Immigration Reform Is an LGBT Issue

The need for immigration reform legislation is a complex issue that intersects with many different policy areas. Immigration reform is a broad issue that is about more than our national immigration policy; it's about racial justice, criminal justice and economic justice.

It is also undeniably about equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people and their families, and a new report published by the Center for American Progress (CAP), relying on first-of-its-kind research by the Williams Institute, illustrates the diverse ways that this issue affects the LGBT community. According to this groundbreaking report, of the over 900,000 LGBT immigrants living in the U.S., nearly 30 percent are undocumented. The report estimates that there are at least 267,000 undocumented LGBT people in this country who support this economy and contribute to their communities but must live under the specter of deportation. This number reveals the simple truth that crafting a workable and humane immigration policy with an accessible and direct pathway to citizenship is something in which the LGBT community has a direct stake.

Immigration reform is not simply a broad concern that has LGBT issues embedded within it. Immigration reform is an LGBT issue that affects our community as a whole and has an impact on the kind of nation we are. As LGBT advocates, we cannot depend on other advocates to be the voice of our community on an issue so critical and resonant. Instead, we must embrace the need for reform as a fundamental prerequisite for achieving equality for the entire LGBT community and for staying true to our commitment in justice for all.

What our community seeks is reform legislation that is conscious of all the particular barriers to access within the current system. This includes a pathway to citizenship that doesn't include unrealistic requirements to provide proof of continuous employment. Not only do such requirements fail to recognize that the LGBT community faces particular barriers to employment because of a lack of federal protection from employment discrimination, but they also undervalue off-the-books employment, in which many immigrants engage, and which is harder to verify. This includes things like domestic work and stay-at-home parenting. According to the CAP report, of the nearly 7,000 same-sex couples that include two non-citizens, 58 percent are raising kids -- approximately 12,400 kids in all. Respecting our families requires recognizing that many parents forgo work outside the home in favor of raising children. And if working inside the home was considered work when Ann Romney did it, it must likewise be considered work when parents in our communities make this choice.

Real reform must also include lifting the one-year filing ban for asylum claims. This is an arbitrary deadline that requires immigrants seeking asylum to file within one year of coming to the U.S. Many LGBT immigrants seeking asylum are escaping unspeakable persecution and horror in their home countries based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Requiring them to immediately disclose their harrowing stories to government officials is an unrealistic and unnecessarily burdensome requirement. We also want to see reform that includes efforts to ensure access to necessary health care, including comprehensive and culturally competent care for transgender immigrants and comprehensive reproductive health care for LGBT people. Reforms must include serious changes to detention standards to ensure the safety, privacy and dignity of LGBT detainees who are being victimized every day while in our government's custody. Clearly there are a number of aspects of immigration reform that are crucially important for LGBT immigrants, and we must be actively aware of them and engaged in advocacy around them all.

Immigration is and will continue to be one of the most critical components of U.S. public policy. The ability to design a humane immigration policy that works for those who have immigrated to this country so that they can work hard and make a life for themselves and their families will be one of the ways that we as a society will be judged. It will be an indicator of our ability to compete and succeed economically and politically, and it will be a marker of our collective humanity. Ensuring that final reforms are inclusive of the needs of everyone in the LGBT community is the responsibility of all of us.