Chicago forum discusses LGBT immigration reform
LGBT immigration reform was the topic of conversation for some 50 activists who gathered at the Center on Halsted on Chicago on Tuesday, Feb. 16, for a discussion forum sponsored by the National Immigrant Justice Center and the Strength in Unity Coalition. In addition to addressing the needs of gay and lesbian couples who are unable to sponsor their partners for citizenship while heterosexual couples can, forum panelists and attendees spoke on myriad concerns at the intersection of immigrant and LGBT rights.
Illinois Congressman Mike Quigley was on hand at the forum. He spoke tentatively regarding the likelihood of LGBT-inclusive immigration provisions passing the House and Senate before the year’s end. He said lawmakers were increasingly cautious to take on issues deemed controversial and he noted apprehension on the part of some immigration activists who view the inclusion of LGBT families in reform legislation as "throwing gasoline on the fire" for immigration opponents.
"While I’m optimistic that comprehensive immigration reform will pass [soon,] I’m pessimistic it will include GLBT people," Quigley said.
While many at the forum criticized Quigley’s frank words on the bill’s chances for passage this year, others pointed out any immigration reform would benefit gay and lesbian people, particularly undocumented immigrants seeking citizenship, access to health care and educational opportunities. Tania Unzueta of Amigas Latinas encouraged activists to move forward in their support of reform, even without the protections for bi-national couples.
Other panelists, including Latinos Progresando executive director Luis Gutierrez and Yasmin Nair of GenderJUST, spoke to the importance of coalition building, as progressive activists of every stripe, whether straight, gay or otherwise, fight together for reform. Nair, who spoke of a progressive history of fighting battles against the HIV travel ban and other legislation, said such coalitions have deep, even if forgotten, roots within LGBT activism--and the Obama administration lifted the ban last year after more than 20 years of activism.
Eric Berndt, supervising attorney for the National Immigrant Justice Center’s National Asylum Partnership on Sexual Minorities, encouraged forum attendees not to forget about the plight of gays and lesbians seeking refuge from oppression in their home countries. He cited examples of Pakistani and Lebanese asylum-seekers encountering homophobia during their application processes.
A French-American couple and Jackie Frett, a member of PFLAG whose son had recently married his Australian partner in Iowa, all spoke emotionally to their families’ hardships dealing with their limited options for citizenship and living situations.
"It’s not fair and I want to know why this is still happening," Frett said, while choking back tears. "It’s tearing my family apart, I’m sick of it and I want it to change."