Op-ed: Why Immigration Still Matters
I am always thinking about the issues that impact the lives of LGBT Latino people, and how we are represented in Latino and LGBT media. One of these issues is immigration reform, which despite an early victory in the Senate is languishing in the House and continues to leave about 11 million undocumented people and those who love, work with, and live amongst them, in limbo — as deportations continue, detentions increase, and the broken system enshrines ways of living in the United States that fall two and three steps behind dignified citizenship and a full complement of rights.
Let me make my lenses clear. Because of my upbringing as the daughter of two immigrants from the Dominican Republic, I see family as way beyond the narrow mom-dad and 2.5 children module. In DR and in the U.S., we have cousins, uncles, aunts, grandparents, godparents and other people who, although they might not be related by blood, raised us or in some way contributed to our survival. These bonds are strong despite the distance from the island.
Because I am a lesbian woman in a long-term relationship, I believe in chosen and created family relationships that nurture and sustain me when more traditional links fail. Also as a spiritual person and a human rights oriented person, my circles expand to include the humans I share the world with and whom I call "sister" and "brother." I therefore understand mixed-status families — in which one or a few members do not share the privileged position, whatever it may be (in this case citizenship). We are all a mixed-status, extended human family. Those of us who are citizens — Latino or not — suffer from the impact of housing, work, and health discrimination and diminished access on our family members, neighbors and friends whether for being LGBT or being undocumented, or both. Until all of us are protected, none of us are safe.
In the media, our stories are helping make the policy changes needed clearer for those who do not share the lenses I wear. Last year I was glad to see binational couples and families who would be impacted by the Supreme Court's decision on DOMA profiled in articles written by reporters throughout the country. And yet on my cab ride to Houston for the national LGBT organizing conference, I met with on the one hand Latinos who did not believe that LGBT people could form families with children, and LGBT people who did not think immigration was still an issue now that DOMA had been overturned.
Articles like the one written by MundoHispano's reporters Alejandro Garay y Alberto Brown Rodriguez informed Georgia's Latin@ community about the Supreme Court's ruling on DOMA and the resulting impact on binational couples and families. They profiled a couple of community advocates, Martin Ramirez y Fernando Palacios, who recently wed in Queens, New York. A related article describes the couple's efforts to make sure their community can access the information and resources they need to do the same.
New American Media and the Four Freedom Funds supported the efforts of the paper to disseminate this story. Georgia, like many southern states, has seen a rise in the Latino undocumented population, according to Pew reports, and has been the site of intense battles over discrimination in housing, law enforcement and other areas that has affected these communities.
Georgia does not have protections in place for LGBT workers and banned same-sex marriage in 2004. It is in these communities that have not been traditionally thought of as LGBT or Latino that innovative strategies are being forged to fight for our rights. This article and others like it can illuminate the issues and inform advocates and supporters from far and near.
The article also brings to light the unfinished agenda that the Queer Undocumented Immigrant Project highlighted during their workshop at the Latino Institute as part of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force's Creating Change in Houston. Not everyone who benefits from DOMA's demise has access to the information or resources to regularize their status. Also, the decision does nothing for couples comprised of two undocumented partners. The forms and the process to fix status can be cumbersome, expensive and may have outdated language related to gender identity.
As reform languishes in Congress during an election year, deportations continue. Transgender immigrants are still facing barriers to asylum, increased detention and discrimination. The extended mixed-status families and communities continue to suffer as only a few of their members can use DACA (a policy change that benefits undocumented students) and the DOMA ruling to change their status, but not all can.
In the House, legislators are contemplating schemes that would not include a path to citizenship and actually codify a system in which people would work in this country and yet not have the full complement of protections that citizens are afforded. In other words, the legislation would leave all of us in the same way we started this fight for reform, with a group of people denied full rights because of their status.
Today we are talking about denial of rights based on immigration status, but it can just as easily be based on our health status, HIV status, veteran status, ability status, insurance status, marriage status, employment status, housing status, incarceration status; about where we fall on the gender identity, age, and orientation spectrums; and about our ethnicity, ancestry, race and religious histories and complexities.
Until all our complete mixed-status human family have rights and protections, none of us is free. Until stories are out in the media that reflect these intersected realities, the decisions, votes and policy issues will seem so hopelessly complicated. With these lenses, though, they seem amazingly clear. My hope and mission is to read those stories in the coming year.
JANET ARELIS QUEZADA is a Spanish-language media strategist for GLAAD and a proud daughter of immigrant parents from the Dominican Republic.