Transgender immigrant and activist Joanna Vasquez. 
Immigration, Trans Advocates Call for Trans-Inclusive Reform

By Sunnivie Brydum

Originally published on Advocate.com October 04 2013 5:18 PM ET

Just one day after the U.S. House of Representatives introduced a comprehensive immigration reform bill, one of the nation's leading transgender advocacy groups released a report highlighting the impact of unjust immigration policies on trans and gender-nonconforming people.

Titled "Our Moment for Reform: Immigration and Transgender People," the study from the National Center for Transgender Equality in Washington, D.C. identifies four key areas where transgender people are especially susceptible to discrimination and abuse within the immigration system. Those areas include employment insecurity, as undocumented trans people are duly impacted by cultural and legal biases against their immigration status and their gender nonconformity; income and housing insecurity, as in most states it is legal to deny someone housing or employment because they are transgender, and trans people are much more likely than cisgender (non-trans) people of any immigration status to live in poverty; a serious lack of access to affordable and trans-competent healthcare — according to the report, undocumented transgender people are twice as likely as the general population to be uninsured. Finally, the study revealed that among the estimated 267,000 undocumented LGBT people currently living in the U.S., between 20,000 and 50,000 are transgender. 

"I wanted to write this report because of the horrific stories of transgender undocumented people out there," said Harper Jean Tobin, NCTE's director of policy and co-author of the report. "I think about Johanna, for example, who is a survivor of three sexual assaults. The first attack led her to seek asylum in the U.S. But when she missed a one-year filing deadline, she fell out of legal status, which led to her arrest. Without a lawyer to help her, and faced with suffering indefinitely in immigration detention, she resigned herself to deportation." Tobin added, "Johanna's experience is a too-frequent occurrence for undocumented transgender people and we must bring our immigration laws in line with our country's basic sense of dignity and respect for all people."

Several organizations dedicated to securing comprehensive and compassionate immigration reform also came out in support of fair policies for undocumented people who happen to be transgender. 

"We know that transgender Latinos face multiple levels of discrimination in employment, housing and health security, which is made worse for undocumented transgender people," said Brent Wilkes, the executive director for the League of United Latina American Citizens in a statement. "We have supported the inclusion of the full LGBT community in immigration reform legislation because we could not allow any member of our community to be treated differently. The LGBT community remains a supporter of immigration reform and we are all stronger for it. This uncompromising commitment to reform is a testament to the LGBT movement and reaffirms our partnership with the LGBT community as we continue to fight for comprehensive immigration reform."