Thursday, February 8, 2007

Queers and Immigration

QUEERS AND IMMIGRATION: A VISION STATEMENT

[**See letter below to endorse statement. www.queersforeconomicjustice.org ]

Two of the most divisive issues in the United States today are those concerning Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer rights and immigration. There is little discussion of how immigration is also an issue for queer people, and even less analysis of the structural similarities between queer and immigrant struggles. Queer immigrants are marginalized or invisible at the intersection of two identities. As a whole, more complex family structures -- such as those of binational same-sex couples and extended families -- are completely absent from the larger struggle for immigration reform. The immigrant advocacy movement places undue emphasis on heteronormative relationships and conceptions of normality in an effort to gain basic citizenship rights. The mainstream LGBTQ rights movement tends to focus on those immigrants who are partners of US citizens. This leaves out the predicament of, for instance, single people and/or those who do not define themselves within conventional relationships like marriage or conjugality. Both movements are depriving themselves of the power and strategic insights that LGBTQ immigrants can provide. We, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and gender-nonconforming people and allies, stand in solidarity with the immigrant rights movement. With this statement, we call for genuinely progressive immigration reform that helps LGBTQ immigrants.

We recognize that many in our community live as queers and immigrants and we are taking this opportunity, at a historic moment for both groups, to articulate our analysis of the immigration debate. We call for an end to the stigmatization of queer individuals, the recognition of our varied, unique, and flexible kinship networks, the end of the restrictive and dangerous criminalization of migrant and queer communities, and an immigration reform package that puts progressive labor reforms into practice.

The 2006 elections provided mixed results for our communities. Even though anti-LGBTQ ballots were being passed around the country, Arizona voters defeated a measure that would further stigmatize LGBTQ people (Proposition 107). Nationally, voters rejected anti-immigrant candidates running for Congress. Sadly, draconian anti-immigrant amendments were approved at the state level in Arizona (Propositions 100, 102, 103, and 300) and Colorado (Referendums H and K).  These measures will have a severely negative impact on the lives of LGBTQ immigrants, virtually nullifying the positive gains of the election. We are strongly against states initiating laws that have detrimental effects on both queer and non-queer-identified people. There are many problematic aspects of these bills; we focus on a few main issues to highlight the injustices perpetuated by them:

HIV Ban

We call for an immediate repeal of the HIV ban and bar on travel and immigration. The bar forces several immigrants to hide their HIV status and into criminalization. Moreover, the HIV bar is an unscientific public health measure because it perpetuates the stigma about HIV/AIDS. In many cases, the mandatory immigrant visa-related HIV test at the time of the adjustment of status application is the first diagnosis of HIV for an immigrant who may not be subsequently offered counseling or treatment options. The ban is ostensibly designed to keep the virus out, but it only penalizes HIV positive people, many of whom are already in the country. Moreover, immigrants are often infected in the US. The ban defines them as public health risks instead of ensuring their access to health care.

Under the current ban, waivers are offered on the basis of qualifying familial relationships. The ban does not offer waivers for non-conjugal relationships/kinship networks/same-sex partnerships and perpetuates the traditional devaluing of non-heteronormative bonds. We call for the reinstating of individual hardship waivers that would allow an individual to self-petition for humanitarian reasons or reasons of public interest-similar to those in place before the 1996 reforms which instituted the familial relationship requirement.

Policing the Border

The proposal for a national wall along the 20,000 mile border between US and Mexico is economically unsustainable and takes away from programs like education and public assistance. A wall would expand the existing police state and harm inflicted upon immigrants entering at the border. As the National Immigration Forum has reported, increased surveillance only results in increased desperation as migrant workers face injury, exploitation by coyotes, and the increased possibility of dying: "From January 1995 through March 2004, more than 2,640 migrants died. In the last four years there has been on average more than one death per day. A record 460 migrants lost their lives this past year compared to 325 in 2004, according to the U.S. Border Patrol." Clearly, spending on border security drains much-needed resources from US society and is not effective. These same resources could be used to strengthen social services for all within the US and to improve the economies of countries that send immigrants. Paradoxically, the demand for the wall comes with an increase in demand and need for immigrant labor in the US (Mexicans form 40% of California's agricultural labor force). It heightens anti-immigrant sentiment among US citizens and only extends the exploitation of immigrant labor.

The proposed wall is also detrimental to Native Americans and indigenous peoples. There are 26 federally recognized Native American tribes that live between Mexico and the US. These tribes are currently allowed to move freely in the border region; the wall would drastically change their way of life. Immigrants follow a travel cycle dependent upon work demand. This cycle would be interrupted by a wall and increased security by forcing them to stay in the US when it may be in their best interests to travel back to their country of origin. The construction of a wall would be counterproductive, increasing rather than reducing undocumented migration into the US.

