Sexuality, Sexual Identity and Immigration

Immigration reform legislation passed the Senate. But Right-wing culture warriors exacted a cost: the exclusion of family rights for same-sex couples, much to the anger of national and local Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender/Intersex/Questioning[1] (LGBTIQ) rights groups. Now, following the Supreme Court's striking down the Defense of Marriage ACT (DOMA), that exclusion appears to be less problematic.

strobel_image.jpg   Peg Strobel

Those affected by this exclusion included Kelly Costello and Fabiola Morales, who married in Washington, DC, in the summer of 2011and whose dilemma was highlighted in the Washington Post. Costello, who teaches elementary school, previously would not have been able to sponsor her legal spouse Morales, who works as a registered nurse, once Morales' student visa expires. As a result, Morales would have faced deportation to her native Peru.

The Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law estimates that there are 900,000 immigrants who identify as LGBT. Of these, about 267,000 are undocumented adults, while 637,000 are legal adult immigrants. Moreover, in the U.S. there are "an estimated 32,300 same-sex binational couples in which one spouse is an American and the other a non-citizen. . . . [And] more than half have children."[2] Under the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the federal government could not recognize marriages of same-sex couples. Thus a U.S. citizen could not sponsor a same-sex noncitizen spouse under a family visa. Now, according to the Williams Institute, "The Windsor DOMA ruling has opened the door for a citizen to obtain permanent residence for a non-citizen, same-sex spouse, and expedited citizenship for a resident, same-sex spouse."[3]

Detention during deportation proceedings

Visa access is not the only issue, however. Chicago's National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) provides pro bono litigation services for immigrants, and it hosts an LGBT Immigrant Rights Initiative. As part of that work, in April 2011 NIJC filed with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) a complaint of civil rights violations on behalf of 13 LGBT immigrants, "including sexual assault, denial of medical and mental health treatment, arbitrary long-term solitary confinement, and frequent harassment by officers and facility personnel."[4]

For example, in 2012, an Advocate article reported the case of an undocumented transgender woman being held for a deportation hearing after being arrested for failing to pay cab fare. She was held for 8 months in solitary confinement in a unit reserved for male sex offenders -- for her own safety, she was told.

According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003 (PREA) does not apply to many DHS institutions that house people while deportation is being decided.[5] Protection from sexual violence during detention is thus a serious matter for all immigrants, although LGBT individuals face unique threats.

Asylum

Although rights of same-sex couples were removed from the immigration reform bill in order to attract conservative supporters, some areas of U.S. law contain protection for lesbians, gays and transsexuals. For example, under some circumstances, gay, lesbian or transgender status may qualify as grounds for asylum in the U.S. An individual must "demonstrate that [they] suffered past persecution (harm directly from the government or from others that the government was unable or unwilling to control) or that [they] have a well-founded fear of future persecution."[6] In addition, one may claim asylum on the grounds of being at risk for persecution based on other people assuming one is gay or lesbian, regardless of one’s actual sexual orientation.

The experience of Romulo Castro, described by the New York Times, illuminates both the travails of LGBT asylum seekers and the possibilities for success. Castro, a drag queen living illegally in New York City, came to the U.S. in 2000 to escape sexual abuse in his native Brazil.  "I was being persecuted for being fruity, a boy-girl, a fatso, a faggot -- I felt like a monster," he reports. Castro initially did not apply for asylum, advised by advocates that his chance was slim because Brazil has a reputation for tolerance around sexuality identity. But in 2009, armed with letters from family members telling of their shame and from his psychiatrist, as well as articles documenting intolerance in Brazil, he was granted asylum.

The last several years have witnessed growing collaboration between LGBT communities and immigrant rights groups. For example, the National Network of Immigrant and Refugee Rights started its LGBTIQ Outreach and Leadership Development Project in 2009. Its goals include developing LGBTIQ leadership within the immigrant rights movement and promoting discussion and understand of these communities' issues within communities of color.

Peg Strobel is a member of Chicago DSA and co-chairs the Feminist Commission.


