HRC Blog

Immigration Series: What Separates Us Can Unite Us

Post submitted by Hyacinth Alvaran, HRC Diversity Program Manager

I was born in the Philippines in 1982. When I was three years old, my mother had the opportunity to work in the U.S., where worked as a live-in nanny for five years. My father and I stayed in the Philippines. She sent money back to help pay for my education and for the basics. With the help of her employers and an attorney, she worked on my and my father’s papers so we could be reunited, and have a better life in America.

I missed her those 5 years. 

I’m 30 years old now, and I still tear up when I think about it.

There are two groups of people who come to mind who understand the pain of separation: immigrants, and LGBT people.

And there are nearly a million adults who live at the intersection of the two, including myself: LGBT immigrants.

In the worst cases, we immigrants leave our families, our support networks and our communities behind in order to escape poverty, persecution, or war.

In the worst cases, we LGBT people face the constant pressure of separation from our loved ones: by a family who forces us to choose between them or someone else we equally love, by a community that doesn’t recognize us as parents to the children we adopt, by laws that treat us and our partners as strangers to each other and leave us no choice but to live countries apart.

And in the worst cases, we LGBT immigrants experience all of the above. 

We have a lot more in common than we think, or in some cases, want to realize.

Because in all these cases, we know how it feels to be separated from the ones we love.

It is the longing experienced by the nearly 4.3 million families waiting to be reunited in the U.S., many of whom wait for years in a backlogged and inefficient system.

It is the anxiety experienced by 24,700 same-sex binational couples in the US, 25% of whom are raising 11,000 children in this country -- couples who are not allowed by the Defense of Marriage Act to sponsor each other for family-based immigration.

And it is the fear experienced by over 11 million undocumented immigrants who live under the threat of deportation and forced separation from their families; at least 267,000 are LGBT people over 18 years old.

A comprehensive and inclusive approach to immigration reform will help all of our families and all of our communities.

Unfortunately, our communities face significant roadblocks to such reform, including an extreme suggestion.

Like millions of other families, my mother sponsored my father and me to immigrate here through the family-based system. If I were born in this day and age, and if my mother had immigrated in this political climate, she would’ve had to choose between living here while sending money to me and my father back in the Philippines, but without the hope of bringing us here and the joy of raising me into adulthood; or give up hope for a better future altogether, and move back to the Philippines, where there is far less economic opportunity and little social mobility.

Either way, we suffer. No mother should ever have to make this choice. No human being -- LGBT, immigrant or both -- should ever have to make such a choice.

That’s why we need to come together in coalitions and organize activities that empower our communities with citizenship, the ability to work, and relief from deportation.

And that’s why we need to look back at our pasts, no matter how painful, and share our stories, because that is where direct impact lies: the direct impact of the separations that we’ve experienced, and the direct impact that our stories can make to open people’s eyes to the experiences that unite us.

 

Over the coming weeks, HRC will chronicle the stories of a diverse group of Americans who are harmed every day by this country’s immigration laws. Stay tuned to HRC Blog.

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