CA
Gendercast, Seattle, WA
GetEQUAL, National
Gender JUST, Chicago, IL
GRIOT Circle Inc., Brooklyn, NY
Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club, San Francisco, CA
HAVOQ/San Francisco Pride at Work, San Francisco, CA
Latino Commission on AIDS, New York, NY
Lavender Youth Recreation & Information Center (LYRIC), San Francisco, CA
The LGBTQ Project of the Office of Multicultural Affairs at Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA
Louisiana Trans Advocates, Baton Rouge, LA
Make the Road New York, New York City & Suffolk County
Mangos With Chili, Oakland, CA
Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition (MTPC), Boston, MA
National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), National Office in San Francisco, CA
National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP), National Office in New York, NY
The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, National Office in Washington D.C.
The Network/La Red, Boston, MA
One Colorado, Colorado State
Our Family Coalition, San Francisco Bay Area, CA
Our4Immigration, National Based in San Francisco, CA
OUTlaw of Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA
Out Now, Springfield, MA
Peter Cicchino Youth Project, New York, NY
Positive Force, Washington, DC
Queer Asian Women & Transgender Support Program of Asian Women’s Shelter, San Francisco, CA
Queer Latina Network, Santa Cruz, CA
Queer Women of Color Media Arts Project (QWOCMAP), San Francisco, CA
Queers for Economic Justice, New York, NY
Rev. Dr. Michael Tino, Mount Kisco, NY
Rev. Lynn Gardner, Auburn, CA
San Francisco Trans March, San Francisco, CA
Sex Workers Action New York (SWANK), New York, NY
Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP) Denver, Denver, CO
Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP) NYC, New York, NY
Sex Workers Project of the Urban Justice Center, New York, NY
Southerners On New Ground (SONG), Southern Regional
Spectrum LGBT Center, Marin County, CA
Streetwise & Safe (SAS), New York, NY
Sylvia Rivera Law Project (SRLP), New York, NY
Thrive Social Justice, Oakland, CA
Transformative Alliances LLC, Denver, CO
Transgender, Gender Variant, & Intersex Justice Project (TGIJP), San Francisco, CA
Transgender Individuals Living Their Truth, Inc. (TILTT), Atlanta, GA
Transgender Law Center (TLC), Statewide Office in San Francisco, CA
Trikone Northwest, Seattle, WA
Trinity Place Shelter, New York, NY
Women Organized to Make Abuse Nonexistent (WOMAN Inc.), San Francisco, CA
Women Organizing Women of Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA
Women With a Vision, Inc., New Orleans, LA
Women’s Health and Justice Initiative, New Orleans, LA

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.

[Video] LGBTQ Immigrant Rights Forum

Video recording of the Coalition’s first Immigrant Rights Forum. The event featured Congressman Luis Gutierrez, Congressman Mike Quigley, and the Commissioner of Chicago’s Department of Human Relations, Mona Noriega, as moderator of the panel. Also presenting were  Keren Zwick, from the National Immigrant Justice Center; Fred Tsao, from the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights; Reyna Wences, from the Immigrant Youth Justice League; and Tania Unzueta, from the Association of Latino Men for Action.

The forum took place on September 27th 2011, in partnership with the Adler School of Professional Psychology. The video was recorded by Emmanuel Garcia.

 

Part 1

Part 2

 

Participant’s Biographies:

Congressman Luis Gutierrez represents the 4th congressional district of Illinois since 1993. He is a Chicago native, who graduated from Northeastern Illinois University in 1977. He has worked as a teacher, social worker, cab driver, community activist, and city official until his election in 1986 as Alderman. In the Chicago City Council, he led the fight for affordable housing, tougher ethics rules, and a law to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation. Congressman Gutierrez is a nationally recognized leader on immigrant rights. Last December he was key in advancing legislation such as the Development Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act in the House of Representatives. Over the last two years he has been the only Congressman arrested protesting presidential inaction on immigration reform and a record-breaking one-million deportations under President Obama. Congressman Gutierrez joined the LGBT Immigrant Rights Coalition this year.

