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

[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

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.