Stop playing politics on immigration rights

Glenn MagtanpayBy Glenn Magtanpay
Executive Director, National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance

To say I am deeply disappointed would be an understatement. We at the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance (NQAPIA) are aggrieved as a badly divided U.S. Supreme Court issued a 4-4 decision in the case U.S. v. Texas on June 23. The decision upholds a lower court’s ruling to block President Obama’s executive actions on immigration, which expanded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and created a new Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA) program. Had this ruling gone in a more positive direction, it would have benefited up to a quarter million LGBT Asian Americans. Immigration laws and policies have a direct impact on the lives of LGBT people.  This decision significantly diminishes our equality.

NQAPIA submitted a brief in the case, illustrating the impact of the immigration programs on the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community. In April 2015, NQAPIA together with local groups organized a National Week of Action on Immigrants’ Rights protesting the U.S. v. Texas lawsuit in New Orleans and New York City.

Could this decision have gone differently? While there is no way to know what would have happened had the court had its full compliment of nine justices participating, the Congressional Republicans’ obstructionist stalemate refusing to fulfill their constitutional obligation  to review the presidential nominee to fill the empty seat on the Supreme Court goes to the heart of the matter. Anti-immigration advocates have held up reviewing President Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court. They have kept in place a stalled judiciary. We do not know how nine justices would have ruled, but the reality is a 4-4 decision keeps in place lower court rulings.  In this case, the Texas decision remains in tact.

Playing politics with peoples lives is unacceptable. The president’s expanded DACA and DAPA immigration programs could have helped up to 5 million undocumented immigrants, including 400,000 Asians, to be free from deportation and gain work authorization. An estimated 267,000 undocumented immigrants are LGBT, of which a disproportionate share are Asian and Pacific Islander.

Fortunately, the original DACA program remains unaffected, and more than 100,000 undocumented Asian Americans remain potentially eligible for this program, but have not yet applied. NQAPIA, a federation of LGBT Asian American, South Asian and Pacific Islanders with local organizations across the U.S., vows to educate more LGBT Asian Americans to apply for DACA and to provide legal assistance.” More information about DACA can be found on our website.

Our message to Congress in this month of LGBT Pride: Take politics out of the judicial system. Meet your constitutional commitment and give the Presidential Supreme Court nominee a fair hearing as soon as possible. A court with only eight justices will continually throw decisions back on the states, essentially eviscerating the role of the Supreme Court. It is your duty to set this straight.

The National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance (NQAPIA) is a nationwide federation of LGBT Asian American, South Asian, Southeast Asian, and Pacific Islander (AAPI) organizations. NQAPIA seeks to build the organizational capacity of local LGBT AAPI groups, develop leadership, and expand collaborations to better challenge homophobia and racism.

—  David Taffet

ICE meets with Rainbow LULAC on LGBT and Latino issues

ICE LULAC

Meeting with ICE officials on Feb. 27

An ICE representative reached out to Rainbow LULAC President Juan Contreras to organize a roundtable to discuss the current state of affairs in the LGBT and Latino/a communities. Among those attending were Nell Gaither of Trans Pride Initiative and representatives from Cathedral of Hope and the ACLU.

The meeting took place on Sunday. They reviewed ICE’s current LGBT memorandums and their plan to assemble a Transgender Classification and Care Committee (TCCC) at the new detention center in Alvarado. ICE asked Rainbow LULAC to find organizers to help with community programming at this center.

“We thought this was too much of an ask from volunteers and suggested that they create a contractor position,” Contraras wrote to Dallas Voice.

The group told the ICE representatives that although they would work with them to get to see members of our communities at this center, that doesn’t negate the fact that LGBT Latino/a community organizers will keep organizing to fight systemic oppression in those communities.

