LGBT community decries enforcement-only immigration bills

Last week, Speaker John Boehner said that he has no intention of going to conference on the Senate’s comprehensive immigration reform bill.

We cannot allow him to destroy the hopes and dreams of 11 million aspiring Americans, including approximately 267,000 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) immigrants. We must push forward on comprehensive reform because the alternative – and the status quo – is unacceptable.

Speaker Boehner’s uncompromising stance ignores the fundamental human rights of people like Trina, who came to the United States when she was two. She has no memory of Mexico, but she knows the stories passed down by the Mexican transgender women in her support group who faced rejection by their families, were forced into a life of prostitution, found themselves homeless, and were sexually abused by employers, police, and family members. To Trina, Mexico is an utterly foreign place filled with sexual violence. 

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LGBT immigrants like Trina are already subject to rampant discrimination and abuse from our failed and mismanaged immigration system. They are locked up in inhumane conditions, separated from their families and deported to countries where they are likely to face significant danger to their safety and well being.

Now, the House of Representatives has introduced several enforcement-only bills that threaten to marginalize the undocumented LGBT immigrants even more.  The Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement (SAFE) Act, the Legal Workforce Act, the Agricultural Guestworker Act and the SKILLS Visa Act will all do tremendous harm to LGBT immigrants

A new report by United We Dream’s Queer Undocumented Immigration Project (UWD/QUIP), Broken Dreams: How Enforcement-Only Bills in the House of Representatives Threaten to Further Marginalize the LGBT Undocumented, looks at how these proposals, if enacted will subject LGBT immigrants to discrimination, physical and sexual assault and harsh criminal penalties.

The report highlights Trina’s story to remind all of us that immigration reform is an urgent national priority with real human faces and lives behind it.

In Trina’s case, she qualified for DACA, has her work permit, and now works in a family restaurant that accepts her transition. She goes to college and hopes to receive her fashion certificate. When Trina applies for jobs, she finds that employers never ask about her immigration status because she appears so Americanized. This would change under E-verify and the elimination of DACA. Under the SAFE Act this transgender advocate would be targeted as a criminal merely for her presence in the United States and would lose her ability to work legally with the termination of the DACA program.

The report also introduces us to Danilo Machado, who emigrated to the U.S. from Colombia when he was seven years-old. Although he was young when he left Columbia, he still recalls a culture dominated by machismo and in which being gay is regarded as a “shameful secret.”

Like many other young Dreamers, Danilo goes to college, has a driving permit and a work authorization card. Danilo describes receiving deferred action as a “breath of relief” because he now feels that he has a “safety net” protecting him from the immediate threat of detention and deportation. That net would disappear if the deferred action program is eliminated.   

Finally, we meet Jerssay-- a twenty-one-year-old undocumented queer man from Mexico City who has been living in the United States since he was three years old. Growing up in Arizona, a state known for its harsh immigration policies, Jerssay has already faced some of the obstacles posed by E-Verify and local immigration enforcement requirements.   

Today, Jerssay works for QUIP. Inspired by the obstacles he’s faced as an undocumented member of the LGBT community, Jerssay hopes to see more pathways to citizenship become available for undocumented immigrants.   He maintains that programs that only offer partial, temporary benefits, such as DACA, are not doing enough to help undocumented individuals.  “The pathway to citizenship should be made as easy as possible and should be inclusive to all members of the undocumented community,” he explained.  “I want to see rights without as many barriers.”

Rejecting the SAFE Act, the AG Act, the SKILLS Visa Act and the Legal Workforce Act will ensure that individual members of the undocumented LGBT community, such as Trina, Danilo and Jerssay will be safe from detention and deportation.

Gutierrez is the coordinator of the Queer Undocumented Immigrant Project at United We Dream.