Young LGBT immigrants face additional hurdles with end of DACA


L.E. Baskow

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto addresses the crowd gathered during an event to talk about the 5th anniversary of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) on Tuesday, August 15, 2017.

Thu, Oct 12, 2017 (2 a.m.)

Advocates pushing for an unaltered Dream Act to protect young immigrants are warning of the discrimination that some in the LGBT community would face if they were deported.

The sunsetting Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program has enrolled 12,000-13,000 Nevada residents, including a rough estimate of 577 members of the LGBT community. Same-sex marriage is either illegal or unrecognized in four out of the top five origin countries for DACA enrollees, and advocates say they could face additional dangers in the detention process while they await deportation.

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., joined immigrant and LGBT supporters on a call Wednesday to push for votes on clean versions of the Dream Act that have been proposed in both the House and Senate. The House version has 200 cosponsors.

The White House, after signaling a willingness to work with Democrats to protect Dreamers who would lose DACA protection, announced last weekend that it wants any immigration reform to include a border wall, among many other demands. President Donald Trump’s administration also wants the ability to detain those who are eligible for deportation beyond 180 days, the current legal limit in cases where deportation is unlikely.

“Correcting judicial interpretations that have eroded Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s authority to keep aliens in custody pending removal, and making detentions mandatory for criminal aliens, will end the practice of catch-and-release and improve community safety,” the White House said.

Cortez Masto, one of nine cosponsors on the Senate’s version of the Dream Act, said deporting Dreamers who identify as LGBT would put their lives in danger.

“For our Dreamers who identify as LGBTQ, they could face the harshest of discrimination environments if they are sent back to the countries that they come from,” she said. “Same-sex relationships are criminalized in nearly 80 countries worldwide. Even countries without explicit anti-LGBTQ laws are still incredibly dangerous for our LGBTQ people.”

Sharita Gruberg, associate director for the LGBT Research and Communications Project at the Center for American Progress, pointed to a recent analysis that shows a disproportionate percentage of DACA participants, 10 percent, identify as LGBT. The Williams Institute has estimated that 4.4 percent of immigrants living in the country illegally who are 18 to 29 years old identify as LGBT.

Top countries of origin for DACA participants

(initial applications approved, 2012-2017)

1. Mexico, 622,743; homosexuality and gay marriage are legal

2. El Salvador, 28,571; homosexuality legal, gay marriage unrecognized, same-sex adoption illegal

3. Guatemala, 20,000; homosexuality legal, same-sex marriage unrecognized

4. Honduras, 18,385; homosexuality legal, same-sex marriage illegal

5. Peru, 9,102; homosexuality legal, same-sex marriage unrecognized

— Data from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services; Equaldex, a crowdsource project of LGBT laws

The analysis was based on a survey from Aug. 1-20 and included 3,063 respondents in 46 states and the District of Columbia. The survey was conducted by Tom K. Wong of the University of California, San Diego; United We Dream; the National Immigration Law Center; and the Center for American Progress.

As they disclosed their immigration status, they were more likely to disclose their sexual orientation, authors of the analysis said, accounting for this higher estimated LGBT population among Dreamers. Gruberg said immigrants have been able to “come out of two closets.”

Gruberg said an estimated 267,000 LGBT immigrants are living in the country illegally. She said Freedom of Information Act Requests have shed light on hundreds of instances of abuse against LGBT immigrants in detention.

“These data allow us to learn more about a group that was historically invisible because of their immigration status as well as their sexual orientation,” she said.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., has said he wants Congress to move on the Dream Act this year. Republicans have prioritized tax reform, and GOP lawmakers including Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., have signaled support for other versions of immigration reform. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, is one of the lawmakers behind the Succeed Act, which sets up requirements for young immigrants to live in the U.S. legally.

Many of these alternatives carry provisions that Democrats have opposed. The bipartisan Bridge Act, which Heller has pointed to repeatedly when asked about whether he supports the Dream Act, would not provide a pathway to citizenship, but would offer protection for those eligible for DACA.

“I am a cosponsor of the Bridge Act, which provides legal status for these individuals while Congress works toward a permanent solution through the proper constitutional process,” he has said in a statement.

Adrian Reyna, a DACA recipient born in Mexico and United We Dream director of membership and technology strategies, said he is “undocumented and unafraid, and queer and unashamed.” He said data show LGBT immigrant youth are struggling and face greater risks.

“From the very start, most immigrant youth movement leaders have been women and members of the LGBTQ community,” he said. “For many of us, the journey from being alone and ashamed to being able to proclaim with pride and power that we are undocumented and unafraid, and queer and unashamed, has been a long one.”

Reyna said now the fight is to keep protections that have been won.

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