—  David Taffet

LULAC looking for volunteers to escort children

Dallas’ LULAC Council #102 is looking for volunteers to escort refugee children being brought to DFW from the Texas/Mexico border.County Judge Clay Jenkins

“We need Guardian Angels for these children in case they are confronted by the hatemongers and bigots we saw this weekend,” noted a LULAC email sent out this afternoon that issued the “call to action”. Anyone interested in volunteering should email their contact info to mgarza@dgley.com to get signed up for training and to be provided with legal and community logistics info.

“Religious community leaders of all faiths are strongly encouraged to volunteer,” according to the email, which quoted Matthew 25:40: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the lest of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins told Stonewall Democrats last week that the flood of unaccompanied children from violence-torn Central American countries is a humanitarian crisis, and urged the LGBT community to get involved to help. Jenkins made national headlines when he stepped forward to offer a place for the children to go until their situations can be resolved.

Meanwhile in Washington, D.C., activists with the youth-led immigration reform group United We Dream staged a mock funeral for the Republican Party today in the halls of the Dirksen and Hart senate buildings. The protesters, carrying a mock coffin, said the GOP is dead to them because of the party’s stance on immigration reform.

Many of the protesters carried rainbow flags to symbolize their belief that immigration reform is inextricably tied to LGBT rights issues.

—  Tammye Nash

Homeland Security will take up to 60 days to draft rules to implement new immigration order

"Dreamers" at the 2010 Mega March in Dallas.

Since issuing an immigration policy change that will disproportionately help gay and lesbian youth, Homeland Security has not established any application procedures. Prerna Lal, a Northern California attorney, Immigration Equality board member and co-founder of the Dream Activist Movement, said the process has not started yet. She said the government has 60 days to issue rules.

“Dreamers” are those who were brought illegally to this country and do not qualify for citizenship. Many heterosexuals who came to the U.S. as children obtain green cards and citizenship by marrying someone of the opposite sex. Because of the Defense of Marriage Act, gays and lesbians do not qualify for residency this way.

To qualify, a person must be under the age of 30, entered the country under the age of 16, lived in this country continuously for the past five years, have a high school diploma, be in college or have military service and no criminal record.

Until policies are established, Lal advised those who qualify to get their paperwork in order.

According to the Homeland Security website, financial records, medical records, school records, employment records and military records will all help establish residency. Each person will have to pass a security check before receiving the document that will be good for two years before being renewed.

According to a member of the group QUIR Dallas, some local Dreamers started getting documents notarized last Friday to establish residency at that time. QUIR — Queer Undocumented Immigrant Radicals — is a new group based in Oak Cliff dealing with this and related issues.

Lal advised those who do not have a passport to get one from their country of origin to establish their identity.

—  David Taffet

COVER STORY: Immigration inequality keeps couple apart

IMMIGRATION INEQUALITY | Attorney Stacy Webb, left, advises his client, Mark J., on U.S. immigration policy. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

Dallasite and his Canadian partner, like other bi-national couples, have to get creative to live together, thanks to anti-gay U.S. immigration laws

EDITOR’S NOTE: The men profiled in this report asked, on the advice of their attorney, that their full names not be used because their case is pending before immigration officials.

DAVID TAFFET | Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

After the 2001 death of his partner, Dallasite Mark J. found a second chance at love. But with the U.S. government standing between them, Mark and his new partner knew their “happily ever after” wouldn’t come easily.

Mark and his first partner met Greg K., a Canadian, online in the 1990s and began a long-distance friendship. After Mark’s partner died suddenly in 2001, Mark and Greg began visiting each other.

By 2005, their friendship developed into a relationship — but one that is not without its difficulties. Mark said he and Greg speak on the phone three times a day, and once every two months they spend 10 days together.

It’s not an ideal arrangement, but they chose to work it out that way because neither was ready to move because of their jobs, and both have family obligations that tie them to their homes. Mark, for example, cares for his deceased partner’s mother, who is in her 90s.

But the situation could change soon. Mark and Greg are both are in their 50s, and both plan to retire in five years. Still, even then, federal immigration law poses a major roadblock.

To explore their options, Mark and Greg visited attorney Stacy Webb, who specializes in immigration cases and estate planning services and was recently qualified as a pro bono attorney for Human Rights Initiative. HRI is a Dallas-based organization that offers service to local refugees and immigrants who have suffered human rights abuses.

