After months of negotiations, today a bipartisan group of Senators (the “Gang of 8”) introduced the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013, a sweeping piece of legislation that if passed into law would provide for a much-needed overhaul our nation’s broken immigration system. Among its many moving parts, the immigration reform bill would strengthen border security, eliminate unconscionable immigration backlogs, and most importantly, provide the more than 11 million undocumented people living in the United States a pathway to earned citizenship.
This bill is a huge step forward for the more than quarter million LGBT undocumented immigrants living in the U.S today. As research from the Williams Institute and the Center for American Progress has shown, LGBT undocumented people are among society’s most vulnerable since they find themselves at the intersection of two already marginalized groups — the LGBT population and the undocumented population. Passing this immigration reform bill would lift these immigrants out of the shadows, treat them with the dignity that they deserve, and enable them to become full and equal participants in our society, economy, and democracy.
Here are some of the ways the immigration bill moves the ball forward on LGBT equality:
- Legal status and a path to citizenship. The immigration reform bill provides most undocumented immigrants a provisional legal status authorizing them to live and work in the United States without fear of deportation. Once the border is effectively secure and once existing backlogs are cleared (the so-called “triggers”), these immigrants may then apply for permanent residency and eventual citizenship provided they pass a background check, have not been convicted of serious criminal activity, and pay back taxes, fees, and fines. For the estimated 267,000 people who are both LGBT and undocumented, this means better wages, greater employment security, and access to critical social services that support their physical wellness and financial livelihood.
- An expedited path to citizenship for “DREAMers.” For the hundreds of thousands of immigrants brought to the US illegally as children, the immigration bill would provide young undocumented people an expedited path to citizenship (five years vs. thirteen years). This is important for LGBT people, especially considering the DREAM movement is largely led by and made up of LGBT undocumented people known as “undocuqueers.”
- Repeals the one-year ban on asylum seekers. Far too many asylum seekers are denied refuge because of the arbitrary one-year deadline to apply for asylum. This deadline is particularly problematic for LGBT immigrants, who are often forced to return to their home countries and risk persecution or death because of their sexual orientation or gender identity—nearly 80 countries have laws that in some way criminalize LGBT people. The immigration reform bill introduced today repeals that ban.
- Enhances immigrants’ civil rights. With billions of dollars being allocated to enhance border security, this bill provides additional resources and training regarding the appropriate use of force, individual rights, and sensitivity to cultural and environmental impact of federal operations on border communities. Since being both undocumented and LGBT makes individuals especially vulnerable to discrimination and harassment, these civil rights provisions are an important component of immigration reform for LGBT people.
While the bill provides a number of positive steps forward for LGBT immigrants, it still falls short in one particular area: ending discrimination against binational same-sex couples (where one person is a citizen and the other is a noncitizen). Because of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), individuals cannot sponsor a same-sex partner or spouse for residency in the US, which is a right currently afforded to individuals with different-sex spouses. The Uniting American Family Act (UAFA) would level the playing field for same-sex couples by giving same-sex couples the same rights to family sponsorship currently enjoyed by different sex couples. However, UAFA was unfortunately not included in the base bill introduced today. Despite this glaring omission, UAFA will likely be considered as an amendment to the bill as senators begin hearings and mark up this spring.
Check out www.out4citizenship.org for more information on how immigration reform is a critical component of advancing LGBT equality.
Our guest blogger is Crosby Burns, policy analyst at the Center for American Progress.