Comprehensive Immigration Reform
Join us for a post-election strategy call
By Rachel Tiven on 10/29/2010 @ 06:10 PM
Tuesday is election day. If you are registered to vote, please do so.
Then, join me on Thursday, November 4th at 1pm ET/10am PST for a special post-election strategy call. To RSVP, and submit a question, click here.
Post-Election Strategy Call
Thursday, November 4, 1 PM EST / 10 AM PST
Call-In Number: (712) 432-0075
Access Number: 754532
Regardless of the outcome of Tuesday’s midterm elections, there will be new opportunities, and new challenges, in our work to end discrimination against our families. We’ll discuss the new political landscape on Capitol Hill, preview our plan for moving forward in the next Congress, and answer questions about how you can be part of our strategy to win.
Please mark you calendar for Thursday at 1pm ET / 10am PST, and plan to join us for this important discussion about how we move progress forward for our families.
I look forward to talking with you on Thursday.
DC Celebrates: Our Families. Together.
By Rachel Tiven on 10/07/2010 @ 01:24 PM
I hope you’ll join me on Thursday, October 21st for our fall D.C. reception and fundraiser, presented by Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams.
Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams
1526 14th Street, NW
(between P & Q Streets, Logan Circle)
Washington, DC 20005
Thursday, October 21st
6 – 8 PM
This year, we’ll be joined by Sister Jeannine Gramick, a Roman Catholic Nun and Co-Executive Director of the National Coalition of American Nuns. Sister Gramick is not just any nun; she is an outspoken supporter of our families. She is co-founder of New Ways ministries, and is one of the most prominent, pro-LGBT voices of faith working to end discrimination against our community.
We’ll also be joined by Immigration Equality client Roi Whaley, who was recently featured in The Advocate. Roi, who is battling stage III cancer, is currently separated from his Filipino partner, Aurelio. They turned to our legal team for help, so that Aurelio can return home to Mississippi with Roi.
We hope you will join us, and bring along your friends. And please bring your checkbook. There is no obligation to contribute, though we hope that if you’re impressed by our hard work on the Hill that we hope you’ll want to be part of it.
After last week's record-breaking UAFA co-sponsorships in both the House and the Senate, we’re very excited to see you in Washington to celebrate the remarkable progress we’re making on behalf of LGBT immigrant families!
(We’re very excited to announce a special opportunity to win a $1,000 Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams shopping spree while supporting the work of Immigration Equality Action Fund. Browse their fabulous catalog here.)
Celebrating Milestones, Where Do We Go From Here?
By Gannon Long on 10/04/2010 @ 03:28 PM
Last week was among the best yet for the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA). We are at the brink of real change for our families because of you!
There’s no doubt momentum is building, let us count the ways:
Raised our voices in Washington
While bestselling author Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love) lobbied for our families on Capitol Hill last Thursday, you and other amazing grassroots activists across the country generated almost 300 phone calls and 35 letters, asking Congress to support UAFA.
If you still have not called, please do so now!
More support in Congress, than ever before
In the month of September, your persistence helped us add 10 new cosponsors in the House, and 2 in the Senate. With 135 total cosponsors in the House and 26 in the Senate, we have more support in Congress than ever before. Sign up today to learn how YOU can add to our list of cosponsors!
First ever, LGBT-inclusive comprehensive immigration bill
For the first time ever, the Uniting American Families Act has been introduced in Congress as part of a Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill! Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) introduced the bill last week; please call (202) 224-4744 to thank him for supporting our families.
Keeping the momentum going
There’s no doubt UAFA is picking up steam and our voices are being heard on Capitol Hill, but we can’t let that momentum stop. We need to keep going strong.
So what can you do now to help keep the pressure on? Meeting with your congressperson is the most effective way for you to advocate for UAFA. We need elected officials to hear our stories and personally understand why no one should have to choose between family and country.
Sign up for our upcoming online trainings on Tuesday, October 5 or Wednesday, October 6, at 8:30 PM Eastern/ 5:30 PM Pacific. We’ll cover everything you need to know about organizing a meeting with your Representative in Congress — no experience necessary. Join us!
Mobilizing Against Injustice, Wherever It Is
By Christopher Edwards on 09/27/2010 @ 07:05 PM
Last week I joined 40-something of the best LGBT activists in the country at New Organizing Institute Education Fund's LGBT Boot Camp. Over the course of the week we worked on simulated campaigns to overturn "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT), learned from the best practitioners in organizing, and shared with each other our goals and aspirations for the LGBT movement while figuring out ways we can all better work together.
It was truly an inspiring week. And I was very happy and honored to have made it through the selective application process.
Why Immigration Is a LGBT Issue
One of things that came up for me during the event was having to underscore why immigration is an LGBT issue. Our Executive Director Rachel Tiven has spoken passionately on this before but I never had my own story, my own understanding that drove home this point.
That changed at LGBT Boot Camp on Thursday night when we reviewed the case study of BastaDobbs.com — a coordinated campaign between general political and immigration groups to pressure CNN to "Stop Dobbs" (or "Basta Dobbs" in Spanish).
Listening to the clips from Dobbs' show and looking at his tactics — half-truths, outright lies, and innuendo to defame immigrants in the U.S., I thought of how similarly those that would stop the march to LGBT equality have employed these exact same tactics.
