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 or (415) 777-5500 x318.


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

[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.

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.