Webb told them their options are limited.

Mark can move to Greg’s home in Ontario if the couple marries. But Greg only qualifies for a 90-day U.S. tourist visa and cannot move to Dallas to live with Mark.

The problem is U.S. immigration inequality.

The foreign partner in a married, opposite-sex couple can apply for residency in the U.S. and will automatically be granted a green card, unless there is a specific reason for exclusion. The green card gives the spouse permanent residency and the right to begin the process of applying for citizenship.

But because the federal Defense of Marriage Act specifically prohibits legal recognition of same-sex marriage, couples like Mark and Greg don’t have that option.

“As an attorney, it can be frustrating when same-sex couples come to me for help with their immigration issues,” Webb said.

“Here is a couple that has taken every possible step to formalize their relationship. They’ve prepared mutual wills and powers of attorney, held themselves out to the world as a committed couple, and shared their lives for several years. But because the federal government chooses not to recognize that relationship, there is no way for Greg come to this country legally,” Webb said.

Canada issues visas on a point system. On his own, Mark scored too low to obtain permanent resident status. According to Canada’s Lesbian and Gay Immigration Taskforce — known as LEGIT — age and any health conditions that require long-term health and social service support would count against an immigrant.

But Mark did score points for his education and work experience.

However, under the Canadian marriage equality law, Mark can apply for permanent residency as Greg’s spouse if they marry in Canada or in one of the U.S. states that offer marriage, civil unions or domestic partnerships.

Because they are planning ahead, if Mark decides to move to Canada, he should not encounter any problems, according to Webb. LEGIT says the application process takes anywhere from three months to three years.

Although DOMA prevents the U.S. government from recognizing same-sex marriages, the proposed Uniting American Families Act would allow an American partner to sponsor a spouse. That bill is stalled in Congress.

“One of the stated goals of U.S. immigration policy is to ‘keep families together,’” Webb said. “However, they obviously don’t mean our families because same-sex citizens cannot petition for their partners or spouses.”

UAFA would remedy the injustice that tears same-sex families apart.

According to the New York-based Immigration Equality, 19 countries allow bi-national couples to sponsor their same-sex partners for immigration. Canada is among them. The U.S. is not.

Steve Ralls, spokesman for Immigration Equality, said, “Canada is a very welcoming country for lesbian and gay couples.”

Many of Immigration Equality’s clients move to Canada for a number of reasons. Proximity, Ralls said, is an advantage. But even more important is that same-sex couples receive all the benefits of heterosexual couples once they become Canadian residents.

“Everything from an enormously progressive health care system to tax benefits, including filing tax returns jointly,” Ralls said.

Mark can be listed as a beneficiary of Greg’s Canadian Social Security benefits. Greg cannot receive benefits from Mark’s American Social Security.

Ralls said that a number of bi-national couples have immigrated to Canada, even in cases where neither is Canadian.

One applies to become a Canadian resident based on the point system. Once a resident, that person can sponsor his or her partner for residency.

Ralls said that if UAFA passed in the U.S., bi-national couples would have to undergo the same strict criteria as opposite-sex couples. That includes intrusive interviews that confirm the validity of a relationship.

He said that UAFA was recently reintroduced in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate with its largest number of cosponsors. But that’s still not enough votes for the measure to pass.

Two Texas representatives — Sheila Jackson Lee of Houston and Eddie Bernice Johnson of Dallas — are among the sponsors.

“The current House makes it difficult to pass,” Ralls said. “But if they tackle immigration reform, it will be GLBT-inclusive.”

He said he thinks that immigration reform legislation will be introduced in Congress before the end of the summer.

Ralls said that if Republicans and Democrats can agree on major issues — such as a path to citizenship — relationship equality will pass as part of the package.

Cannon Flowers is CEO of Human Rights Initiative. He advises bi-national couples planning to live in the U.S. to stay legal and work with an attorney.