In particular, Dobbs lumped together undocumented immigrants from Latin America with rapists and murderers. I remembered a time in 1989, when I was in high school and just starting to come out. I was in a driver's education class where my teacher made this exact same comment about LGBT peoples. He casual mentioned that we'd be on the road with "rapists, murders, and homosexuals." Exactly like Dobbs, demonizing through word association.
We've been here before. We've been harassed over our families. We've been faced with a public that would rather see our sex lives than have empathy for us as humans.
Just like immigrants of all stripes have. This is why immigration is an LGBT issue. We must stand on the right side against hatred and bigotry. Whereever it is found.
Elizabeth Gilbert — a straight ally with a foreign-born spouse — is joining us to stand up for our families and UAFA on Capitol Hill. We, as individual citizens, must join her in her lobbying congress. We must show the immigration communities that we understand their situation. That we are ready to mobilize against injustice.
You can join Elizabeth at our Engage, Lobby, Love site where you will find 3 ways to become directly involved. Remember where we've been and the hatred we've suffered, and let that be a reminder that we can't make change without taking action. Join Elizabeth on her journey for our families.
By Christopher Edwards on 08/17/2010 @ 11:10 AM
Staying together shouldn't be this hard.
Nine years ago -- August 16, 2001 -- I went to San Francisco's long-running Brit pop dance party Popscene with my boyfriend. It was our first date. I still have the set list from that night.
We had met the previous month at a show; he bought me a beer. (There is some debate about who spoke to whom first.)
None of this is remarkable of course.
Just your normal met-cute story of two twentysomething San Francisco college students. Even that my boyfriend was born in Japan is not remarkable. Lots of binational couples meet while in school.
No, what makes this story unfortunately difficult iIs that we both happen to be male. And in the U.S. -- and his native Japan -- that gives us few options for staying together.
Over the last nine years, we've become nomads in my own country. We eventually left California seeking stability and work for both of us on the East Coast. First in Washington, DC, which was an all-around failure, and now New York City, which has been more successful.
But the cost — physical, emotional, and financial — of these moves and our attempts to forge a life together cannot be understated.
Our peers are settling down, buying homes, having or adopting children, going to grad school, starting businesses, and otherwise stepping into their adult lives.
All of these things, we'd love to do. Dreams we've shared that have been denied by our broken immigration system that does not recognize us as family.
Each year that goes by gets more and difficult and the problems compound. He hasn't seen his much beloved-grandparents in years. I'm increasingly frustrated by my country's refusal to make our situation right. My family traces its roots in the U.S. back to the 18th century. We had land grants in Michigan signed by James Monroe.
Not that any of this should matter.
I'm an American citizen. Born in Pennsylvania, raised in the midwest by midwest--born American citizens. I have no out-sized sense of entitlement here. I'm lucky to have been raised by loving parents in a good home in relative affluence under the rights and privileges of American democracy. And yet the very promise of that democracy is denied to my partner of nine years.
As he and I celebrate our ninth anniversary, I want to ask something of you. There is one national organization with the legal and lobbying prowess to fix the immigration system for same-sex partners — Immigration Equality. After years of volunteering with them, at the dawn of their Washington-focused Action Fund, I joined the staff. We need your support.
Political work -- grassroots mobilizing, lobbying -- is incredibly expensive work. We're up against extremely well funded organizations. To stay in the game, we need your help.
Honor our relationship with a monthly contribution to the Action Fund today. Give what feels right but perhaps $36 per month for the 36,000 relationships like ours. Or, if you are feeling especially generous, you can can make a donation of $90 a month to honor our nine years.
When I first started dating my partner, who has been coming to the U.S. since he was in middle school, why America. He told me, because I love movies and rock and roll where else would I want to be?
Meet Our New Grassroots Organizer, Gannon Long
By Christopher Edwards on 08/04/2010 @ 11:55 AM
In July, Immigration Equality Action Fund added a dedicated grassroots organizer, Gannon Long. She's hit the ground running as we work to prepare our grassroots to meet directly with their representatives during the August Congressional Recess.
She took a few moments from her schedule to answer some questions about her previous work, what's on tap for grassroots and how you can directly advocate for UAFA and inclusive immigration reform:
Christopher Taylor Edwards: Okay. First if I haven't already said so, welcome and we're really glad you are here! So let's begin with the background information. Where are you from? What were doing before ImEq?
Gannon Long: Thanks! I'm so glad to be here. Before joining Immigration Equality, I was working for marriage equality in Connecticut at Love Makes a Family. I took some time off between the jobs.
CTE: So how did you get into grassroots organizing?
GL: I've always been an activist on my own. After college, I was lucky to find jobs that allowed me the time for it. And then when the position at Love Makes a Family opened up, I went for it — being an organizer is doing activism full time, and I love it.
CTE: So then in one sentence, what do you do all day?
GL: I work with colleagues, coalition partners, and individuals to advocate for the Uniting American Families Act and inclusive immigration reform.
CTE: So why immigration now? Why have you taken this direction?
GL: The work that Immigration Equality does brings together people from different communities, to advocate for equality for all. I have been involved in the immigrants' rights movement as well as the LGBT rights movement, and I have always worked to make those spaces more inclusive. This is a great opportunity for me.
