|Many undocumented LGBT immigrants are denouncing President Barack Obama’s new immigration plan — which sparked controversy across the board — for excluding them, even though they are happy to see their family members and friends freed from the ever-present fear of deportation.
Last week, the president announced he would grant short-term working rights and deferred action to parents of both U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents who have been in the country for at least five years. However, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender immigrants claim the new plan fails to equally value their family dynamics and relationships.
Due to marriage and adoption laws, it is less likely for undocumented LGBT immigrants to have children that are U.S. citizens, though they may have nieces, nephews, and other relatives that are U.S. citizens.
Advocates argue that LGBT immigrants have a strong need for deportation relief, as the often face discrimination and violence due to homophobia in their home countries, as well as a higher risk of victimization in U.S. detention facilities.
“Although the EO purports to prioritize deportation of ‘felons and not families,’ the discrepancies in treatment of immediate family of LGBT persons under the law makes relief for LGBT families out of reach in many cases,” said Susan Cho Figenshau, immigration attorney with more than 20 years of experience.
A coalition of LGBT and civil rights organizations urged the president last week to make length of United States residency an alternative criterion for deportation relief, in addition to parenthood. According to legal experts, if he chose to do so, Obama had the ability to extend deferred action to to LGBT immigrants.
For example, Chicago resident Alejandro, who refused to use his last name out of fear for his safety and job, is one of nearly 267,000 undocumented immigrants living in the United States who identify as LGBT. Though he came to the United States almost 15 years ago, he is not eligible for deferred action under Obama’s new plan because he doesn’t have children. In an interview with the Huffington Post, he expressed his happiness that so many immigrants would be helped, however, he was “very disappointed” that so many LGBT immigrants aren’t covered, especially given that Obama has “said he is friendly with the LGBT community.”
“Another significant need in immigration policy is help for USA employers and foreign-born professionals who have been working LEGALLY inside the USA. Many of these employers and professionals wait for permanent residency for foreign-born persons for more than 10 years – often spending tens of thousands of dollars,” explains Figenshau. “What the EO covers relative to LEGAL immigrants is very little given the large contributions these foreign-born professionals and their employers give our country in terms of jobs, productivity, tax contributions, and stability.”