On Monday, April 15, ten South Floridian activists gathered for a press conference in front of Senator Mark Rubio’s (R-Fla.) office to ask him to consider LGBT concerns in the immigration reform package set to release the next day. The protest included representatives of the grassroots group GetEQUAL and members of the Florida Immigration Coalition, Students Working for Equal Rights, and the Dream Defenders, according to The Miami Herald.
“In Florida as well as in 29 states, our community experiences discrimination in the workplace because of our sexual orientation — and in 34 states, transgender individuals are discriminated against because of their gender identity,” Felipe Sousa-Rodriguez, co-director of GetEQUAL, said in a statement on the group’s website. “LGBTQ immigrants are vulnerable to these negotiations, and any barrier to the pathway to citizenship involving employment will hurt our community.”
GetEQUAL estimates there to be about 267,000 LGBT undocumented immigrants, while The Miami Herald counts about 900,000 total gay, bisexual or transgender immigrants, citing a study by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law.
The immigration reform bill in question, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013, would create a 13-year path to citizenship for the roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. According to the Associated Press, the focus of the immigration system would shift from family ties to merit and skills; for example, citizens could no long sponsor their siblings for eventual citizenship, but the percentage of green cards awarded on the basis of employment ties would increase from 15 percent to between 45 and 50 percent.
According to an April 12 article announcing the protest on GetEQUAL’s website, the most pressing concerns for LGBT immigrants include workplace rights and familial rights, especially for binational couples. The group “continues to call for an immigration reform bill that includes a fair and humane pathway to citizenship…the DREAM Act, the Uniting American Families Act, an end to harsh enforcement policies, an end to the one-year ban for asylum seekers.” None of the other three groups present at the press conference published a statement on their websites.
“The lift of the one-year filing bar for asylum will help hundreds of thousands of immigrants coming to our country who are escaping homophobic and transphobic nations,” the website stated. “The detention reforms will help us prevent some of the abuses currently happening in the detention system.”
The DREAM [Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors] Act would allow for “conditional lawful permanent resident (LPR) status” for minors who have lived in the country for at least five years, and who were under 16 when they entered the country. They would receive lawful permanent resident status after six years if they either completed two years of higher education or served two years in the military. The UAFA would amend the Immigration and Nationality Act so that “permanent partners,” including same-sex partners, could come to the United States if a family member holds a green card or is an LPR.
Similar events to the Florida gathering happened across the country, including in Washington D.C. and Boston, according to Boston.com. In Boston, a “handful” of protesters stood outside the John F. Kennedy Federal Building to ask for the inclusion of LGBT concerns in the bill.
“At the core of this is people, and families,” Lily Huang, an immigrant rights organizer with the Jamaica Plain-based Jobs with Justice, told Boston.com. “[…] And for us, we need to push that we want equal rights for everyone.”