CTE: So what's coming up this fall? What's on the horizon for our families and our allies?
GL: Right now, we're gearing up for Congress's monthlong recess — where representatives and senators will be back in their home communities. We are aiming to get more members of Congress to co-sponsor our bill, so we're working with new and seasoned activists from all across the country to meet with their elected officials and tell their stories about why the Uniting American Families Act is so important. Next week, I'm running an online training on August 11th that will go through ALL the steps -- from A to Z -- for setting up a successful meeting with your Representative. You can register at www.LGBTforCIR.org - join us!
CTE: What about people that don't have time to meet with their congressperson? Are there other ways to get involved?
GL: Meeting really is the best way to make a difference. But if that's not possible, there are many ways to get involved at here at the Action Fund site. You can send a personalized letter to your representative, email, call, or fax. It's also really important to tell your story so that other people can learn about the experiences of binational couples. We are always looking for folks to talk to the media, to help educate people on our discriminatory immigration system.
CTE: So let's back up then? Why is meeting our representatives so important?
GL: A few reasons. For one, Congresspeople are busy. Meeting with someone in person and hearing his or her story is more likely to make an impression than just getting an email or even a letter.
Another is, there are 36,000 binational couples in the U.S. (estimated by the United States Census at last count). It's a relatively small number, when you consider the U.S. population, but there are so many heartbreaking stories of families and communities being torn apart due to discrimination in our immigration laws. Telling our stories to people in power makes an impression on them beyond what sheer numbers could do.
CTE: So telling our stories in person is of major importance. So the webinar again is going to walk people through setting up a meeting, how to tell their stories, and concerns about privacy ... I assume? Or is that giving away too much?
GL: The webinar will give folks some background knowledge on the Uniting American Families Act, and then go through the steps of how to arrange successful a meeting with your congressperson. We'll help you out with planning the meeting, telling your story, and asking your congressperson to co-sponsor UAFA, and will be more than happy to answer questions you have.
CTE: Great. Thanks Gannon!
GL: Sure thanks for taking the time!
With the success of overturning the HIV immigration and travel ban and building on our 16 years experience advocating for binational couples, Immigration Equality launched the Action Fund to work for inclusive immigration reform .Gannon is just one more person in our expanding team on Capitol Hill, building a coalition for inclusive immigration reform and directly advocating for our LGBT families.
Don't forget to sign up for Gannon's webinar on August 11 to learn how you can take your story directly to your congresspersons.
Stand Up and Say: "Not in My America!"
By Lena Shapiro on 07/29/2010 @ 03:24 PM
“I do not want to live in a nation where American citizens are asked, ‘Where are your papers?’ We are better than that.”
— Representative Connie Mack (R-FL)
Not In My America!
A new campaign rallying support for immigrant families in Arizona has just launched on Facebook, Twitter and the web ... and you can get involved.
From Center for American Progress (CAP) and Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Not In My America is virtual movement in solidarity with our families in Arizona, and across the country.
A moving new video ... a petition ... and a multimedia campaign are all part of this new effort calling on Americans to stand up and speak out. You can help by signing the petition, posting the video -- below -- to your Facebook page and tweeting the message to your friends.
LGBT families understand, all too well, what it’s like to be targeted based on stereotypes and appearance. And when we fight for one group’s rights, we’re fighting for all everyone.
Building on Latino/a Support with LULAC
By Christopher Edwards on 07/21/2010 @ 07:00 AM
Copyright © LULAC News
The Spring issue of LULAC News, the quarterly magazine of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), includes an article in support for comprehensive immigration reform among the LGBT community. LULAC -- for those unfamiliar -- is the largest Latino membership organization in the U.S.
The piece in LULAC News highlights the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force's Creating Change conference in Dallas where Thomas Saenz of the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund (MALDEF) was the keynote speaker. Saenz urged the progressive LGBT community in support of comprehensive immigration reform, the DREAM Act and the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA).
Saenz's keynote was complemented the following day by an immigration workshop that Immigration Equality co-led with LULAC Council 4871 - the Dallas Rainbow Coalition and the National Asian Pacific Islander Alliance (NQAPIA). The workshop built on the LGBT community's strength in grassroots lobbying of elected officials. In LULAC News, Jesse Garcia president of LULAC 4871 and our co-presenter commented, "The underlying message was that immigration is not a just a Hispanic issue. Immigrants come in different colors and different orientations from all over the world. Immigration is an issue in every community."
Our work with LULAC has continued since February's Creating Change; last week our policy counsel Connie Utada presented at LULAC's national conference in Albuquerque where — the only specifically LGBT and allied council within the LULAC network — won Council of the Year!
Through the work of Jesse Garcia and LULAC 4871, we are proud to have LULAC's endorsement of the UAFA and LGBT-inclusive immigration reform. They are a key part of our growing list of endorsements from Latino/a, Asian, religious, business, and civic groups -- including Hispanic Federation, MALDEF, Labor Council of Latin American Advancement, National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health and UNID@S . If your organization would like to endorse UAFA and LGBT-inclusive immigration reform, please contact us to find out how.
