Path to citizenship for all immigrants is paramount

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In a first-of-its-kind analysis, the Williams Institute, a public policy think tank at the University of California Los Angeles, released research earlier this month revealing that there are at least 267,000 undocumented immigrants that identify as LGBT in the United States today. That number is likely much higher since it captures only adult immigrants and relies on self-reporting — understandably, many LGBT undocumented people are reluctant to identify as such.

The fact that there are hundreds of thousands of LGBT undocumented immigrants should mobilize all champions of LGBT equality behind the cause of immigration reform. Specifically, legislation that afforded immigrants the chance to earn citizenship in the United States would lift LGBT immigrants out of the shadows and enable them to become full and equal participants in our society, economy, and democracy. 

A significant body of research shows that citizenship means better wages and better jobs for immigrant families. In this way, immigration reform would boost the economic and physical livelihood of the more than 267,000 immigrants that are both LGBT and undocumented. As outlined in a groundbreaking report from the Center for American Progress, this is sorely needed considering the extreme employment insecurities, wage and income disparities, and health inequities this population faces.

Providing citizenship to the millions of undocumented immigrants living in the United States would not only benefit immigrant families, but our entire economy as well. Legalizing the undocumented — including those that are LGBT — would translate into more money in the economy, as higher wages will lead to more spending on goods and services, which in turn helps businesses grow and hire more people. Higher wages also means more tax revenue for federal, state, and local governments, which would be welcome news considering the current budget shortfalls across the nation.

The bipartisan movement toward passing immigration reform is quickly gaining steam. Today the Republican National Committee formally endorsed immigration reform, recognizing the economic, social, and moral imperative of creating a more inclusive society. A bipartisan group of senators is currently drafting immigration legislation and will likely introduce that legislation within the coming weeks.


Congress can and should quickly build on this momentum and swiftly pass immigration reform with a path to earned citizenship. It should also pass an immigration reform bill that ends discrimination against same-sex immigrant families, who cannot sponsor one another for residency as other heterosexual families can. But for all undocumented immigrants, including those that are LGBT, a pathway to earned citizenship must remain the centerpiece of any immigration reform bill. Without citizenship, it comes increasingly difficult to address the myriad other issues facing immigrant communities, including those facing binational same-sex couples.

As a nation of immigrants, the United States is home to people from all across the world and all walks of life. With hundreds of thousands of immigrants identifying as LGBT, immigration reform remains a critical policy priority toward advancing LGBT equality. Put simply, no other component of reform would have as great an impact on the LGBT community. It’s time for Congress to act and pass immigration legislation with commonsense reforms that level the playing field for all of our nation’s immigrants, gay or straight, transgender or not.

Burns is a policy analyst for the LGBT Research and Communications Project at the Center for American Progress.