All LGBT Immigrants Need to Be Considered in Immigration Reform

This week the debate on comprehensive immigration reform took real shape with the Senate introducing a bipartisan framework on principles on Monday and the president making a statement on Tuesday.

The National Queer Asia Pacific Islander Alliance (NQAPIA) commends the Senate and the president for taking this initial, bipartisan step. Immigrants' rights and the need for comprehensive immigration reform are a top priority for our Asian and Asian Pacific Islander lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender immigrant communities.

Of course, we will continue to watch closely as details emerge and legislation is introduced. Though we have some questions about what has been put forth thus far, we recognize that there are important building blocks in the Senate's and the president's proposals. We're committed to working on them to support legislation that not only benefits the Asian and Asian Pacific Islander LGBT communities we work with but, on balance, moves us toward a more comprehensive solution for the entire country.

The inclusion of a path to citizenship and relief for the over 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country is a key component of both proposals. We estimate that 750,000 of those undocumented immigrants are LGBT, and we call for reform that will help all of them. Young undocumented activists who worked on the DREAM Act and who are queer have, by making the connection between coming out of the closet and coming out of the shadows, changed the political landscape. That they are also included is encouraging. The Asian and Asian Pacific Islander immigrant families whom we work with, both LGBT and straight members alike, can take heart in the provisions to reduce the family petition backlogs, which both proposals include.

But there discrepancies between the two sets of proposals and the policies that are of concern to our communities and must be addressed. Provisions around enforcement and detention must not be dangerous or onerous to our communities.

One of the main discrepancies between the Senate's and the president's proposals directly concerns LGBT families. The Senate's framework and the discussion of reforming the family-based immigration system did not include same-sex couples. The president's statement, on the other hand, states clearly that it will give "U.S. citizens and lawful residents the ability to seek a visa on the basis of a permanent relationship with a same-sex partner." It is clearly one of the more specific instances where the president's proposal differs from the Senate's framework. We will build on that as a starting point to move the conversation forward. This means that LGBT communities will be a key constituency to weigh in on comprehensive immigration reform, and we call for a broader reform that supports not only same-sex couples but also all LGBT immigrants who desperately need reform to the currently broken system.

The National Queer Asia Pacific Islander Association has always put the unique perspectives and needs of LGBT immigrants at the center of its work on immigrants' rights and comprehensive immigration reform. The LGBT Immigration Forums we have done around the country for the last three years have built a solid foundation for the work we now begin, and you'll be seeing more of them in the months to come. Recently, at the 2013 National Conference on LGBT Equality: Creating Change in Atlanta, Ga., we collected over 4,000 postcards calling on Congress and the president to act on comprehensive immigration reform now. As the debate moves forward, we are committed to educating and mobilizing our communities on this important issue. I hope you'll join us in this important effort.

Ben de Guzman may be reached at