UAFA Coalition Support
Posted on 07/15/2010 @ 05:49 PM
Immigration Equality was proud to stand beside members of Congress and a coalition of 37 LGBT, immigration, faith, and civil rights groups at today's press conference on Capitol Hill as part of a united front for inclusive comprehensive immigration reform.
Immigration Equality’s press release with statements from members of Congress for the press conference can be found here.
In addition, Immigration Equality interns Jenn Hall and Deborah Velez Cardec worked hard to post live coverage of each speaker’s points (in English and Spanish!) on Twitter, but members of our UAFA working group also had strong statements reiterating the urgency of this issue and in support of immigration reform that includes LGBT binational families.
You can read excerpts from some of these organizations and link to their press releases for today’s press conference below.
Finally, if you weren’t able to follow our live Twitter updates of the press conference, check out Becca Shenk’s recap of the press conference at Immigration: It’s Our Community.
“We are grateful that this powerful coalition is standing together to help fix our broken immigration system,” said Geoff Kors, executive director of Equality California. “California’s elected leaders have already endorsed the Uniting American Families Act, urging our U.S. Congressional leaders to act quickly to end the grave inequities facing binational couples and their families. We hope this vital legislation passes soon, so that no more families headed by same-sex couples are torn apart.” Read Equality California’s entire press release here.
Joe Solmonese, President of HRC, released the following statement: “Our nation should bring families together, not tear them apart, yet same-sex, bi-national couples are too often forced to separate because the government views them as strangers under the law. For far too long, leaders have ignored the devastating real-life consequences for these couples imposed by our current immigration policies. Family reunification is a primary goal of our immigration system but our government fails to accomplish this basic objective for thousands of loving same-sex couples.” Read the entire HRC press release here.
The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force reiterated its call for passage of the Uniting American Families Act, noting that, "U.S. immigration policy is supposed to be based on the principle of bringing and keeping families together, but the system is broken. Instead of unification, the policy often results in painful separation of loved ones. This must change." Read the rest of the Task Force's press release here.
Karen Narasaki, president and executive director of the Asian American Justice Center, released the following statement: “AAJC joins congressional leaders here today in an urgent call to action for support of legislation that addresses the broken family immigration system…Everyday that Congress delays in passing legislation addressing the plight of families, U.S. citizens and green card holders are put in the untenable position of either having to separate or risk having their loved ones being deemed illegal immigrants. The discrimination these LGBT families face undermines our most basic American values of family, equality and justice.”
The Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations’ was unequivocal in its support of UAFA: “The Unitarian Universalist Association joins the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA) coalition in urging the swift passage of comprehensive immigration reform legislation that includes lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) immigrants and their families. Our faith teaches us that we are all members of one human family. We stand on the side of love with all immigrant families to call for humane and comprehensive immigration reform.”
From Michael Mitchell, National Stonewall Democrats Executive Director: “By including UAFA in a comprehensive immigration reform bill, the United States can truly live up to the ‘melting pot’ moniker that has encouraged foreign nationals to begin new lives in the United States for generations. As a society of immigrants, we cannot stand idly by while immigration rules discriminate against LGBT Americans and their binational families”
South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) “commends members of Congress who stand here today in support of such inclusive legislation and urges Congress to ensure that just and humane immigration reform includes provisions for LGBT families."
Excluded: The Heartbreaking Story of Life in Exile
By Lena Shapiro on 07/11/2010 @ 03:55 PM
Excluded, a documentary only 46 minutes long, tells the compelling story of eight years in exile. Tony is an American, Thomas is German. They’ve spent over sixteen years together. It’s enough for them, and everyone they know to consider them life partners. Yet it’s not enough for the United States, who sent them overseas. From Germany to Cambodia, they’ve yet to find a place to call home. At times heartbreaking and sweet, this documentary combines footage from around the world with family and friend testimonies to show how agonizing the choice between family and country can be.
Tony and Thomas live today as “contemporary nomads,” moving from place to place, never spending long, and “surfing a wave of visas.” They’ve gotten traveler’s visas for a wide range of countries, including India, Sri Lanka, and Cambodia and have spent the last eight years wandering the world. Yet the one visa they want is the one that’s been denied many times over.
Fifteen times, Thomas, who’s from Germany, has applied for an American green card, and fifteen times he’s been denied. American work and school visas pose their own problems of timing, limited access and money. It’s extremely frustrating for the couple, who feel they have tried virtually every way they can to get Thomas into the country, stopping just short of marriage fraud. Nothing worked. They’re still trying. They’re still looking.
First hand, Tony and Thomas know the consequences of being ripped from their country and the life they’ve built. After spending his whole life in California, Tony moved with Thomas to Germany where they could get recognition for their relationship. The move was harder than either expected. Tony found that his education meant little; he had no contacts or resources who could help him start again. It was an uphill struggle for the two, who eventually decided they could no longer stay in Germany, opting instead for a nomadic lifestyle. Although they say they’ve enjoyed traveling the world, it’s not ideal. What Tony and Thomas want is to come home to California, among their family, and live “a normal life.”
Here’s to hoping we can make that reality.
To view the film in its entirety, click here.
GLAD DOMA Win in Massachusetts: What it Means for Binational Couples
By Victoria Neilson on 07/09/2010 @ 11:14 AM
UPDATE: The below information has been supplemented by a full FAQ, please see “What the DOMA Win Means for LGBT Binational Families” at our affiliated site.