[1] Immigration Equality provides useful definitions, including: "Transgender is an umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or gender expression differs from the sex they were assigned at birth or the stereotypes associated with that sex. The term may include transsexuals and others who do not conform to gender stereotypes." http://immigrationequality.org/issues/law-library/trans-manual/transgender-issues-101/. See also http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/lgbtlaw/2007/08/introduction---.html.

[2]http://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/press/meet-the-undocuqueers-gay-rights-movement-turns-to-immigration/.

[3]http://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/press/press-releases/supreme-court-rulings-26-jun-2013/.

 

 

Film Discussion: The Price We Pay

January 30, 2017
· 51 rsvps
The Price We Pay blows the lid off the dirty world of corporate malfeasance — the dark history and dire present-day reality of big-business tax avoidance, tax havens - and what we need to do to stop this.  DSA member Bill Barclay, who has a cameo role in the film, will facilitate the discussion. Watch the film prior to the discussion.

Full film available on Vimeo.

How to Plug in New Members

February 01, 2017
· 18 rsvps

Is your DSA chapter growing quickly and you're trying desperately to find ways to plug new members into your chapter's work? Never fear! On this conference call an experienced DSA organizer will go over the basics of new member outreach and developing a plan for plugging new members into your chapter's work. Most of the call will be devoted to troubleshooting specific issues you're facing, so please brainstorm some issues beforehand that you want to bring up on the call.  8 PM ET; 7 PM CT; 7 PM MT; 7 PM PT.

Film Discussion: Salt of the Earth

February 05, 2017
· 12 rsvps

Join DSA members Shelby Murphy and Deborah Rosenfelt in discussing Salt of the Earth, a captivating film made in 1954 by blacklisted writers and actors about a strike at a New Mexico zinc mine. Well before the resurgence of feminism in the 1960s, these filmmakers were exploring gender inequality and solidarity. Available on Netflix.

Shelby Murphy is a Latina from Texas and former Young Democratic Socialists co-chair. Professor Emerita of Women’s Studies at the University of Maryland, Deborah Rosenfelt researched the making of the film and its aftermath for the reissued screenplay. Here is her blogpost about the film.

 

Film Discussion: Documentaries of People's History in Texas

April 02, 2017
· 4 rsvps

Join DSA members Glenn Scott and Richard Croxdale to discuss videos produced by People’s History in Texas (PHIT), a project that brings to life the stories of ordinary people in significant socio-political movements in Texas. They will discuss The Rag, their newest documentary, which tells the story of an influential underground paper based in Austin, Texas, from 1966-77. Click here to view Part I (the early years as an all-volunteer paper covering the student, anti-Vietnam and Civil Rights movements), Part II (the impact of Women’s Liberation on the paper) and Part III (building community: covering local politics, nukes, co-ops, feminist institutions). But also check out the video on the Stand-Ins about a group of university students who led a movement to desegregate Austin’s movie theaters in 1961.

Film Discussion: Rosa [Luxemburg]

May 31, 2017
· 12 rsvps

Join DSA member Jason Schulman to discuss the film Rosa, directed by feminist filmmaker Margarethe von Trotta. View it here at no cost before the discussion. Marxist theorist and economist Rosa Luxemburg (1871-1919) played a key role in German socialist politics. Jason edited Rosa Luxemburg: Her Life and Legacy and has a chapter in Rosa Remix.

Film Discussion: The Free State of Jones

June 11, 2017
· 4 rsvps

Join Victoria Bynum, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History, Texas State University, San Marcos, to discuss The Free State of Jones. STX Entertainment bought the film rights to Bynum's book of the same title. She also served as a consultant and appears in a cameo scene. What was the Free State of Jones? During the Civil War, an armed band of deserters led by Newt Knight, a non-slaveholding white farmer, took to the swamps of southeastern Mississippi and battled against the Confederacy in an uprising popularly known as “The Free State of Jones.” Joining Newt in this rebellion was Rachel, a slave. From their relationship, there developed a controversial mixed-race community that endured long after the Civil War had ended. View the film here for $6 before the discussion.