Immigration reform proposals could help undocumented LGBT immigrants who have even fewer options than straight counterparts
Tens of thousands of people marched in Downtown Dallas for immigration reform on Saturday, May 1. Among them were members of the local Rainbow LULAC group and other allies from the LGBT community.
The Mega March was planned months ago to support immigration reform legislation that was expected to reach the floor of Congress once health care reform passed.
In the weeks before the march, however, Arizona passed a new law that requires police officers to check immigration status of anyone they stop. Anger about that law fueled larger than anticipated participation in the march.
Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund condemned the new Arizona law and its particular effect on LGBT immigrants and their families.
"LGBT undocumented immigrants are among the most invisible of the invisible," said Lambda Legal Executive Director Kevin Cathcart in a written statement. "Many inhabit a double closet, afraid of disclosing their sexual orientation and/or gender identity and afraid of disclosing that they are undocumented."
Among those participating in the Mega March was a young man who knows exactly what Cathcart meant. Because of his immigration status, the young man asked that his real name not be used, and that he instead be referred to as Miguel.
Miguel said he came to this country from Mexico with his parents when he was 5 years old. He grew up in San Antonio but has lived in Dallas for the last 10 years.
He does not have legal status.
Although he is 22, Miguel said he feels like he isn’t where he should be at that age.
"I feel like I’ve been set back," he said. "Everything is harder for me."
Without documentation, Miguel has not been able to go to college, although he tried to register at El Centro College.
"Because I’m not a legal resident, they can’t give me loans," he said.
Miguel works two jobs, at a gas station and fast food restaurant, trying to save money for school. To get those jobs, he had to use someone else’s information.
Miguel drives, although he does not have a driver’s license. Texas does not issue licenses to residents who are not legal.
Miguel said that he’s trying to save money, but has spent much of it recently paying a couple of traffic tickets that included extra penalties for driving without a license. He’s careful to make sure any fines he incurs are paid so he’s not picked up later on a violation.
If he were arrested, Miguel would likely be sent to Mexico, a place he hasn’t been since he was five and where he has no family. He does not speak Spanish well, and would have no place to live.
Miguel said he understands that he faces these dangers because he is in the country illegally. But he also noted that inequities in U.S. immigration law for LGBT people leave him with far fewer options than others in his situation.
Miguel’s brother married a woman who is U.S. citizen and is now in the United States legally. His sister married a man who is a U.S. citizen and now resides in this country legally.
Miguel’s boyfriend would like to do the same for him, but because they have a same-sex relationship that is not recognized by the federal government, he cannot.
"I’m screwed in two ways," he said.
The situation is not uncommon.
The former mayor of San Angelo, J.W. Lown, resigned soon after he was re-elected for his fourth term last year to be with his partner. Lown’s partner had returned to Mexico because he could not get legal status here. But that would not have been the case had they been a heterosexual couple.
Lown moved to Mexico so they could be together.
"Under the current laws, once you are out of status, it is very hard to gain legal status," said Cannon Flowers, executive director of the Human Rights Initiative. "It takes congressional intervention."
Flowers said that a comprehensive immigration bill was introduced in Congress last week that includes the LGBT-friendly Uniting American Families Act and the Dream Act. Either would help in Miguel’s situation.
UAFA would allow bi-national LGBT families to remain together legally in the United States, and the non-citizen could gain eventual citizenship, Flowers said.
The Dream Act would allow people who came to this country as minors to apply for citizenship. Flowers said those applying for legal status under this law would have to meet a number of criteria.
To be granted legal status under the Dream Act, applicants would have to be high school graduates, have been in the country five years before passage of the bill and be of good moral character.
Flowers said that last provision simply means the person has no criminal record, and he said he does not expect it would be used to exclude LGBT immigrants.
Flowers said the only current alternative for someone like Miguel is to go to Mexico and re-enter the U.S. with a work or student visa.
Many of the arguments for stricter enforcement of current immigration laws and deportation of anyone in this country without legal status are economic in nature.
Some argue that North Texas public schools and county hospitals are overwhelmed serving illegal residents.
But two of the property taxes paid in Texas fund the local hospital district and the independent school district, and an illegal immigrant who buys a home in Dallas County pays property taxes that support DISD and Parkland Hospital. And those who pay rent fund their landlord’s payment of those taxes.
However, in an e-mail to Dallas Voice, one writer pointed that out illegal immigrants do not pay federal taxes, and those taxes fund a number of local programs.
"Our schools, hospitals, etc. are not funded 100 percent by sales and property taxes," he wrote. "[Federal taxes] fund local programs like school lunches, general federal school funding."
A number of other local school programs that cover many non-legal students are funded with federal money. Title 1 grants support education for disadvantaged students and IDEA grants subsidize programs for disabled students.
Signs by counterprotesters at the Mega March called for the end to granting citizenship to "anchor babies." Those are children born to mothers who come across the border pregnant and give birth on U.S. soil.
But a number of studies indicate that undocumented workers actually have a positive effect on their communities.
The non-partisan Iowa Policy Project found that the average undocumented family in that state paid about $1,254 in sales and excise taxes, $110 in property taxes and $307 in income taxes, for a total tax contribution of $1,671 each year.
The League of Women’s Voters did a study on the impact of immigration.
In North Carolina, for example, they found that foreign workers filled one-third of new jobs in North Carolina. Supplying services to those same people cost the state $61 million but their impact on the state was an $11 billion contribution.
Still, the issue remains volatile. One side would like the federal government to enforce current laws strictly and even build a wall across the border. The other side would like immigration laws to be reformed and enforced.
Under current laws, same-sex couples have no rights. Whether same-sex couples are included in any reform bill is at the whim of Congress. As the bill introduced by Sen. Charles Schumer of New York now stands, gays and lesbians would benefit.
One candidate for Congress in Iowa offered his own proposal this week to deal with illegal aliens.
"I actually support micro-chipping them," Republican candidate Pat Bertroche said. "I can micro-chip my dog so I can find it. Why can’t I microchip an illegal? That’s not a popular thing to say, but it’s a lot cheaper than building a fence they can tunnel under."
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 7, 2010.