What President Obama Has Done for LGBT Immigrants

Our guest bloggers are Christopher Frost, intern for LGBT Progress, and Crosby Burns, Research Associate for LGBT Progress.

Earlier this week a bipartisan group of senators announced a sweeping proposal that would overhaul the immigration system and ultimately provide the more than 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country a path to earned citizenship. On the heels of that announcement, President Obama announced a similar plan for immigration reform that would create a pathway to citizenship for the undocumented, establish a nationwide employment verification system, secure our border, and improve visa access for high-skilled workers.

The momentum on immigration reform from both sides of Pennsylvania Avenue is good news for the undocumented, including the hundreds of thousands who identify as LGBT. Allowing LGBT individuals to obtain legal status would offer them and their families the certainty and economic safeguards that citizenship confers. President Obama’s support for these families and for LGBT immigrants more broadly is reflected in many of the policies enacted during his first term. According to a column released today by the Center for American Progress, President Obama has taken the following steps to address the needs and obstacles of LGBT immigrants:

1. Putting an end to separating families headed by same-sex couples. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) incorporated families headed by same-sex couples in its guidance on what it considers to be “low-priority” for investigation and deportation (so long as they are not a threat to public safety or national security).


2. Facilitating humane and safe detention standards for gay and transgender immigrants. DHS released new standards aimed at strengthening the dignified treatment of gay and transgender detainees and decreasing sexual victimization of those detainees.

3. Addressing the needs of gay and transgender refugees. DHS has implemented a training module that requires all asylum officers to be trained on the appropriate terminology they should use and questions they should ask when interviewing gay and transgender refugees.

4. Lifting the HIV travel ban. Finishing a process started by President Bush, President Obama issued rules that overturned the 22-year old ban on travel and immigration of HIV-positive individuals to the United States.

5. Offering undocumented immigrants who were brought here as children a temporary reprieve from deportation. President Obama’s “deferred action” policy has granted greater peace of mind for up to 1.76 million aspiring young Americans who qualify for the program. Many of the youth in this demographic identify as LGBT.

Beyond administrative policies, LGBT immigrants have been part of the recent legislative debate over immigration reform. Included in President Obama’s proposal for reform — but notably absent in the senators’ proposal — is a provision that would allow citizens to sponsor a same-sex partner for residency, a right that different-sex spouses currently enjoy under existing immigration law. Obtaining spousal sponsorship rights for bi-national same-sex couples is important to equitable immigration overhaul that includes all immigrants. LGBT-inclusive language should be a part of any bill going forward.