image (3)By Victoria Neilson, Legal Director, Immigration Equality.

This week the U.S. Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments in two cases, Hollingsworth v. Perry and United States v. Windsor, that will forever change the course of the struggle for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) equality.  While we are hopeful that the Court will strike down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) thereby clearing the way for the federal government, including U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and the Department of State, to honor our marriages, no one can predict with any certainty what the Court will do.  

At the same moment that attorneys are gearing up for oral argument before the Court, the Senate “Gang of 8” is writing the first draft of Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR).   It is critical to the LGBT community that CIR address the diverse needs of LGBT immigrants and their families.

A recent report by the Williams Institute estimates that there are 267,000 LGBT immigrants among the undocumented population in the United States.  It is crucial that CIR provide a pathway to citizenship for all unauthorized immigrants, and that the pathway not be contingent on an unattainable goal of a completely “secure” border.   Among that group of undocumented LGBT people, are the brave leaders of the fight for passage of the DREAM Act, many of whom have “come out” twice as LGBT and undocumented; it is also clear that CIR must include a pathway to citizenship for those who came to the U.S. as children and are pursuing education here.

Furthermore, CIR must fix the outdated family immigration system.  There are family members who have been waiting decades to be reunited with parents or siblings.  While some are calling to expand employment based visas at the expense of family visas, it is clear that our immigration system needs both.  And while some family members languish on “lines” without end, lesbian and gay partners and spouses cannot even get on a line.  CIR must include same-sex relationships; if the decisions by the Supreme Court go against marriage equality, or are narrowly construed, our families will remain without any options.  Every day we continue to hear from families who are separated, living in exile, juggling visas, or living in the shadows as unauthorized immigrants, who want nothing more than to have their relationships given the same respect as those of heterosexual families.

Finally, for CIR to be a lasting solution, it must truly be comprehensive and repair the damage done by the “enforcement only” legislation that passed in 1996 and thereafter.   Deserving asylum seekers continue to have their cases denied simply for missing an arbitrarily imposed one year filing deadline; foreign nationals languish in mandatory detention for committing crimes as minor as “turnstile jumping”; and transgender detainees continue to endure the torturous conditions of solitary confinement because detention facilities fear placing them in the general population.   Our country needs an immigration system that works for everyone, including the LGBT community.

Photo by Adam Peck

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