Demonstrators rally for citizenship, LGBT-inclusive immigration reform

Lisa Neff, Staff writer

Tens of thousands of marchers – including contingents from Milwaukee, Racine and Madison – gathered at the U.S. Capitol on April 10 to rally for citizenship and comprehensive immigration reform.

NAACP president Benjamin Jealous delivered the keynote address as ralliers waved “Time is Now” posters. Immigration rights advocates, labor organizers, faith leaders and members of Congress working on immigration legislation also delivered speeches.

U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Chicago, surrounded by other Democrats in Congress, called on the ralliers to “work hard, push us, keep pushing us and together we will deliver immigration reform this year.” At stake, he said, are the 1,400 people deported each day from the United States and the children who are left behind. 

The rally took place as eight U.S. senators – Republicans and Democrats – were working out the details on an overhaul bill that would deal with securing the border, allowing tens of thousands of foreign workers into the country and extending eventual citizenship to the estimated 11 million people living in the United States without legal permission.

Days before the rally, U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a member of that “Gang of Eight,” predicted “a great deal of unhappiness about this proposal because everybody didn’t get what they wanted. … There are entrenched positions on both sides of this issue.” His assessment, when the bill was introduced on April 16, proved correct.

But the unshakable position held by many assembled outside the Capitol for the late-afternoon rally – that reform must include a path to citizenship – seems to be held by leaders in both parties. “The politics of self-deportation are behind us,” Republican U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham told The AP. “It was an impractical solution. Quite frankly, it’s offensive. Every corner of the Republican Party, from libertarians to the (Republican National Committee), House Republicans and the rank-and-file Republican Party member, is now understanding there has to be an earned pathway to citizenship.”

LGBT inclusion sought

What has not taken root inside the Capitol is that reform must include protections for LGBT immigrants. The early version of the Senate bill is not LGBT inclusive. 

“The immigration system is in desperate need of reform and that reform must include LGBT immigrants and families,” said Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin. “Comprehensive immigration reform is about protecting those who are vulnerable and living in the shadows.”

While demonstrators were assembling in Washington, including a large group affiliated with the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, several LGBT leaders were holding a press conference in Boston at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office.

There, Cathy Kristofferson of GetEQUAL Massachusetts said, “If comprehensive immigration reform is to truly be comprehensive, it is essential that the needs of the LGBTQ community not be left out of the legislation. In 2009, Sen. Chuck Schumer promised support for binational couples, yet that support – along with a clear pathway to citizenship for the estimated 267,000 LGBT undocumented immigrants, asylum for victims of homophobia abroad and harsh detention conditions – still seems to be missing from the Gang of Eight’s offering.”

LGBT leaders, in a paper released by HRC, identified a series of proposals crucial to reform:

• Allow U.S. citizens or permanent residents to sponsor same-sex partners for family-based immigration. 

• Prevent the removal of a same-sex spouse of a U.S. citizen to a place that would pose hardship for the citizen.

• Increase the number of visas available to those seeking to sponsor a relative under the family preference system.

• Create a pathway to citizenship for undocumented individuals living in the United States.

• Eliminate the one-year filing deadline that has had a disproportionately negative impact on LGBT asylum applicants.

• Provide access to health care for those in the process of legalizing their status, including those living with HIV/AIDS.

• Prevent employment verification systems from including personal information that is unnecessary to verify a person’s immigration status, such as gender markers or previous gender or name changes on an ID.

• Ensure that detainees have access to medical care and that humane forms of immigration detention are used.

“As a transgender woman who was detained by immigration authorities, I have first-hand experience with the inhumane treatment and abuse in detention facilities that for years have threatened the health, safety and even lives of millions of immigrants,” said Bamby Salcedo, president of the Trans-Latin@ Coalition. “I was sexually assaulted when I was forced to be housed in a dorm with about 100 men in a detention facility, and I was denied adequate access to HIV medication and hormone treatment. These are the harms countless transgender detainees face; we must put an end to these atrocities. We all deserve a chance to live with dignity, to pursue our dreams, and to work for a better future and better quality of life.”

Speaking at the Time is Now rally on April 10, Rea Carey, the executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, stressed, “LGBT people are immigrants and immigration is an LGBT issue.”