Yesterday a Massachusetts federal district court judge sided with the Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders and with the state of Massachusetts and found that it is unconstitutional for the U.S. federal government to refuse to recognize same sex marriages that are validly entered into in the couple’s state. This is a huge victory and we should all take a moment to celebrate!
But, this battle is far from over.
Because this is an important case politically and constitutionally, it will certainly be appealed. The next step will be an appeal to the First Circuit Court of Appeals, and from there the case will inevitably to to the U.S. Supreme Court. The ruling by the district court judge will be “stayed” during these appeals, meaning that until the Supreme Court eventually makes a decision, DOMA will remain in effect, even in Massachusetts.
Why would the Obama administration appeal this ruling?
Regardless of the personal beliefs of the president (which are not clear here anyway), the president and attorney general are usually obligated to defend legislation that has been duly enacted by Congress.
What happens to binational couples if the Supreme Court finds DOMA unconstitutional?
If, eventually, the Supreme Court upholds the ruling that DOMA is unconstitutional, same sex couples that are validly married, would be able to receive federal benefits, including immigration, based on their marriage. Basically, this would mean that binational couples who live in the handful of states that allow same sex marriage could get immigration benefits, and couples who live in states with mini-DOMAs could not.
Where do we go from here?
We must continue to pursue rights for binational couples on all fronts. It will probably take several years for this DOMA challenge to reach the Supreme Court, and no one can predict what the outcome will be. Certainly a victory in the Supreme Court striking down the federal recognition section of DOMA would be a huge victory for binational couples (at least giving them the option to move to LGBT friendly states to pursue immigration benefits.) Meanwhile, we must continue to push for passage of an LGBT inclusive CIR and for passage of the UAFA.
The above is reprinted from our legal-related blog at the site of our affiliated organization Immigration Equality.
UPDATE: The above information has been supplemented by a full FAQ, please see “What the DOMA Win Means for LGBT Binational Families” at our affiliated site.
Immigration Equality to Join President Obama for Address on Immigration
By Steve Ralls on 07/01/2010 @ 09:17 AM
At 10:45am ET this morning, Immigration Equality will join President Obama for a speech in Washington on comprehensive immigration reform. The President is expected to urge Congress to take action on the issue this year. The White House invited Immigration Equality to join the President, and our policy director, Julie Kruse, will be there as he delivers his remarks this morning. Our supporters can watch live online, beginning at 10:45, by visiting www.whitehouse.gov/live.
Ahead of today’s speech, journalist Chris Geidner notes the inclusion of Immigration Equality on the White House guest list:
President Obama plans to give what the White House is billing as an address regarding the need for comprehensive immigration reform at American University in the District on Thursday morning, July 1. Today, The Wall Street Journal reported that New York City Michael Bloomberg would be among those in attendance.
One of the questions is the extent to which the president will discuss the Uniting American Families Act, which provides family protections for binational couples, and several other legislative immigration issues of concern to some of the LGBT community, from student issues to asylum concerns.
Steve Ralls, communications director for Immigration Equality, sent the following statement to Metro Weekly on Wednesday afternoon regarding Thursday's speech:
Immigration Equality has been invited by the White House to join the President for tomorrow’s remarks. We do not have an advance copy of the President’s speech, but our hope and understanding is that he plans to make speak out strongly in favor of tackling comprehensive immigration reform soon. As the current Congress enters its final months of work, President Obama’s speech can be instrumental in ensuring this issue remains on the radar, and agenda, of lawmakers. Our hope is that President Obama will indeed identify immigration reform as a priority for his Administration, and this Congress, this year.
Immigration Equality, and LGBT immigrants and their families, will be listening closely tomorrow. For the families we work with, time is of the essence. Each day that Congress fails to act, LGBT families move closer to separation, or spend another day in exile.
There are a number of important immigration issues the LGBT community cares about, including issues related to humane detention standards, a path to citizenship for undocumented LGBT people, asylum for those persecuted because of sexual orientation and gender identity, and family unification for binational couples. Our hope is that Congress, spurred by a commitment from the President tomorrow, will work to pass a comprehensive bill that positively addresses those critical issues.
To read full Geidner’s full coverage, click here.
American Nuns, Other Faith Leaders, Speak Out for UAFA
By Steve Ralls on 06/28/2010 @ 11:12 AM
The coalition of faith leaders who support the Uniting American Families Act is growing . . . and becoming stronger and stronger in their insistence that Congress end discrimination against LGBT binational families.
Earlier this month, the United Methodist Church responded forcefully to an evangelical press event in Washington calling on lawmakers to exclude our families from immigration reform. In response to the event, Bill Mefford, the Director of Civil and Human Rights for the General Board of Church and Society with The United Methodist Church, noted that, “Just as Jesus did not set any preconditions on identifying himself with, and loving, the sojourner, so too does he call all who claim to follow him to love and welcome the sojourner without moral preconditions.”
“To demand the right to prophetically challenge the nation to incorporate hospitality into our immigration policy, but then to work to exclude some people based on their sexual orientation, is to lose the moral basis for making that prophetic challenge,” Mefford went on to say. “We want immigration reform that is just and humane, and that is truly comprehensive and truly moral.”
