Thursday night, President Obama announced a series of administrative actions on immigration policy that follow two years of work from LGBTQ undocumented immigrants, our families, our communities, and our allies. By taking action and building new alliances we have called on the country to see that reform alone on immigration was not enough. We have shown that we will not stand for less than expansion of relief to end deportations for as many people as possible to the fullest extent of the law.
The administrative action announced by the president will help protect millions of people from the daily fear of deportation and will allow them to access work permits. However, this action still needlessly excludes hundreds of thousands of immigrants. As it stands, the president’s announcement means that only those with immediate family members who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents and those without criminal charges could qualify. This means that a large number of the estimated 267,000 undocumented LGBTQ people, especially trans women, could be excluded.
As a community, we know that we do not fit the normal definition of families that continues to dominate public discourse. Many LGBTQ undocumented immigrants do not have families that are US citizens or permanent residents that could allow them to qualify for the program. Additionally, we know that our community, especially trans women of color, is unfairly targeted by law enforcement through racial discrimination or for engaging in survival sex work. These daily realities mean that many members of our LGBTQ community will be left out of the president’s plan.
While many members of our community will find relief from the president’s actions, a large group will continue to be excluded. As advocates for the LGBTQ and immigrant communities, we must remain diligent in working to end immigration policies and practices that hurt our community. Policies like solitary confinement in detention facilities that target LGBTQ immigrants, law enforcement practices that further criminalizes our communities, and exclusionary policies that do not reflect our daily realities continue to deny the full inclusion of LGB and transgender immigrants.
The administration has made it clear that expanded political and humanitarian asylum should be available for LGBTQ people escaping violence based on their gender identity or sexual orientation, but we cannot ignore how the current federal immigration enforcement system continues to target and detain LGBTQ undocumented people in the country. Local and federal police and enforcement agencies are continuing the practice of solitary confinement of transgender and LGB detainees as a measure of “safety.” Solitary confinement does not protect transgender or LGB undocumented people from rape, discrimination, and harassment. A recent investigation into immigration detention facilities found that 1 of every 500 detainees are transgender but 1 in 5 victims of confirmed sexual abuse in immigrant detention facilities are trans. Many transgender detainees, especially trans women, are asking federal immigration authorities to deport them back to their home countries, often at extreme personal risk, because conditions in the detention facilities are so bad. If these agencies cannot ensure the safety of LGBTQ people then they should not detain them.
These are just some examples of the many actions the president can take to make sure that all immigrants are included in administrative relief. Although we will work to make sure as many people as possible gain work permits and protection from deportation, we must also demand that the president take bold steps to stand with us. We cannot accept halfhearted actions. This administration cannot pick and choose which LGBTQ lives are more deserving of equality. Supporting LGBTQ rights means supporting the rights of the hundreds of thousands of LGBTQ undocumented immigrants that are suffering everyday.
ISA NOYOLA, was born in Houston, Texas and comes from culturally rich indigenous roots from Comitán, Chiapas and San Luis Potosí, Mexico. Isa identifies as a translatina, gender fluid, activist, two-spirit, queer, jota, pastors kid, muxerista, and cultural organizer. Isa is passionate about abolishing oppressive systems that criminalize trans & queer im/migrant communities of color. Her vision for thriving trans communities include sharing wisdom through multi-racial and inter-generational spaces and amplifying lived experiences through art and culture.
VALERIA DE LA LUZ is an undocumented transgender Latina from Guerrero, Mexico. Valeria spent three months in a detention center earlier this year and was released due to the organizing efforts of the LGBTQ immigrant community. She is now an activist and a member of Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement.