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Advocates Seek to Empower LGBT Immigrants

by Chris Carson
Sunday Sep 22, 2013

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.

Copyright Bay Area Reporter. For more articles from San Francisco's largest GLBT newspaper, visit


  • , 2013-09-25 05:38:14

    Whilst it’s truly wonderful to see so many couples getting the right to live in the US together, legally under Federal Law, bi-national couples that is. It could be strongly argued that doma affected bi-national couples in the most extreme and harsh ways. It saddnes us to see that very little, if any coverage has been made for couples who were forced into exile solely because of doma sect. 3. Sure you saw some examples of it where the US spouse chose to go and live in the foreign spouses country, where hopely they had some form of legal right to live there together, places like Canada, Australia, the UK and much of EU Europe provided such temporary relief to these exiles from America. However, some of us were not that lucky, whilst people were affected by things like taxes, hospital visitation rights etc we were stripped of everything from the house we lived in to our careers, our jobs, our family and spat into an oblivion of running around the world trying to find a "legal" place to give us exile. After spending in excess of $100K on Doma and it’s effects, it rendered us into a desperate couple going from town to town, country to country and being finally homeless, and having to rely on a charity to support us. Doma not only took away our freedom, it caused us emotional anguish that only some may know, it caused us illness, it shattered parts of our family, and quite nearly actually killed us. It was like a very slow murder, and we don’t say that lightly - that and then being caught up in the mind blowing bureaucracy that sadly even infiltrated the very equal rights groups that were supposed to be helping people like us, you’ll notice that tons of them all of a sudden popped up as soon as Doma became headlines. This made is increasingly difficult to sift through them all to find the genuine groups, who actually knew what they were doing. Then you have the Attorneys, 5 later and only one who was an honest good person, the rest took us for a ride and totally preyed on our vulnerability. Finally the cherry on the top was that the foreign spouses forced out of the US solely because no relief could be sought under Doma were issued with 10 year bars. Now whilst everyone rightfully celebrates the victory against sect. 3 of doma, USCIS and ICE have yet to remove such bars that were caused by doma, even AFTER it’s no longer law... nor have we seen any equal rights group or official bring light to that extremely unjust fact, considering there were many couples who were forced into exile before he doma momentum and fight came to an end, one would think that we would’ve been first in line and others like us, but no, we weren’t, we are forced to apply for ridiculous things like the very rarely granted "Humanitarian Parole" or "Hardship Waivers" and forced to deal with exceptionally long processing times only often to get such requests denied because they land up in some ICE officials hands who has no clue what his doing. So yes you are correct DOMA is not dead, for many of us, and whilst couples rightly celebrate back home, we try to assess how we get healthcare, how we find our next weeks sanity, how we get treated for PTSD, whilst being "illegal" in yet another country. There is a way home, but it takes a very long te and is filled with so much messy bureaucracy when in fact we should’ve been "allowed" home months ago. After almost 3 years in exile and almost 10 yeas fighting doma, you can surely understand that we have no victory to celebrate, just yet.

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