Family

The current definition of family in immigration law is limited to parents, spouses, and children. This definition also implies a heterosexual family structure. Unfortunately it is very restrictive because it leaves out most of the family structures in which LGBTQ immigrants live. Partners in same-sex binational couples, aunts and uncles, grandparents, cousins, nieces and nephews, and other extended family members are not considered eligible under this narrow definition (if recognition is granted, such as in the case of siblings, the time it takes to obtain a family-based visa is so long that it is equivalent to not having the benefit at all). As a result, the broad universe of non- heteronormative family units created by LGBTQ immigrants is automatically excluded from receiving immigration benefits. Both the LGBTQ and immigrant rights communities need to work towards expanding their narrow definitions of "family" in order to better serve all immigrants, including LGBTQ immigrants.

Asylum

Applying for asylum based on sexual orientation is the only way for some of the most vulnerable LGBTQ immigrants to legalize their status. Currently, those who apply for asylum based on sexual orientation must do so within a year of entering the country. This disproportionately affects LGBTQ immigrants since many of them are unaware of the asylum provision or are recovering from torture and persecution. Many LGBTQ immigrants are affected by homophobia and transphobia in their day to day lives. This leads to isolation and lack of access to information and resources and delays their applying for asylum based on sexual orientation. We call upon removing the one year deadline for applying for political asylum. Moreover, the category of aggravated felony is being expanded to include offenses such as shoplifting and prostitution; this expansion only applies to immigrants. Individuals charged with aggravated felony are barred from any immigration relief including asylum. This is unjust and only a way of keeping more people from applying for immigration relief.

Harboring Provisions

Harboring is the act of protecting or in any way assisting an undocumented immigrant. Harboring provisions appear in both the House and Senate Bills and target individuals and organizations that provide assistance to undocumented immigrants with financial aid, food, housing, and other basic social services. Currently individuals--friends or partners--who live with undocumented immigrants and immigrants who overstay their visas for any significant length of time are targeted under harboring provisions. US citizen partners of many foreign nationals, who are often denied legal relationships with their partners, could be targeted and prosecuted under harboring provisions and face fines, asset seizure, and imprisonment. We oppose efforts to criminalize those who assist the immigrant community, their families, and loved ones through harboring provisions.

Guest Worker Programs

The guest worker program provisions create a two-tiered system that divides our communities into "better" and "worse" immigrants depending on how long they have been in the country and what kind of work they do. It establishes hierarchies among immigrants based on their income potential and class categories. Under the guest worker program, employers may underpay and/or mistreat low-wage, temporary workers who cannot seek redress for fear of being left without employer sponsors. The program allows work-visa holders in supposedly more prestigious industries to gain citizenship more quickly. Such programs undercut and divide the labor rights movement in the U.S. by making it impossible to regulate immigrant workers' rights. This hurts US workers, especially those with fewer skills and low income. Moreover, the proposed guest worker program calls for mandatory HIV testing, making it the only non-immigrant visa worker program that actively discriminates against immigrants by requiring them to take an HIV test. We support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and call for it to be extended to immigrants, especially since an LGBTQ immigrant may lose his or her ability to live in the U.S. if fired for sexual or gender identity.

Reforms

We demand genuine legalization and opportunities to adjust status for all undocumented immigrants. We believe that the current immigration system is broken and in need of repair. To that end, we demand the following:

· Enact genuinely progressive immigration legislation at the state level that respects the human rights of immigrants. We call for all states to opt out of the Real I.D. Act, reinstate in-state tuition fees for undocumented immigrant students, and not pass legislation that will disallow undocumented immigrants from accessing public benefits. Proposed legislation would allow for greater collaboration between local police and immigration enforcement officials. We are against such collaboration because turning police officers into immigration officials would further jeopardize the already fragmented relationship between police and immigrant communities.

· Repeal the HIV ban immediately.

· End the one year deadline for applying for asylum

· End the heightened policing and criminalization of immigrant communities, including the increased militarization of the border, the construction of any wall around the US-Mexico border, and/or the use of city and state government agencies to enforce federal immigration law.

· End the indefinite and mandatory detention of non-citizens and ensure the safety and self-determination of all people, regardless of national origin, race, gender or sexuality. Detention is particularly harsh for LGBTQ and HIV positive detainees. Rape, harassment, abuse, and denial of HIV treatment/hormone therapy are some of the routine forms of hardship that LGBTQ people face in detention.

