Op-ed: I Am Your Gay Immigrant Brother
I am your gay immigrant brother, and I need your help to stop the discrimination, the deportation, and the despair faced by so many undocumented communities right now. I came to the United States from Peru and recently became a naturalized citizen. Yet as I write this, my friends sit in immigration detention.
Yordy Cancino was a former president of his gay-straight alliance and a salutatorian. He returned to Mexico when, despite his educational achievements, his status would not allow the resources necessary to go to college. Once in Mexico, he faced violence and cruelty for being gay. Now he is detained in San Diego.
Alex Aldana graduated from high school despite having to change schools five times after coming to the States with his mother and sister, fleeing a father who abused him for being gay. When his grandmother became ill back in Mexico, Alex took the risk of going back to see her, even though he would face increasing antigay violence. He is now detained in San Diego.
Hector Velarde is a 17-year-old student eager to finish his studies and start a career. But his dreams were dashed by a traffic ticket. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers pursued his mother and then sent him and his siblings along with her back to Mexico. Hector has faced violence and intimidation in Mexico because of his sexual orientation. He and his family are now detained in Pennsylvania.
You might be surprised that my friends were detained because they chose to take action and help others. The three courageously presented themselves at the border in order to escort mothers, fathers, young people, and other LGBT youth like them who had been deported and separated from their families back to the country they love and have contributed to. These families were asking to be allowed to return to their loved ones and to their lives in the United States. Instead, Yordy, Alex, Hector, and others are detained.
Yordy, Alex, and Hector are just three of the 267,000 undocumented migrants living in uncertainty in the United States right now, detained in a system that is not held accountable. Immigration detainees are not represented by attorneys. LGBT detainees face assault and discrimination to a higher degree. Families have no way of contacting their members in detention either because they are transported to far-off facilities or because the system does not provide them with information about the location of their loved ones. This private system made $100 million last year detaining immigrant bodies and impacting the physical, psychological, emotional, and spiritual health of 11 million undocumented people — those detained and those who love them.
President Obama has reached the alarming benchmark of deporting 2 million undocumented people, LGBT people among them. He could stop the deportations right now. He could lead the way toward immigration reform and restore hope to so many.
As a result of years of hard work and protest, some of us are able to live the promise of pursuing our happiness, but this isn't true for all of us — not for folks who cannot apply for deferred action, who do not live in a state that has marriage equality, who are not in a relationship, who are not students, who are homeless, who have missed the deadline to apply for asylum.
Please get the word to the president that you also feel the impact of the suffering that these deportations and detentions are causing in your community. Let's act together to get Congress to move on immigration reform. Write a letter to the president and to your representatives.
This struggle is about human rights, and we cannot stop our direct actions, because so many lives are at stake.
RONNIE VELIZ, originally from Peru, is a young queer migrant of faith who advocates and organizes for justice and social change. He has personally experienced family separation three times, homelessness for nearly a year, and finally family reunification after a lot of work and prayer. He firmly stands with all undocumented immigrant youth in the fight for healing justice, advancing peace, protecting family unity, and collective happiness.