immigration law tears our families apart

Comprehensive Immigration Reform
(CIR) is perhaps the most
hotly debated topic today. It has an international reach, affecting
tens of millions in the immediate and millions more to come. There
is no one best opinion about CIR. The issues involved are too human
for a one-size-fits-all approach, too specific to each individual,
family and community affected. Likewise there is no one best
political strategy when approaching reform—do we support
Congress’s current efforts to alter (some say “improve”) the
system, in the hopes that doing so will open doors to fixing the
problems we see in immigration policy? Or do we, as an LGBTQ and
ally community, oppose it because it doesn’t do nearly enough from
the start to better the lives of LGBTQ immigrants, their families
and friends?

I personally don’t have the answers to these questions. Neither
does Family Pride. But as our organizational mission is to make
sure that all loving families (living or connected to the United
States) share equal access to the rights, responsibilities and
benefits of being a family, we will continue to struggle with the
immigration issues as the CIR debate grows.

For now, we can share with you some vital information about LGBTQ
families directly touched by immigration and citizenship status.
The following data has been pulled from a 2006 report by
Immigration Equality. The
report is entitled “Family, Unvalued: Discrimination, Denial, and
the Fate of Binational Same-Sex Couples under U.S. Law.”

  • As of Census 2000, 35,820 binational couples (meaning one
    partner has US citizenship while the other does not) live in the
    United States.
  • These 35,820 binational couples equate to 6% of all identified
    same-sex couples in the US.
  • Despite reform in the 1990s that struck down sexual orientation
    as a category by which potential immigrants could be judged, LGBTQ
    US citizens still can’t sponsor their long-term partners as family
  • For more than fifty years, “family reunification” has been a
    primary goal of immigrant policy in the US. More than two-thirds of
    all legal immigration derives from family sponsorship. 
  • The Federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) not only prohibits
    one state from recognizing the same-sex unions of another; it also
    defines marriage for federal purposes as a union between a man and
    a woman, making it impossible for LGBTQ US citizens to advocate for
    spousal status of their same-sex partner.
  • To reunite with their families, many non-US citizens attempt to
    live in the US on temporary visas, usually for 6 month periods. But
    temporary visas are not a viable option for the LGBTQ partners of
    US citizens. People on temporary visas must show that they do not
    have motivations to stay in the US passed their legal period. A
    romantic relationship with a US citizen is considered proof enough
    of intention to stay (and denial of the visa).
  • The process by which non-LGBTQ US citizens sponsor their
    partners for entry into the US is relatively simple. Non-LGBTQ
    couples basically show a US consulate that they intend to marry and
    that they’ve met at least once before in-person. This declaration
    begins the process. There is no process for same-sex couples.
  • Current CIR attempts would make it possible for an LGBTQ US
    citizen to be convicted of “smuggling” their life-long partner if
    the partner reaches undocumented status.
  • Legal relationships to children with US citizenship do not
    grant immigrant parents legal status in the US, meaning they can be
    detained and deported, regardless of whether they parent children
    with citizenship.

These facts and figures give us just a glimpse into the ways
immigration policy discriminates against LGBTQ families and tears
them apart. “Family, Unvalued” could also easily have been called
“Family Fugitives,” so desperate are the families with immigrant
parents to avoid the system’s heavy hand.

There’s a separate bill in the US Senate right now, intended to
stop this discrimination. It’s called the Uniting American Families
Act. Help pass the bill here. For more
on immigrant and LGBTQ families, read the full report: “Family,
.” To better equip yourselves to speak out on these
issues and more, sign up for an OUTSpoken Families
, the Family Pride guide to advocating for family
equality in your own communities. 

Leave a comment. Let us know what you think/feel about immigration
reform and our families. If you are a family touched by
immigration, share your story below.