This morning, more faith leaders joined Mefford in an extraordinary new column from Sarah Posner at Religion Dispatches.
Writing about the growing chorus of supportive faith communities, Posner notes that, “many ‘people of faith,’ including mainline Protestants, Jews, and Catholics [are] challenging Vatican teaching [and] support a package including UAFA.”
Sr. Jeannine Gramick (pictured), the national coordinator for the National Coalition of American Nuns, said of the [U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops] opposition to the UAFA, “I find their arguments specious and I think their stand, personally I find it scandalous.”
“I am proud to be a Catholic,” Gramick said. “I’m a lifelong Catholic. I spend my life hopefully working for justice so that people can look and see there are Catholic people who at least try to be just and try to follow the Gospel. But frankly the US bishops continually embarrass me. They are an embarrassment to the Catholic Church at this point, particularly with the stand they are taking.”
Gramick, Posner writes, may represent a growing view among the Catholic faithful that supporting LGBT binational families is the right, and moral, thing to do. As Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) weighed the possibility of a private bill to keep Shirley Tan – a lesbian mother of two who faced imminent deportation – in the country, “Fr. Piers M. Lahey of the Church of the Good Shepherd, wrote a letter to Feinstein which was entered into the Congressional Record,” Posner recalls. “Lahey described Tan and Mercado as ‘wonderful Christian partners, parents, role models for their two boys, and, as Scripture says, ‘living stones’ helping to form and build up the Church, the Body of Christ, in today’s broken and violent world.’”
Tan received her private bill, and Feinstein specifically noted Fr. Lahey’s support of Tan’s family in her consideration of the measure.
“It is certainly evident from Immigration Equality’s case load, and the families we work with, however, that the Catholic people, and many Catholic leaders at the local level, embrace far different—and more compassionate—views on this issue than the Conference of Catholic Bishops,” we also noted in Posner’s article.
Increasingly, she writes, inclusive reform is seen as the pro-faith, pro-family position to take.
“Immigration reform is a matter of justice and that we’re willing to sacrifice justice because we disapprove or we don’t see how God works in the lives of people we don’t understand goes against everything Scripture teaches us,” said said the Rev. Kevin Goodman, Associate Dean of the Saint James Cathedral in Chicago. Goodman is an Episcopal priest whose partner of 11 years is an undocumented immigrant who faces possible deportation if the UAFA isn’t passed.
That inclusive view of justice, Posner writes, could be a significant turning point on Capitol Hill, too.
“The emergence of organized religious support for UAFA,” Posner says, “could help provide . . . . cover to skittish legislators by demonstrating, at the very least, that religious sentiment is mixed, and at best, showing wider religious support for UAFA than lawmakers would have understood from listening only to the conservative leadership.”
To read Posner’s full article, visit Religion Dispatches online.
Congress, Priorities and Immigration Reform
By Steve Ralls on 06/17/2010 @ 01:26 PM
In the midst of the BP oil spill, the fight for financial reform and other legislative issues, many of you have been wondering: What happens with immigration reform – and the Uniting American Families Act – now?
In the days immediately following Arizona’s passage of its anti-immigrant law, Congress and the White House turned its attention to comprehensive reform . . . and LGBT families, for the first time ever, were included in the framework for that reform. That success moved us immeasurably forward in our efforts to end discrimination against LGBT binational families. In fact, it is not an understatement to say that it was a game-changer. For the first time ever, our seat at the table was undisputed, and our inclusion in a bill was expected.
Then, oil started gushing in the gulf, and Washington’s famously short attention span seemed to turn to other matters.
That, however, is not the end of the story.
Last week, Senator Schumer told immigration reform supporters in New York that he still believes comprehensive reform can be tackled in this Congress. If not, Schumer said, he remained confident that a bill could be passed no later than March 2011.
We know, however, that for families who are separated, every day can seem like an eternity. That’s why none of us at Immigration Equality have ever taken passage of a particular bill for granted. And its why we have always pursued every possible avenue for success, and will continue to do so.
All of us remain committed to including LGBT families in comprehensive reform, and as long as our champions in Congress are standing strong in their pledge to introduce and pass a bill, we will stand with them. But we will continue to build support for the Uniting American Families Act as well, because both campaigns help each other. Should comprehensive reform move, it is critical that we have the co-sponsors, and supporters, to show the breadth and depth of support for our families . . . and to make their inclusion in the comprehensive bill a priority. At the same, building those supporters is also critical for ensuring that, should Congress decide in the future to tackle stand-alone bills, we can demonstrate the momentum and support to make the UAFA a priority for lawmakers.
That two pronged strategy ensures that, whatever the political landscape is moving forward, we have built the case for moving legislation that ends discrimination against our families. Our commitment remains to be ready to take advantage of every possible avenue for success.
The coming weeks and months will no doubt bring more changes to Capitol Hill. The Immigration Equality team has a plan in place, however, to continue our fight for victory throughout those changes, and take advantage of the opportunities that are presented by each scenario. We can – and will – push for a legislative win in every possible way, whether through the UAFA or its inclusion in comprehensive reform. The stakes are too high to leave any stone unturned.