Congressman Mike Quigley was elected to Congress to represent Illinois’ 5th District on April 7, 2009. He began his career serving as an aide to former 44th Ward Alderman Bernie Hansen and became a champion for environmental protection, equal rights, and ethical, open government. In Washington, Quigley continues to fight for equal rights, including equality for those in the LGBT community, additional protections for victims of domestic abuse, and a woman’s right to choose. Quigley did his undergraduate work at Roosevelt University, earned a master’s degree in public policy from the University of Chicago, and a law degree from the Loyola University School of Law, all in Chicago. He was a practicing lawyer for almost twenty years. Congressman Quigley has collaborated with the LGBT Immigrant Rights Coalition since early 2010, supporting efforts to make comprehensive reform legislation inclusive of same-sex couples.

Keren Zwick is the supervising attorney for the LGBT Immigrant Rights Initiative at the National Immigrant Justice Center. NIJC is a Chicago-based non-profit that provides free or low-cost legal services to immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers. Their work includes not only direct services but also policy work, impact litigation, and public education. In her position, Keren represents individuals in immigration proceedings and also works on NIJC’s litigation and policy efforts as they relate to LGBT immigrants.  Before joining NIJC, Keren was a clerk on the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. She is a graduate of Columbia Law School.

Reyna Wences is the co-founder of the Immigrant Youth Justice League, a Chicago-based organization led by undocumented youth working towards full recognition of the rights and contributions of all immigrants. They are known for their slogan “undocumented, unafraid, unapologetic,” the National Coming out of the Shadows, and their use of civil disobedience by undocumented youth in defense of immigrant rights. Wences is a nationally recognized organizer in the undocumented youth movement and a student at the University of Illinois in Chicago. She first “came out of the shadows” on March 1oth, 201o, at the Federal Plaza, and was arrested later that year in Washington D.C. in an action to move the DREAM Act forward. She is the recipient of multiple national and local awards for her organizing and activism on behalf of undocumented youth and the LGBT community.

Fred Tsao is the Policy Director at the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. In this position, he provides technical support, trainings, and presentations on immigration-related topics to service providers, immigrant community organizations, and others who work with immigrants. A self-described “recovering attorney,” Fred practiced law at the Rockford office of Prairie State Legal Services, where he worked after receiving his law degree from the University of Michigan. He has also worked with the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, the Chicago Anti-Hunger Federation, and the Missouri Public Interest Research Group. A native of Chicago, Fred is the son of immigrants from China, and has had a lifelong concern with immigration issues.

Tania Unzueta is the Advocacy Coordinator for the Association of Latino Men for Action’s LGBTQ Immigrant Rights Project, where an important part of her job is supporting the work of the coalition hosting tonight’s gathering. She is also a graduate student in Latin American and Latino Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), currently doing research on the implementation of prosecutorial discretion. Tania has also been a long-time advocate of LGBT rights. She has worked as a journalist in local print and radio news focusing on LGBT issues, and was an organizer with the Chicago Dyke March Collective for several years. Tania iz also one of the co-founders of the Immigrant Youth Justice League, and has been key in bringing together LGBT and immigrant rights strategies.

Mona Noriega (host) was appointed as the Commissioner of the Department of Human Relations by the Rahm administration earlier in May of this year. She is a long time LGBT activist, including being the co-founder of Amigas Latinas, an organization committed to empowering lesbian, bisexual and transgender Latinas in Chicago. She was crucial in opening the Lamba Legal Defense and Education Fund’s Midwest Office. Before she was appointed as commissioner, Mona was already an active member of the LGBT Immigrant Rights Coalition.

Why immigrant rights are an LGBT issue

#1. We are immigrants too: Of the 10.8 million people who live in the United States undocumented, many are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ). Some of these are LGBTQ youth who came with their families as minors and consider the U.S. their home, while others came to escape persecution in their own countries. They have built their lives here, fallen in love, and started families, but under current U.S. immigration law there is no legal process for them to become citizens. Today they remain in the country in limbo, vulnerable to abuse, and under constant threat of being deported.

