Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 7 / 15 February 2018

Advocates seek to empower LGBT immigrants


Sammie Willis, left, API Equality moderator, confers with May Liang, ASPIRE moderator, at last week's panel discussion on immigration reform.
(Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland)
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When Amy Lin pulled her mother aside and said, "I like girls too, are you okay with that?" her mother, who moved Lin to the U.S. from Taiwan when Lin was 12, looked at her and said, "It doesn't matter, that's what America is for."

But when Lin, who is now a student at UCLA and a volunteer for Asian Students Promoting Immigration Rights through Education, or ASPIRE, came out as an undocumented immigrant, she realized it wouldn't be as easy to find that same acceptance.

"I sort of hid my identity in high school," Lin said last week at St. John the Evangelist Episcopal Church as part of a panel discussion called "What's Beyond DOMA in Immigration Reform: The Next Steps for Women and LGBTQ Communities."

"I thought that I can't be both," Lin explained. "You're sort of marginalized as undocumented already, adding that you're queer, you're worse."

The discussion, sponsored by New America Media and other groups, also featured Ben de Guzman, co-director of programs for the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance; Gabriela Villareal of the California Immigrant Policy Center; Alex Aldana of East Bay Immigrant Youth Coalition; Stacey Umezu of Community United Against Violence; and Lourdes Perez of Mujeres Unidas y Activas.

The panelists attempted to empower "undocuqueers" by informing them on a range of legislation, some of which has passed through the California Legislature, while other proposals are awaiting action in Congress.

One such piece, on the state level, is the Transparency and Responsibility Using State Tools, or TRUST, Act by gay Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), which would limit excesses by the federal program known as Secure Communities. Under S-Comm, as it's known, more than 50,000 contributing Californians have been deported though they had not been convicted of any crime, or only minor crimes, according to a statement from Ammiano's office.

"Nobody knows how you get into or out of an ICE database," Umezu said at one point in the panel discussion, referring to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The TRUST Act passed an Assembly concurrence vote last week and is headed to Governor Jerry Brown, who has until October 13 to sign or veto the legislation.

Villareal pointed out another piece of legislation, AB 1195, which she called a "common sense measure." The bill, which was authored by lesbian Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton), was signed into law by Brown last week. It allows immigrant victims of crimes to access police reports.

On the national level, de Guzman said the conflict in Syria has "flipped Congress on its head," pushing the issue of comprehensive immigration reform down to a lower priority.

But, he said "the equality debate is not over," and "everyone deserves a path to citizenship" as a way to be free of what he called "draconian" deportation and detention systems.

The Senate approved an immigration reform bill earlier this year, but action is still needed in the House of Representatives, where Republicans are sharply divided on the issue.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman for federal purposes, most conversations on a path to citizenship for LGBTQ people have seen marriage as the best option. Immigration officials have issued green cards to same-sex binational couples who have already married in a jurisdiction where it is legal.

"Now you can fix your papers and get married," Aldana said sarcastically, adding, but "I don't see that as a solution to my legal status. Not everyone buys the institution of marriage."

He brought up the question of what happens when two undocumented people fall in love, bringing up what he called a "flaw in this concept" of marriage as best solution.

"Our community colonizes this idea of Americanization," Aldana said. "I never want to sacrifice my indigenous identity, my Mexican identity."

Aldana sees the best way to enact change for immigration reform is to put pressure on lawmakers through acts of civil disobedience.

For Perez, reform can't come soon enough.

Speaking through a translator, Perez told the audience that her son was beaten up once, and she was afraid to call the police to report the crime. "Will they help me, or will they detain me and deport me?" she wondered.

"My decision was to not call because I didn't trust the police," she said.

"We want to be able to go out and ask for help when we are in danger," Perez said of undocumented women. "We want reform for everybody, we don't want to exclude anybody."

Forum organizers urged people to call Brown's office at (916) 445-2841 and ask him to sign the TRUST Act, AB 4, into law.

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