Last week, the four of us - organizers with GetEQUAL Texas - took action at a local job fair, asking direct questions of a company tabling there about their practice of lobbying for anti-immigrant legislation, thereby filling their for-profit prisons with more bodies and their wallets with more cash. In holding the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) accountable for its actions, we encountered a question from several folks in the LGBTQ community - why should LGBTQ people care about immigration reform?
The answer is simple: because lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people are part of the fabric of every American demographic and, therefore, are subject to all aspects of injustice. We are black, Asian, Latino, white, poor, rich, differently-abled and, yes, undocumented. It would be foolish not to support the best and the brightest undocumented youth in our country. And it would be inhumane to look the other way while a corporation continues its anti-LGBTQ, anti-environment, anti-woman, anti-minority and - as the Occupiers would say - anti-99% crusade.
CCA is one of the three largest private prison corporations in the U.S. Its business model is to profit off the lives of others by lobbying for tougher sentencing laws and crafting anti-immigrant laws to keep prisons full and money rolling in. The CCA receives approximately $200 of taxpayer money per day, per inmate. According to OpenSecrets.org, CCA spent $14.8 million between 2003 and 2010 lobbying the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Office of Management and Budget, the Bureau of Prisons, the Senate, the House of Representatives and others - and they bring in annual revenue of more than $1.5 billion. Can you say "cha-ching"?
Even more disturbing is its association with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a so-called "charity" organization (or, at least, registered with the IRS as such) that lobbies for various oppressive laws like the deregulation of clean air & water, reparative therapy and immigration laws like Arizona's SB 1070 and Georgia's HB 87. It sounds unbelievable, but it's true. Laws are written, bought and sold to the highest bidder during their annual closed-door meetings. In fact, Arizona's SB 1070 - along with several "copycat" bills in other states - was written almost word-for-word at an ALEC meeting by those who could pay top dollar. Numerous members of Congress, corporations and a laundry list of others are ALEC members, and manipulate our tax dollars for their financial gain. Sound very American to you? Yeah, it didn't sound American to us, either.
With the birth of the Occupy movement, folks are becoming more mindful of where we choose to work. We're "occupying our workplaces" so to speak; taking the responsibility for researching potential employers before signing on the dotted line. Unfortunately, finding a business to work for that doesn't profit off the suffering of others is becoming increasingly difficult. It's becoming almost impossible not to aid in our own oppression. In this economy, we are increasingly forced to buy products from companies that lobby against our civil rights or, in some cases, aid in actually writing our oppression into law.
Any organization or individual committed to social change should be standing together in solidarity against companies like the CCA and organizations like ALEC. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer identified persons are found in literally every sector of society. Should we ignore our undocumented LGBTQ sisters and brothers? Should we ignore our homeless and unemployed LGBTQ sisters and brothers? Should we ignore the unique problems with homophobia and transphobia that are compounded by additional factors such as race and/or gender? Ignoring these problems within our community can only help to aid in our own oppression, rather than move us forward as a community and as a people.
We know this in a deep way - all four of us are seeking employment right now, and have to make hard choices in a tough economy. But those choices become easier when we know what we're doing is right - and when we know that standing in solidarity with those who are seeking justice and equality is always the right thing to do.
Standing with our undocumented sisters and brothers isn't just a matter of being behind an "issue" - it's a matter of being behind people. Those who question why we would confront the prison industrial complex are not thinking about what would compel an individual to ride on top of trains, in trunks of cars, across murky rivers, or through dark tunnels with nothing more than a backpack on their back and a child in their arms. Most of those entering the country without legal documentation are fleeing severe poverty and unspeakable violence, and are denied the ability to apply for refugee status. They are seeking the American dream - a land where they can live up to their full potential. That's exactly the same thing we fight for each day in our work toward LGBTQ equality - and that work, on behalf of undocumented LGBTQ folks and binational couples, does not present an either/or choice.
The sooner we all start understanding the quest for equality - whether immigration equality, LGBTQ equality, gender equality, racial equality, economic equality, or a host of other struggles for justice - as one quest, the sooner we will all get to that prize of the American dream. The Statue of Liberty reads, "Bring me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free." It is now Americans who are tired, and poor, and are building walls to keep out the huddled masses yearning to breathe free. And it is our undocumented LGBTQ youth who are pointing the way to freedom - we choose to follow their lead, and to create our own dreams.
Tiffani Bishop, Issac Brown, Iana DiBona, and Michael Diviesti are activists with GetEQUAL Texas.