“You can make a lot of mistakes before you realize what you’ve done,” he said, adding that any misrepresentation of immigration status — on a credit card application, a loan or other legal document — could be considered fraud and used years later as a permanent bar to immigration.

“Get legal advice before you start the process,” he said.

Flowers, who is himself in a bi-national relationship, said he began doing research before he and his partner entered the U.S.

“There are more options than people realize,” he said.

He mentioned a friend in Houston who has four degrees and noted that educational visas are relatively easy to obtain. Another of Flowers’ friends lives in California on an artist’s visa. Flowers said that those visas are also obtainable if you can prove a certain level of achievement.

Another of Flowers’ friends qualified for a green card because, as a doctor, he provides a level of skill needed in the country.

“Get creative,” Flowers advised those looking for ways to get a visa.

Bi-national couples pay a heavy price for maintaining a relationship. Some couples give up jobs and move away from extended family to be together. Mark and
Greg have made the decision to work another five years until they are ready to retire. But in the meantime, they have to maintain two separate residences and incur high travel expenses to be together.

Flowers counted his partner’s education, an investment in a business they may never have started and attorney’s fees as his biggest expenses.

“His tax filing is more complicated because of his entrepreneurial visa status,” Flowers said. “And he spends thousands more per year in accounting.

Visas to reside in the U.S. must be picked up in the home country. So each time a visa is renewed or changed from one category to another, a trip that may involve travel halfway around the world will be required.

Webb said that as an attorney, he’s sworn to abide by the laws of the United States. But as an advocate for his clients, he believes it’s time to change the laws to honor all families.

“The founders of this country recognized that we all have the right to ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,’” Webb said. “What can be more basic to the pursuit of happiness than being able to choose with whom you share your life?”

—  John Wright

Complaint: LGBT immigrants abused, neglected at detention centers run by Homeland Security

The National Immigration Justice Center has filed civil rights complaints on behalf of 13 LGBT immigrants who were allegedly abused and neglected at detention centers run by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in nine states, including one in Houston. The Heartland Alliance’s NIJC filed the complaints today in a letter addressed to Homeland Security’s Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, calling on the department to investigate and implement new policies.

The group has also launched a petition calling on the DHS and President Barack Obama to end the abuse of LGBT immigrants in detention.

The 13 complaints include allegations of sexual assault, denial of adequate medical care, long-term solitary confinement, discrimination and abuse, and ineffective complaints and appeals process. Below are a few examples from the letter, which you can download in its entirety here:

• [Juan] was sexually assaulted by two other detainees. Despite repeated requests for a transfer to another facility because he feared for his safety [Juan] was not transferred until three months after the incident, when ICE Headquarters intervened. In the meantime, the only “protection” that the Otero County Detention Center offered was placement in the “hole.” (Otero County Detention Center, New Mexico)

• [Delfino] was held in segregation for four months, justifying their decision on the basis that [Delfino] presented “effeminately.” Facility staff refused to provide [Delfino] a Bible and permitted him only one hour of recreation – in a cold nine- by-thirteen-foot cell – per day. (Houston Processing Center, Texas)

• [Monica] continues to be denied hormone therapy, despite her use of hormones for ten years prior to immigration detention, and her physical and psychological reliance on them. [Monica], now detained for over five months, told NIJC staff, “I can’t even look at myself in the mirror anymore,” due to returning facial and body hair and other distressing changes. [Monica], an asylum seeker who has suffered grave past abuse in Mexico, also received no treatment for her trauma- related depression. She attempted suicide in February 2011 – the facility put her in solitary confinement as punishment. (Santa Ana City Jail, California)

• [Alexis] was repeatedly called a “faggot” by guards, who also made jokes about her dying of AIDS. They singled her out for public searches in which they forced her to remove her outer clothing and mocked her exposed breasts. (Theo Lacy Facility, California)

—  John Wright

Gay-baiting as a distraction from real issues

Jim Schutze at The Dallas Observer has a good piece up today about politicians using issues like immigration, abortion and gay rights to distract voters from real problems, such as Texas’ current budget shortfall and — more generally — how badly rich people in the U.S. are screwing everyone else over. Here’s an excerpt:

So it’s like this: We ask, “Mr. Governor, what are you going to about the huge deficit that’s going to screw up our kids’ schools and toss our grandparents out in the street and mess up the whole state?”

