Thanks for Nothing, Congress! Yours Truly, LGBT Immigrants

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December 2, 2014
Francisco Dueñas, Lambda Legal's Director of Diversity, Inclusion and Proyecto Igualdad

This morning, members of Congress met to talk about immigration. Unfortunately, they did not meet to discuss a much needed, humane immigration reform bill. Instead, they attacked President Obama’s recent lawful actions on immigration for going too far. These actions by members of Congress are deeply unfortunate.

The problem with the President’s plan is not that it went too far—it’s that it didn’t go far enough, especially with respect to including LGBT communities.

There are more than 267,000 undocumented LGBT immigrants living in the U.S. They come for a variety of reasons — some specific to LGBT communities, some not. Some are fleeing discrimination and persecution in their country of origin or seeking greater economic opportunities, especially as openly LGBT individuals. Others are reuniting with families already in the U.S.

The thing that LGBT undocumented immigrants have in common with the rest of the 11 million undocumented immigrants is the experience of being stonewalled by the same broken immigration system when trying to become American.

Most anti-immigration reform advocates will say that in a nation of laws, undocumented immigrants should go to the back of the line. What they don’t say is that there is no line. There’s just a wall. Many LGBT Americans understand this, and oppose draconian anti-immigrant measures. Because LGBT people face many forms of discrimination, it’s not hard for us to understand the experience of being shut out of laws that are supposed to protect everyone.

At Lambda Legal, we often say, “You make your life. We make it legal.” President Obama’s plan is a step in that direction, and should be applauded even if these measures are only temporary. Yet the LGBT undocumented immigrants who are shut out of this administrative relief with no reform in sight are still living with tragedy. And the tragedy is compounded by congressional (in)action and the misguided focus on challenging the President’s executive action on immigration.

LGBT immigrants are already more likely to face discrimination in their everyday lives. For some, lack of economic opportunities and stable housing push them to engage in survival crimes. Nonviolent asylum seekers are regularly housed in immigration detention, at taxpayer’s expense, as they await their court date. In detention, LGBT immigrants are abused, harassed and sometimes even denied medication, all while they face deportation that can mean a death sentence.

The fact is that undocumented immigrants, including LGBT people, are making their lives in the U.S. We need a way to make it legal. In the short term, President Obama’s relief plan should be amended to be LGBT-inclusive. But ultimately, we need an LGBT-inclusive immigration reform bill passed by Congress.

Previously: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of President Obama’s Immigration Announcement for LGBT Communities.