The panel discussion "Comprehensive Immigration Reform and You: The New Bill and the LGBTQ Community," featuring legal experts and LGBTQ persons affected by federal immigration policies, took place May 21 at the Center on Halsted. Approximately 30 people attended the panel discussion that the LGBT Immigrant Rights Coalition of Chicago hosted.
The LGBTQ Immigrant Rights Coalition is, according to its website, "a collaboration between organizations serving the primarily LGBTQ populations and institutions advocating for immigrant rights."
Joy Messinger, community advocate and deputy director at Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health, served as the event moderator. Panelists included Michael Jarecki, an attorney focusing on U.S. immigration and nationality law across the United States and at United States consular posts worldwide and former chair of the American Immigration Lawyers Association National Working Group for LGBT immigration issues; Keren Zwick, supervising attorney for the LGBT Rights Initiative at the National Immigrant Justice Center; Nebula Li , outreach chair at Invisible 2 Invincible: Asian and Pacific Islander Pride of Chicago and co-chair for the National Lawyers Guild Queer Caucus; and Yunuen Rodriquez, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipient and research assistant at Northwestern University.
Following an introduction by Messinger, the panelists spoke about legislative efforts to reform the U.S. immigration system and how these reforms will impact LGBTQ people.
Jarecki spoke about the issues that same-sex binational couples face when it comes to immigration. "When we talk about immigration benefits for gays and lesbians it's not just a gay and lesbian issue it's a family issue," said Jarecki. Then Jarecki shared a story about two of his clients who are fighting for the right to stay together in the United States. The current immigration bill that was negotiated by the gang of eight and passed by a Senate panel doesn't include LGBT people, Jarecki explained.
Zwick and Jarecki explained the details of the bill. The good parts of the immigration bill, Jarecki noted, include establishing a path to citizenship, ending deportations, getting some criminal records expunged, ending the one-year filing deadline if returning to a country of origin poses a risk to your life and having DREAMers (beneficiaries of the DREAM Act) represented with no age restriction.
The bad parts of the bill, Zwick noted, include the creation of a militarized zone on the border, harsh prosecutions for people who enter illegally, an increase in penalties, possibly prohibitive fees to establish residency, no access to healthcare coverage under the Affordable Care Act, no ability to switch paths to achieve citizenship once the process begins, no siblings sponsorships and diversity VISA's have been removed.
In Rodriguez's remarks she shared that was gives her a sense of humanity is the ability to move freely, participate in government, attend college, build an economic cushion, have a job, live a morally righteous life and have her romantic relationship recognized (she identifies as queer). Then Rodriguez explained that as a formerly undocumented immigrant she was denied a sense of humanity due to her status, however, as a DACA recipient she has gained a sense of humanity.
Regarding the current immigration bill, Zwick (her practice is exclusively LGBT-focused) noted that there is additional good news about due process and detention. The bill limits the use of solitary confinement when someone is detained pending an immigration hearing. Alternatives to detention will be expanded and government-appointed lawyers will be allowed for those who can't afford attorneys, according to Zwick.
Li said the four words she uses to describe immigration and LGBT issues are "sacrifice," "journey," "love" and "family." Then Li shared her story as a bisexual second-generation immigrant whose parents came to the United States legally from Hong Kong via Canada. Li's immigration story doesn't stop there, she noted, because without sibling sponsorships Li's mom and uncle wouldn't have been reunited in the United States.
During the Q&A the panel was asked if the immigration bill has to be budget neutral. Zwick said yes and that the filing fees are supposed to offset the cost of the bill. Another question focused on pushing back at organizations that say LGBT inclusion is a poison pill. Li used the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) that was recently passed with LGBT-inclusive language while Jarecki said people need to look at the trend toward LGBT equality.
Other questions and comments focused on an AP article that outlined Catholic bishops warning President Obama about LGBT inclusion in the immigration bill, the three strikes rule in the immigration bill, the bill will likely face dramatic changed when it arrives in the House of Representatives, and how VAWA got passed.
See www.almachicago.org/immigration.php for more information.