Every day we fail to reform our broken immigration system, 1,100 families are torn apart because Americans are not afforded the right to sponsor their same-sex partners for immigration.
Unfortunately, an amendment to the Senate immigration bill that would have granted this right to binational same-sex couples received significant backlash from Republican members of Congress and was stripped from the legislation.
Despite this setback, former Congressman Barney Frank is right that immigration reform must move forward — and for more reasons than he stated.
Why? Because the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community is more than binational same-sex couples. We are families and individuals, professionals and students, adults and children, neighbors and friends. We are people. And for all Americans, including the LGBTQ community, much remains at stake in the immigration bill.
Through partnerships with extraordinary advocates such as the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance, the Massachusetts Area South Asian Lambda Association and the Queer Asian Pacific-Islander Alliance, we have seen and heard stories from our extensive LGBTQ family that demonstrate how urgently we need immigration reform.
We know from these stories that we are asylum seekers, who have come to America to seek refuge from persecution, violence and death merely because of our sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.
We are DREAMers – immigrants who were brought here at a young age and have chosen to pursue higher education or military service – seeking the opportunity to realize the promise of the only country we’ve ever known.
We are detainees who face harsh and inhumane treatment, such as extended solitary confinement, just because of who we are.
We are 267,000 of the 11 million undocumented immigrants that urgently need comprehensive immigration reform.
It is because of these stories that we stand with all immigrants in fighting for this bill’s passage, even as we continue to work to improve it.
The current Senate reform proposal addresses many issues that will particularly benefit LGBTQ people, such as eliminating the one-year bar on applying for asylum, providing protections for DREAMers, and improving conditions for people held in detention facilities.
Beyond these advances, there is more room for improvement. We will not give up trying to get protections for binational same-sex couples. We must also uphold our commitment to ensuring that this legislation provides a pathway to citizenship, positions family unity at the heart of immigration law and policy, ends unjust detentions and deportations, maintains labor and employment rights, and promotes a dignified quality of life for border communities by agencies honoring civil and human rights protections. There is much left that is worth fighting for in immigration reform.
We agree with Barney Frank that it is unconscionable that lawmakers committed to equality, commonsense and humane immigration policy were forced to make a false choice between protecting the rights of same-sex binational couples and passing comprehensive immigration reform.
Yet, we remain committed to passing inclusive immigration reform, creating the most accessible pathway to citizenship possible, and opposing draconian amendments that would make immigrants permanent second-class citizens. This legislation is long overdue and a necessary step forward for all of us.
This op-ed by Kara S. Suffredini was originally published at The Hill.
Kara S. Suffredini is the executive director of MassEquality and sits on the board of the Equality Federation – a national nonprofit organization.
Suffredini brings more than a decade of leadership in the LGBTQ movement to her role as the Executive Director of MassEquality. Since taking the helm in 2010, Suffredini has overseen a number of historic victories, including securing Senator Scott Brown’s game-changing vote in favor of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal, winning statewide transgender nondiscrimination protections, and securing creation of the nation’s first statewide commission on youth homelessness. Under her direction, MassEquality was named a Nonprofit Excellence Award Finalist by the Massachusetts Nonprofit Network in 2012 and ranked 4th of 103 high-impact local LGBTQ nonprofits nationally by Philanthropedia in 2013.
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