And he says, “LOOK OVER THERE! A MEXICAN!”

It’s not just Perry. It’s all of the Republicans now. Ask state Sen. Florence Shapiro what she’s going to do to protect colleges and universities from the shortfall. She’ll start talking about how we need “voter ID”

“LOOK! LOOK! A MEXICAN TRYING TO VOTE!”

And if that doesn’t work, the Republicans will point toward San Francisco and say, “LOOK! LOOK! TWO GUYS KISSING!”

Or, “LOOK! LOOK! A SLUT GETTING AN ABORTION.”

In reading Schutze’s piece, we couldn’t help being reminded of this George Carlin bit, so we figured we’d go ahead and share it too:

—  John Wright

Roberto Alonzo files insurance nondiscrimination measure; no anti-gay legislation reported yet

Rep. Roberto Alonzo

State Rep. Roberto Alonzo, D-Dallas, has filed one of the earliest pro-equality bills of the 2011 legislative session — and he didn’t even wait outside the clerk’s office for two days to do it.

Alonzo’s HB208, filed Monday, would add sexual orientation and gender identity/expression to the nondiscrimination provisions of the Texas Insurance Code, according to Equality Texas.

Chuck Smith, deputy director of Equality Texas, said Wednesday morning that while there’s been a flood of legislation related to immigration and abortion, no anti-gay bills have been logged since the pre-filing period began Monday.

Some feel there is a danger of anti-gay attacks in the biennial session that begins in January, now that Republicans have a nearly two-thirds majority in the House, but Smith reiterated what he told us last week.

“It is untrue to assume that all Republicans are wingnut homophobes,” Smith said. “Some of them are, but I don’t know that there is a will certainly at the leadership level to gay-bash. I think their own polling numbers probably tell them what we see as well, which is that it doesn’t necessarily play well.”

—  John Wright

Same-Sex Partners Included in Menendez Immigration Reform Bill

Yesterday, Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) introduced  a comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) bill, which reports indicate includes the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA).  UAFA allows United States citizens and permanent residents to sponsor their same-sex partners for family-based immigration.

UAFA would provide lesbian and gay individuals the same opportunity as different-sex, married couples to sponsor their partner.  The United States lags behind 19 countries that recognize same-sex couples for immigration purposes: Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Israel, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

UAFA, as a standalone bill, was introduced in the 111th Congress by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) in the Senate and by Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) in the House.  On June 3, 2009, the Senate Judiciary Committee held the first-ever congressional hearing on UAFA.  UAFA was also included in the outline of a CIR proposal (known as REPAIR) by Senators Harry Reid (D-NV), Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Robert Menendez that was released on April 29, 2010.

Representative Mike Honda (D-CA) included UAFA in the Reuniting Families Act introduced in the House in 2009.  Senator Menendez’s CIR bill marks the first time UAFA has been included in a CIR bill in the Senate.  HRC thanks Senator Menendez for his continued leadership in the Senate on this issue.


Human Rights Campaign | HRC Back Story

—  John Wright

Gay inclusive immigration reform bill introduced

It remains to be seen whether this legislation goes anywhere. The Congress is basically done for the year, at least until after the elections, and during the lame duck session we’ll see if anything “controversial” is even touched. I can’t help wondering if this isn’t being done simply to “buck up” Democrats before the election. And that’s fine. But I’d prefer a real effort to pass the bill, not window dressing to make people feel like something is happening. Introducing a bill isn’t “something happening” unless there’s a plan to get the bill moving and passed, pronto. And unless it’s going to happen during the lame duck, it isn’t going to happen for a long while, I fear.



AMERICAblog Gay

—  John Wright