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Unted States immigration officials have apprehended at least 121 Central American refugees in raids that started at the beginning of the month. The actions are part of a nationwide operation to deport a new wave of undocumented immigrants, according to the Washington Post. Thirty-six LGBT organizations, including GALAEI, Lambda Legal, and the Human Rights Campaign, released a letter on January 14 to Jeh Johnson, the head of Homeland Security, condemning the raids and deportations.
"As an LGBTQ community, we understand the vital importance of safe places to live," says the letter. The signatories believe that the government's actions contradict President Obama's previous call to "more humanely" enforce our nation's immigration laws.
The letter explains that, "in the summer of 2014, we saw a wave of parents and children arrive to the U.S. to escape extreme violence in Central America. These parents fled because of gangs murdering their spouses, attempting to recruit their sons, and threatening sexual violence against them and their children."
Noting the legal challenges facing the refugees, the letters states that, "the majority of these cases lacked access to legal advice and assistance, often because of financial, logistical, or governmental obstacles. Without adequate legal counsel, many do not understand the intricacies of court proceedings and struggle to get their cases heard adequately and fairly."
The Advocate spoke with three Latina/o LGBT advocates for immigration reform, Jorge Gutierrez, Jennicet Eva Gutierrez, and Isabel Sousa-Rodriguez, about their views on the recent raids and deportations.
Jorge Gutierrez, the national coordinator for Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement, who identifies as a "cisgender [non-trans] queer latino" insists that the raids and deportations should resonante with LGBT people.
"Everyone and especially LGBTQ people should be saying 'not one more deportation' and 'liberation, not deportation' because we as queer people know the pain of this problem," Gutierrez says.
He explains that LGBT people often empathize with the plight of queer people fleeing violence and oppression based on sexual orientation and gender identity in their home countries. But the empathy is not always extended for everyone fleeing oppression.
Gutierrez believes that the outrage that comes when we hear about LGBT refugees oppressed in countries like Uganda should also be felt for the recent wave of Central Americans seeking shelter in the U.S. (The Advocate has coveredrefugee crises in countries like Uganda and across the globe.)
With the TransLatin@ Coalition, Transgender Law Center, and Southerners On New Ground, Gutierrez's organization, Familia: TQLM, is helping to steer a major organizing campaign represented by the hashtag #Not1More and #LiberationNotDeportation that calls for immediate change in U.S. immigration policy for the over 4 million immigrants in the U.S., including LGBTQ refugees.
"We were angry and disappointed by these recent raids and deportations," says Gutierrez, emphasizing that the way children are being targeted by government agents is particularly alarming.
Gutierrez notes that "over 2 million people have already been deported" since President Obama took office. Because of this, he believes that, "the president has earned the title of 'deporter-in-chief.'"
When the celerbated Latino broadcaster Jorge Ramos famously sparred with the president in a wide-ranging 2014 interview for Fusion TV, the president bristled at Ramos's reference to the term "deporter-in-chief," according to the NY Post.
In the interview, Ramos pointed out that it was Janet Murguia, the president of the National Council of La Raza, who coined the term "deporter-in-chief," and Ramos attempted to remind the president that he had already issued executive orders to protect 5 million Latino immigrations from deportation.
But, the president pushed back against the suggestion that executive actions alone could change immigration policy. He argued that the political process -- and Congress's calls for hardline immigration enforcement in particular -- precluded using further executive actions to curtail deportations and detentions.
Gutierrez says that the Central Americans that are being targeted for deportation deserve the same spirit of welcome that white European immigrants more often enjoy.
Jennicet Eva Gutierrez
Jennicet Eva Gutierrez (no relation to Jorge Gutierrez) is a trans Latina activist who was featured last year among the "13 LGBT Latinos Changing the World" in The Advocate and she also works with Familia: TQLM. She made headlines last year when she became the first transgender person to publicly call out President Obama about the torture and rape of trans immigrants inside detention centers. At the June 24 White House Pride celebration, she interrupted President Obama and repeatedly demanded that the president "release all LGBTQ immigrants" for two minutes until she was escorted out while many of her LGBT peers in attendance booed her. Her controversial action drew unprecedented international attention to the plight of undocumented immigrants in detention.
In her remarks to The Advocate, she asks the public to imagine how they would feel and what they would do if their families were in mortal danger and if their children's lives and safety were under threat like the Central American refugees. She suggests that speaking loudly to urge change is what anyone with kinfolk similarly impacted must do.
"When I interrupted the president, I tried to send the message to my LGBTQ community that immigration is a LGBTQ issue. I want the LGBTQ community to know that we do have an obligation to at least educate ourselves about the serious problem, about how lives are impacted, the danger and lack of safety, before simply agreeing with the [U.S.] administration and the way they are handling immigration."
Gutierrez explains that when she first heard about the January raids, she was "really upset that the Obama administration, instead of providing safety for Central American families seeking relief from violence, they completely went the opposite direction and are putting fear in lives, increasing violence, and separating families. No one should be living in fear when they have risked their lives to find a better life to flee oppression. Think about it. Children as young as four years old are facing this tragedy and this is horrifying."
Gutierrez also points out that, "especially in his last year in office, the president had an opportunity to redeem the damage that has been previously done in our community, but he lost that opportunity and the problem has increased."
Sousa-Rodriguez, a trans and non-gender-conforming Latina activist, is similarly outraged. Sousa-Rodriguez is a Ph.D. student in sociology at the City University of New York. Five years before Jennicet's protest at the White House last year, Sousa-Rodriguez was invited with a group of advocates to the White House to discuss immigration policy and Sousa-Rodriguez refused to shake the president's hand to protest the administration's harsh actions towards Latino refugees.
In a recent interview for the independent television program Democracy Now!, Sousa-Rodriguez described feeling "betrayed" upon first hearing about the raids and deportations.
"My family [in Miami] was facing deportation because their applications for asylum were denied," Sousa-Rodriguez tells The Advocate. "The fear, the threat to your dreams, these are real feelings that so many undocumented immigrants face every day."
Sousa-Rodriguez hopes that LGBT people will continue to empathize and think of how they would feel if they were in a similar position as the Central Americans:
"Imagine armed government agents entering your home in the middle of the night even when you have complied with all procedures and subjecting you and your children to searches, abuse, and detention," says Sousa-Rodriguez, and she goes on to point out that, "and the detention centers are so much of the time for-profit facilities that make money off of these raids."
"It's dehumanizing," Sousa-Rodriguez emphasizes. "Right now with these raids we are not talking about escapees or criminals. These women and children have been tracked with biometrics and the government knows where they are. We have got to say once and for all that no human being deserves this treatment."