Op-ed: Why LGBT Deportations Still = Death
President Obama is putting LGBTQ lives at risk. This can be difficult to understand as you watch same-sex couples get happily married, or listen to coming out stories from gay soldiers in the U.S. military, or as you listen to President Obama’s speeches about the progress LGBTQ Americans have made over the last six years. But the danger that LGBTQ people face under President Obama affects those who you don’t see or hear about — the people who no politician mentions and the communities that are torn apart every day: the undocumented LGBTQ people who face the constant threat of deportation.
It’s Pride Month right now, and even the White House is celebrating. LGBTQ people across the country are commemorating strides that have been made toward equality, but the equality that they are celebrating is not accessible to everyone. While many hail President Obama as the one who has brought more progress to the LGBTQ community than any other administration in history, others know that President Obama is also responsible for deporting more people than any other administration in history — over two million people since the beginning of his presidency.
Of the millions of undocumented immigrants living in the United States, about 267,000 identify as LGBTQ. Many have fled their home countries over persecution and violence that they have suffered as a result of being LGBTQ, only to find that there is very little safety, stability, or shelter for undocumented people here. The criminalization of the gay community in 77 countries around the world makes it impossible for many members of the LGBTQ community to return to their country of birth. For LGBTQ immigrants, deportation can literally be life-threatening.
Mishelle is a 35-year-old transgender woman from Ecuador. She was severely physically assaulted in Ecuador by a group of transphobic individuals who attacked her for wearing makeup and women’s clothing. Soon after, a gang member told her, “If we see you, we’re going to kill you.”
Knowing she would receive no protection from law enforcement or her government, she fled to the U.S., where she was eventually arrested for defending herself against another transphobic attack. Although the judge dismissed all charges, Mishelle was detained by ICE while her assailants walked free. Eventually Mishelle was able to win asylum with the help of Immigration Equality, but success in cases like hers is extremely rare. It is exceedingly difficult to win an asylum case in the U.S. — only about 1 percent of those who apply for asylum are granted that status.
Patrick is a gay man whose family has been incomplete since his father was deported six years ago, at the beginning of President Obama’s first term. Even though it would be legal for Patrick to cross the border into Mexico to visit his father, doing so is nearly impossible. Between working three jobs to help support his mother and the dangers that he is likely to face as a gay man in Juarez, Patrick cannot travel to Mexico to visit his father. As a result, he has not been able to come out to him.
"I haven’t been able to share any achievements or experiences with my father," Patrick says. "I can’t come out to him face-to-face like other people can. When I eventually get married, I want to have my father at my wedding, I want to experience this life event with him because I’ve experienced so many life events without him.”
President Obama’s deportation policies are putting lives at risk, and they’re tearing families apart. Through cooperation with local law enforcement, ICE is able to issue detainers for people who have been arrested. For many LGBTQ people, these arrests are the results of survival crimes. Marriage may now be legal in some states, but LGBTQ youth still make up 40 percent of all homeless teens in America, transgender women can be falsely arrested as sex workers if they are found carrying condoms, many queer and transgender individuals have no workplace protections and therefore no source of stable income, and black and brown queer youth are stopped, frisked, harassed by police daily. They have broken no laws, and yet they find themselves in jail because, as LGBTQ people, they are criminalized — that is, they are targeted and profiled by law enforcement, who are quick to turn their means of survival into a crime.
On Tuesday, LGBTQ and immigrant rights organizations GetEQUAL, United We Dream's Queer Undocumented Immigrant Project (QUIP), Make the Road NY, and Immigration Equality will rally outside an LGBTQ fundraiser for the Democratic National Committee at Gotham Hall in New York City to demand administrative relief for undocumented people in the United States. Immigration issues are LGBTQ issues, and vice versa. Our LGBTQ immigrant community urgently needs relief from deportation. It’s time for a new approach. Every decisionmaker in power must do their job to create more inclusive LGBTQ immigration policy that addresses our unique experiences and obstacles. If President Obama really cares about the lives of LGBTQ Americans, he will use the executive authority he has to immediately stop our deportations.
FELIPE SOUSA-RODRIGUEZ is the co-director of GetEQUAL.
CARLOS PADILLA is the coordinator of Queer Undocumented Immigrant a project of United We Dream.
KATRINA CASINO is GetEQUAL's communication coordinator.