In Wisconsin & The Netherlands, A Couple Waits for Inclusive Immigration Reform
Posted on 05/27/2010 @ 09:50 AM
The Capital Times, in Madison, WI, profiles a local couple separated by discriminatory immigration laws.
Copyright © Photo by Mike DeVries, The Capital Times
They met when Joey came home to find Gabi – in Madison from the Netherlands for the wedding of a mutual friend – sitting on the doorstep of her east-side townhouse, where Joey was helping put up out-of-town guests.
The attraction was immediate. After Gabi headed home, the pair continued communicating by e-mail, then visited back and forth. As the relationship deepened, the couple knew they wanted to be together. They married in April in Iowa, where same-sex marriage has been legal for the past year.
Joey Johannsen recalls that she thought at first that it would be simple to have Gabi Helfert come live with her. Then she began researching the “alphabet soup” of U.S. visas (most often referred to by initials), and the realities of U.S. immigration law began to sink in. “It’s pretty complicated,” says Helfert, a German citizen who has been living the past several years in the Netherlands, where she works as a project manager at the Rotterdam School of Management at Erasmus University.
The bottom line is this: Americans cannot sponsor a same-sex partner who is a foreigner for permanent residency in the United States, an option open to heterosexual couples in one of the least complicated and surest ways to attain the much sought “green card.” Even same-sex couples who are married do not have that right, because the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Federal law does not recognize same-sex marriages, so the immigration privileges extended to married couples do not apply.
The inability to sponsor a same-sex partner is an inequity that activists are hoping will be eradicated in any immigration reform legislation that eventually emerges in Congress. Some observers say that a provision eliminating the disparity, by injecting the controversial issue of same-sex marriage to the already controversial issue of immigration, would not likely survive what is sure to be a heated debate on immigration reform.
“I was in disbelief,” Johannsen says, of her eventual realization that there was no way for her to sponsor her partner to come to the United States permanently. “My mom asks: ‘Why doesn’t Gabi move here?’ I tell her that’s what we would love to happen.” The women juggle their schedules to fit in daily Internet video calls across an ocean and a seven-hour time difference, as they’ve researched other options.
Bi-national same-sex couples have relied on tourist visas and other temporary provisions to be together in the United States and never have had a basis to sponsor their partners, says Steve Ralls of Immigration Equality, a New York-based advocacy group focused on the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and HIV-positive communities. That’s why it is so significant that a conceptual plan for comprehensive immigration reform floated by U.S. Senate Democrats includes the core provision of the Uniting American Families Act, a bill introduced last year that would extend to same-sex couples the immigration rights afforded to married couples. “That’s a breakthrough. It is a strong signal, we believe, that the leadership is committed to including it when a bill is introduced,” says Ralls.
Pressure for immigration reform surged this spring after the passage of a controversial law in Arizona that would make failure to carry immigration papers a crime and give police broad powers to detain anyone suspected of being illegally in the country. “The Senate has realized the power the gay and lesbian grass roots movement can bring to the passage of an immigration reform bill,” Ralls says.
Photo by Mike DeVries, The Capital Times
The View From New York
By Rachel Tiven on 05/10/2010 @ 06:29 PM
Growing up, when the evening news reported a crime committed by a Goldberg or a Cohen, my parents would groan. That combination of shame at the misdeeds of one of our own, mixed with anxiety that it would reflect badly on us all, flooded over me when I heard that an immigrant had been arrested in the Times Square bombing.
We are on the cusp of real immigration reform, and accusatory headlines like “Suspect is Naturalized U.S. Citizen” feel like a knife in the back. We all need reform so desperately – everyone from the gay man who is spending his life savings to keep his partner in school here, to the teenager who grew up and came out in the Bay Area but can’t go to college or get a job for lack of status, to the single lesbian mom who has been waiting years for her sister to immigrate and help her raise her son – to the millions of other people with whom we share this struggle.
I want to believe that most Americans – 98% of us once immigrants ourselves – are not so foolish as to conflate the actions of one crazy individual with all immigrants, or all South Asians, or all Pakistanis . . . but when I read the vicious comments online, I’m not so sure.
What a roller coaster week. Just yesterday I was so proud Governor Patterson showed that pro-immigrant states can play Arizona’s game. He announced that New York will create a special pardon board to consider vacating minor crimes that can cost long-time New Yorkers their green cards, with absolutely no way for the immigration judge to exercise discretion. Immigration Equality sees the results of this policy because it affects some of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people we represent.
- We represented a gay, HIV-positive man who was going to be deported because after the bank mistakenly deposited money in his account, he spent it. He was charged with grand larceny and was going to be stripped of his green card and deported to an anti-gay country.
- L., a Colombian gay man with AIDS was about to lose his green card because of shoplifting arrests. He stole Tylenol and nutritional supplements from a drugstore – the only “treatment” he was getting for his illness.
- We are currently representing F., a 19-year-old from Jamaica who may be deported for shoplifting a scarf – because he was cold – and jumping the subway turnstile. For those two offenses he was considered a “mandatory detainee” who was held in immigration custody until we took his case.
