I’m a U.S. citizen, living on the border, straddling two worlds and two realities. Six years ago, I fell in love with Sal, a doctor, who lived in Juarez, Mexico. Our connection was instantaneous, and soon we were travelling back and forth across the border to see each other. Eventually, the violence in Juarez forced Sal to leave his job at the local hospital. He moved in with me on a student visa because he wanted to get his medical residency here in America.
When the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act last month, it meant that both of our borders could come down. Now I can sponsor Sal for a green card and we can truly start planning our lives together. While the end of DOMA was a great step forward for the LGBT community — which includes at least 267,000 LGBT immigrants — there are millions of families in the United States at risk of being separated due to our country’s broken immigration system.
For the first time in our generation, we have the best chance of improving millions of lives. The Senate recently passed a bipartisan immigration reform bill that goes a long way in supporting the 11 million aspiring U.S. citizens who reside in the country presently. Americans overwhelmingly support comprehensive immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship.
As we celebrate the Senate bill and work to pass legislation in the House, Sal and I will be hosting our own celebration. This September, Sal and I are getting married. The wedding will be in Washington, D.C., because we cannot legally marry in New Mexico. We’re thrilled to finally wed, but harsh border security will prevent many of our family and friends who are living without papers to join us. They are afraid of being caught by one of the many internal checkpoints along the border that would keep them from returning home.
Living in Las Cruces, I understand the realities of security but I truly don’t understand why the Senate wants to spend more than $40 billion on heightened security at the border. It seems reckless and unnecessary, especially because we already spend nearly $18 billion a year detecting, detaining, and deporting immigrant workers, more than expenditures on all other federal law enforcement priorities combined.
I know the Senate bill is far from perfect because of issues like the border surge, but we can no longer stand by and let 11 million undocumented individuals be treated like second-class citizens and have an estimated 1,100 families torn apart each day. That’s why the LGBT community must stand strong for comprehensive reform and demand that Congress address our broken immigration system. As a gay man in love with an immigrant, I understand the challenges that undocumented immigrants face, especially the approximately 267,000 LGBT immigrants who want to come to the U.S., outside of the option of marrying a citizen.
America deserves a vote on immigration reform with a roadmap to citizenship for 11 million aspiring U.S. citizens.
RYAN STEINMETZ is the director of the Border Servants Corps, an AmeriCorps organization.