#2. Our families have limited options: LGBTQ immigrants, both documented and undocumented, face hurdles when attempting to regularize their status or become citizens. If an immigrant with a visa happens to fall in love with a U.S. citizen of the same sex, their partner cannot help them change their immigration status to that of a permanent residentv. Because same-sex relationships are not recognized under the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), for an immigrant who is in a same-sex marriage, there are an extra 2 years of residency before citizenship if the application is accepted compared to one who is in a heterosexual marriage. But if the application is denied, the immigrant partner will be put in deportation proceedings. There are at least 35,000 same-sex couples in the U.S. that are affected by the immigration system.

#3. We can’t help our immigrant partners: If a person is in deportation proceedings, whether it is because they traveled undocumented or were denied adjustment of status, there are very few options for them to remain in the country – heterosexual or LGBTQ. Some get a “cancelation of removal” from immigration when they have family members- children, husbands or wives, except that for same-sex couples, their citizen spouses do not count. As of May 2011 the policy of the Obama administration has explicitly been to deport immigrant same-sex partners of U.S. citizens, regardless of marital status. This year the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has estimated that they will deport over 400,000 people, the most annual deportations in the country’s history. According to statistics by DHS a third of immigrants detained have no criminal record, many of them include LGBTQ people, and permanent partners of U.S. citizens. [NOTE: This may change under the recent change in enforcement priorities announced by the Obama administration, and the guidelines for prosecutorial discretion announced by DHS. These procedures include LGBT people and same-sex couples, according to the White House, however there are still many questions about the implementation and efficacy of the policy].

#4. We are here escaping persecution: Many LGBTQ and HIV positive immigrants leave their country of birth escaping homophobic and transphobic violence, including threats to their lives. Since 1994 the U.S. considers this ground to request asylum and eventually permanent residency. However, the process for asylum can be a long and harsh process, where in the end, there is no guarantee that it will be granted. There are several cases of gay and transgender immigrants, who could not meet the burden of proof for their asylum claim. Some of them have accused immigration judges and officials of holding biased standards based on stereotypes of safety and behavior, and are still in limbo, or detained.

#5. We face harassment & death in detention: A civil complaint by the National Immigrant Justice Center against DHS details “sexual assault, denials of medical care, arbitrary confinement, and sever harassment and discrimination” against LGBTQ immigrants. The complaint is on behalf of 13 transgender and gay people who came to the U.S. to escape persecution in their won countries. In addition, there have been several documented cases where transgender immigrants have been denied access to hormones, and HIV+ detainees denied access to medication, resulting in a number of deaths and investigations into human rights abuses. These abuses reflect the wrongful treatment that thousands of immigrants face in detention facilities throughout the country, under a system that disproportionately affects LGBTQ immigrants.

#6. Queer undocumented youth are fierce: LGBTQ undocumented organizers have taken leadership roles in the national campaign for immigrant rights. This has been most visible in the campaign for the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act (DREAM), which would provide a conditional path to citizenship for immigrant youth who arrived to the country before the age of 16. LGBTQ youth have “come out” to speak about being LGBTQ and undocumented, using their stories to advocate for change.xiv Additionally some of these youth make specific references to the gay liberation movement as inspiration, citing Harvey Milk’s activism in the 1980s. If these youth were to be deported, some would be going back go countries that they have never known, and that may not be accepting of their sexuality and gender. For many of these LGBTQ undocumented youth the only country they have known is the U.S. and they are fighting for their lives.

#7. Our struggles are intertwined: The same politicians and organizations that oppose the rights of undocumented immigrants oppose the rights of LGBTQ people. Data shows that we are more likely to encounter a person who favors both immigrant and LGBT rights, than someone who supports immigration, but opposes same-sex marriage. Homophobic politicians are likely to attempt to block immigration reform to prevent LGBTQ immigrants from gaining legal status through same-sex permanent partnerships. LGBTQ movements need to build strategic alliances with immigration movements to ensure equal rights for all.

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.