Fighting for family: Dreamers, gays seek end to deportations

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Immigration Equality activists rally. - PHOTO: IE

Out of the shadows, into the streets. They are dreamers, and as they call for comprehensive immigration reform, they urge the Obama administration to halt the deportation of their mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, friends and neighbors.

“We think the president can do so much more,” said Elizabeth Gonzalez, an 18-year-old immigration rights activist and University of California student whose mother was deported a year ago. “He can, for one, extend the deferred action program and stop the deportations.”

On April 5, Gonzalez and other dreamers — those who were children when they came to the United States without documentation — along with other immigration rights advocates are planning to stage a national day of action calling on the House to take up comprehensive immigration reform and calling on the president to take executive action to turn back the deportation dragnet.

Activists tracking deportations since Barack Obama took office in 2009 expected to see the number reach 2 million on April 2. 

The April 5 campaign, with actions planned in more than 40 cities, is being coordinated by the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, with support from dozens of groups at the national and grassroots level.

Voces de la Frontera, the Milwaukee-based immigration rights group, is organizing its event to take place on April 4 with a march from Red Arrow Park downtown to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Milwaukee.

“President Obama’s immigration legacy is at stake,” said Voces de la Frontera executive director Christine Neumann-Ortiz. “He can go down in history as the president who deported the most people after campaigning on immigration reform, or he can stop the suffering with the stroke of a pen.”

Immigration Equality, a national LGBT group, also is participating in the day of action. A report from the Williams Institute at UCLA estimates that of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, 267,000 adults identify as LGBT.

“Every day for the past six years, approximately 1,000 of our loved ones were needlessly torn away from us, including countless LGBT individuals,” said Marco Quiroga, the national field officer for IE. His brother was deported in 2005 to a country where he was verbally and physically abused for being gay.

“I know what it feels like to have your family ripped apart by deportation,” he said. “My family is one of the many that needlessly fell through the cracks of the broken immigration system. For LGBT immigrants, deportation can be a death sentence. It’s time for a new approach.”

Milwaukean Pedro Perez, who was a youth leader for Voces de la Frontera, remembered how afraid he was to come out first as an undocumented immigrant student and then to come out as a gay man.

“There are a lot of similarities — being undocumented and being queer, coming out as undocumented and coming out as LGBT,” said Perez, now 23, a U.S. citizen and a university student majoring in marketing.

Perez and his parents came to the United States from Mexico when he was 3 years old.

He was undocumented until he was 20, and remembers worrying as a teenager about his status, about being deported and about being denied admission to college.

“You worry you are a target for somebody,” he said.

There were difficult conversations with high school advisers about college admissions applications and financial aid questionnaires that required Social Security numbers and other documentation. “I remember I went to the office for information and the counselor at the high school didn’t know what to recommend, and we had to go to other schools to get information. I had to face a reality, a fear, that I might not get into school because of my status.”

At about the same time, Perez began the process of coming out as gay.

He was one of the first openly gay youth activists involved with Voces de la Frontera.

And three years ago on April 1, Perez came out as gay to his parents.

“It was very hard,” he said. “And it’s a still a struggle. They still don’t understand. But I was actually surprised. I thought I was going to be rejected, and they told me they love me and accept me. I feel they took it pretty well. You shouldn’t be ashamed about who you are and what your status is.”

Later this month, on April 24, Voces de la Frontera will hold an event at Wherehouse, 818 S. Water St., to marry the immigration rights and LGBT equality movements.

“It makes sense that we be together as one,” Perez said.

Israel Ramon, who founded Voces’ legal clinic 10 years ago and is coordinating the event, said a $25 donation would be requested for the Voces for Equality party.

The goal, he said, is to inform people of the issues facing LGBT immigrants and of Voces work. “We fight for families,” he said. “And we want to make sure immigration reform applies to everyone.”

Call to action

A national day of action to challenge the rate of deportations by the Obama administration is on April 5, when events take place in more than 40 cities across the country. 

Social media supporters will participate using #2Million2Many.

Milwaukee-based Voces de la Frontera and the affiliated Youth Empowered in the Struggle hold a #2Million2Many event at 4 p.m. on April 4 and a march from Red Arrow Park at State and Water to a rally at the ICE headquarters, 310 E. Knapp.

For more, go to vdlf.org.

Immigration Equality, a national LGBT group, also is participating in the national day of action.

For more, go to immigrationequality.org.                                     

 — L.N.