· Strengthen labor laws and protections for all workers, native and foreign born, and end guest worker proposals that would continue the exploitation of many low-wage workers.

· End penalties imposed upon service providers and family members of undocumented immigrants.

· Repeal the Real I.D. Act, which creates a national database and makes it more difficult to obtain legal identification, thus causing hardship for thousands of people who cannot obtain identification. In addition, we demand that the Federal government not penalize states that opt out of the Real I.D. Act by, for instance, withdrawing support for educational programs. This Act is particularly hostile to transgender people who can be penalized and deported if birth records do not match current IDs. The national database is also worrisome for transgender workers who may not be open about their transitions at work.

· Eliminate the high-income requirements for immigrant sponsors.

· Eliminate the 3 and 10-year bars for so-called unlawful presence.

· Support efforts to create and affirm the broader definitions of family and kinship patterns in which LGBTQ people already live. Currently, LGBTQ US citizens and Green Card holders cannot sponsor their partners for immigration. The Uniting American Families Act would allow them to do so. We urge the passage of the Uniting American Families Act.  But this is only a first step in the direction of the expansion of the definition of "family." A truly fair immigration system should recognize all families in our LGBTQ and immigrant communities, including non-immediate relatives and non-traditional families of our choice. We call for the end of immigration reform based on the notion of conjugality and instead support efforts to broaden definitions of "family" and end inequality.

· Support legalization for all immigrants, including undocumented immigrants. End the criminalization of immigrants by preventing the expansion of deportation criteria and increased penalties for minor offenses.

As LGBTQ people (both immigrants and non-immigrants) we would like to express our disappointment with President George W. Bush. In addition to promoting the Federal Marriage Amendment, he has given in to the radical elements in his party and backed down on his commitment to immigration reform by choosing to focus on enforcement. The LGBTQ community is once again let down by lawmakers who are playing with our lives.

The undersigned are coming out as LGBTQ immigrants and allies in support of genuinely progressive immigration reform. Our natural allies are the LGBTQ and immigrant rights communities and we are eager to work with you towards achieving social justice for all. We will insist that both movements' strategies address the intersection where we live and love and struggle.

List of Endorsing Organizations as of 1/26/2007:

The Audre Lorde Project
85 South Oxford Street
Brooklyn, NY 11217-1607
Phone:  (718) 596-0342
Fax:  (718) 596-1328

Chicago Area Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Immigrants Alliance
c/o Yasmin Nair
Phone:  (773) 784-3216

Filipinos for Affirmative Action
310 8th Street, Suite 306
Oakland, CA 94607
Phone: 510-465-9876

Immigration Equality, Inc.
40 Exchange Place, 17th Floor
New York, NY 10005
Phone:  (212) 714-2904
Fax:  (212) 714-2973

Love Sees No Borders
P.O. Box 60486
Sunnyvale, CA 94088
Fax:  (413) 502-4758

National Center for Lesbian Rights
870 Market Street, Suite 370
San Francisco, CA 94102
Phone:  (415) 392-6257
Fax:  (415) 392-8442

Queers for Economic Justice
16 W. 32nd St., #10H
New York, NY 10001
Phone: (212) 564-3608
Fax:  (212) 564-0590

** ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ **

January 26, 2007

To Whom it May Concern,

We are contacting you from the Immigrant Rights Project at Queers for Economic Justice (QEJ).  QEJ is an organization of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and gender-nonconforming (LGBTQ) people committed to promoting economic justice in a context of sexual and gender liberation.

We recognize there is a marked lack of LGBTQ voices in the current immigration debate. Congress and the nation are presently looking toward measures of immigration reform and we recognize that several agencies are working organizationally to influence the outcome of these reforms.

We are taking this opportunity to insert LGBTQ perspectives into the national debate over immigration. LGBTQ immigrants face their own specific concerns and obstacles within the immigration process for a number of complex legal and social reasons. Attached you will find a queer and transgender vision statement on immigration outlining some of these concerns, as well as certain demands for reform which we believe to be inclusive and fair for all immigrants to the United States.

We invite your organization to sign on to this vision statement and join us as allies in our struggle.  Please respond with your support for the vision statement no later than February 8, 2007.

Thank you,
Yours sincerely,

Debanuj Dasgupta
Immigration Policy Analyst

Queers for Economic Justice
16 W. 32nd St., #10H
New York, NY 10001
Phone: (212) 564-3608
Fax:  (212) 564-0590
www.queersforeconomicjustice.org

bh

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