I want to be clear – it’s wrong to steal, be it from the bank, a store, or the MTA. I hope that when my kids are F.’s age, the fog of adolescent bad judgment doesn’t lead them to do stupid things like that. However, if they do, they won’t be exiled from their country as a result. One of the many great things about our system is that we believe in proportionality, that the punishment should suit the crime. The Eighth Amendment protects all of us against excessive or cruel and unusual punishment. (Please don’t write to say that non-citizens aren’t covered by the Bill of Rights. The first ten amendments tell the federal government – not its subjects – what it can and can’t do. Citizenship wasn’t even defined until six amendments and 90 years later.) When current law wrenches people from their families for petty crimes – in many cases retroactively, for crimes that had no immigration consequences at all when they were committed – the Eighth Amendment is being ignored. Thus Governor Patterson offers another, this time humane, example of what so many have been saying for weeks: Congress must act to fix our broken immigration system.
In the meanwhile, I fear for my South Asian friends, and pray we don’t see a resurgence of the murderous hate crimes their community faced after 9/11.
Senate Immigration Framework Includes LGBT Binational Families
By Steve Ralls on 04/29/2010 @ 02:58 PM
A framework for comprehensive immigration reform, authored by Senators Harry Reid (D-NV), Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ), includes a call for an end to discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) binational families. The principles, which are meant to guide Congressional crafting of immigration reform legislation, specifically call for key provisions of the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA) to be part of a future reform bill.
Immigration Equality hailed the inclusion of the language, which would allow LGBT citizens and legal permanent residents to sponsor their foreign national partners for residency in the United States. Under current law, no such sponsorship is available. An estimated 36,000 face imminent separation or exile because of discriminatory immigration policies. UAFA is sponsored in the Senate by Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, and in the House by Congressman Jerrold Nadler of New York.
“Today’s inclusive framework is an historic step forward for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender binational families,” said Rachel B. Tiven, executive director of Immigration Equality. “Now, it is time to turn these principles into laws. We will fight to ensure that the Uniting American Families Act is an indelible part of the immigration reform bill.”
“The LGBT community is committed to comprehensive immigration reform that includes everyone,” Tiven added. “Our community understands, all too well, the pain of being punished and singled out for who we are. Our solidarity with the larger immigrant community is deep, and our resolve to fix our broken immigration system is real. We will work for a bill that provides a path to citizenship for the undocumented, including those who are LGBT. Time is of the essence for those facing separation or deportation, and Congress must act, urgently, to pass humane, comprehensive reform.”
Immigration Equality also applauded the inclusion of the DREAM Act – a path to citizenship for undocumented students – in the principles released today. Earlier this week, DREAM activists who have walked from Florida arrived in the nation’s capital. Two of them, Juan Rodriguez and Felipe Matos, are also a couple, and have faced additional discrimination because of their sexual orientation. The outline also includes important provisions related to family unification, including ending the unconscionable backlogs that so many families face under the current system.
The group expressed dismay, however, over a proposal to implement a de-facto program for National ID Cards. Such a proposal, known as biometric identification, could be particularly troublesome for transgender immigrants, who struggle to get identity documents which match their correct name and gender.
“Immigration Equality,” Tiven concluded, “is working for a bill that protects LGBT immigrants who so desperately need reform. The path forward is about keeping families together and building a system that values our country’s unique and precious history as a nation of immigrants.”
This Saturday: Immigration Reform Rallies From Coast-to-Coast
By Steve Ralls on 04/28/2010 @ 08:34 PM
This Saturday, in cities and towns across the country, immigration rights supporters will march, rally and call on Congress to pass fair and humane comprehensive immigration reform. All of us at Immigration Equality urge our supporters to join our allies and bring a visible, supportive LGBT presence to this weekend’s activities.
From New York and Washington, to Phoenix and Los Angeles, these marches will send a strong, clear message that we support comprehensive reform for all families . . . and stand against divisive tactics and laws that tear our loved ones apart and endanger their safety.
To find a march near you, click here. Then, show up on Saturday with an Immigration Equality shirt (if you have one), or a rainbow flag, and stand in solidarity with those who are working to fix our broken immigration system.
For more information, visit Reform Immigration for America online.
New York City Council Calls for LGBT-Inclusive CIR
By Rachel Tiven on 04/27/2010 @ 09:09 AM
I was proud to testify on Monday morning in front of the New York City Council’s Immigration Committee. The Committee had proposed a resolution calling on Congress – and in particular New York’s own senior Senator, Chuck Schumer – to move forward with Comprehensive Immigration Reform that includes all families.
I described the consequences of immigration discrimination faced by tens of thousands of LGBT families – including at least 5,000 New York couples. The Committee heard from many other excellent immigration advocates, including: NYC’s Commissioner of Immigrant Affairs, Fatima Shama; NYCLU’s Udi Ofer; Nerissa Kunakemakorn of Opportunity Agenda; Afton Branch from Drum Major Insitute; plus other wonderful colleagues from Make the Road New York, the New York LGBT Center, the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform, and longtime gay activist Brendan Fay, among others.
The Committee approved the resolution, which goes to the full City Council on Wednesday.
Quote of the Day: Reid Vows to Tackle Immigration Reform
By Steve Ralls on 04/12/2010 @ 09:38 PM
"We’re going to come back, we’re going to have comprehensive immigration reform now. We need to do this this year. We cannot wait.”
- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, speaking to a crowd of 6,000 in his home state of Nevada on Saturday