Comprehensive & Inclusive Immigration Reform
Fixing our broken immigration system is a critical civil rights issue facing our nation. Undocumented lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people live at the intersection of the LGBT equality and immigrant rights movements, making them some of the most vulnerable individuals in our country. According to a study by the Williams Institute, there are close to 1 million LGBT adult immigrants, of whom about two-thirds are documented and one-third are undocumented. Comprehensive and inclusive immigration reform is a critical issue for the LGBT community.
In November 2014, President Barack Obama announced a series of executive actions designed to provide relief for millions of undocumented immigrants – including LGBT immigrants – who have strong ties to our Nation and are contributing to society. However, relief is not permanent and only Congress has the power to fix our broken immigration system.
Therefore, HRC is advocating for comprehensive and inclusive immigration reform to protect LGBT individuals.
Protect the Health and Safety of LGBT Immigrants
Problem: Studies report that current detention policies expose LGBT detainees to extraordinary levels of abuse and harassment. As such, many LGBT detainees are removed from these safety risks only to be placed in solitary confinement, where they find themselves facing extreme psychological hardships resulting from extended periods of isolation. Moreover, in detention facilities, many LGBT detainees have reported difficulty accessing healthcare services, including treatment for HIV/AIDS and medically necessary hormone treatments.
Solution: Congress should better protect the health and safety of LGBT individuals navigating the U.S. immigration system by promoting secure alternatives to detention for vulnerable individuals and requiring that all detainees are treated fairly and humanely. It should ensure that detention facilities provide prompt, high-quality medical care, including medical care addressing the needs of LGBT detainees.
Problem: Immigration reform proposals have included language suggesting that employers may be required to look at new information when verifying an employee’s identity and legal status. While it is unclear exactly what new information would be required by these reforms, legislation that would cause an employee’s gender, previous name or gender changes to be disclosed to an employer would disproportionately impact transgender individuals, is unnecessary, and could result in job loss or on-the-job discrimination for transgender individuals.
Solution: Ensure that any employment verification system included in comprehensive reform legislation is narrowly tailored and asks for or discloses only information which is absolutely necessary for employment verification.
Problem: In the U.S., undocumented LGBT people are uniquely impacted by laws limiting access to healthcare for such non-citizens. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) bars undocumented individuals from purchasing insurance through state exchanges, even at full cost, and excludes them from access to Medicare, non-emergency Medicaid, and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). This lack of access to healthcare disproportionately impacts those living with HIV, who face severe health risks without ongoing medical care. Additionally, without access to healthcare, undocumented transgender individuals are unable to obtain medically necessary care related to gender transition.
Solution: Provide access to treatment for HIV/AIDS and other medically necessary healthcare to immigrants in the process of legalizing their status.
Improve the U.S. Asylum System for LGBT Applicants
Problem: Individuals escaping persecution in their country of origin must apply for asylum within one year of their arrival to the U.S. The one-year filing deadline disproportionately impacts LGBT applicants who are often unaware that they may be eligible for asylum based on persecution related to their sexual orientation or gender identity. While such applicants may be able to avoid or delay deportation, these alternatives do not lead to lawful permanent status. Therefore, refugees with otherwise viable asylum claims are often forced to live in permanent limbo, subject to deportation.
Solution: Congress should eliminate the arbitrary one-year filing deadline required under Section 208(a)(2) of the Immigration and Naturalization Act and ensure that LGBT asylum applicants with well-founded fears of persecution are given the chance to escape persecution in their country of origin.
Keep LGBT Families Together
Problem: More than 4 million people are currently waiting for a family visa. Some applicants, like siblings of Filipino immigrants, would have had to apply before 1989 to receive a green card in 2013. Backlogs like these keep all families, including LGBT families, from being together. Current per-country limits, which require that no country receive more than 7 percent of the total number of visas issued each year, contribute to these backlogs. Such caps fail to recognize that countries such as China send far more immigrants to the U.S. than countries like Iceland.
Solution: Congress should reduce current immigration backlogs in order to ensure that families navigating our immigration system are reunited more quickly. Among other reforms, Congress should: (1) amend the Immigration and Naturalization Act so that lawful permanent resident spouses, children, and same-sex partners are classified as “immediate relatives” and exempted from numerical caps on family immigration, (2) recapture visas that have gone unused or unclaimed and (3) increase per-country visa limits from 7 to 10 percent.
Create a Pathway to Citizenship for Undocumented Adults and Young People
Problem: Conservative estimates suggest that there are more than a quarter of a million undocumented LGBT adults living in the U.S. Nearly half of these undocumented LGBT adults are estimated to be between ages18 and 29. In addition, an estimated 65,000 undocumented youth, many who are LGBT, graduate from U.S. high schools each year. These hardworking young people have lived in the U.S. for all or most of their lives and simply want to be recognized for who they are: Americans who continue to contribute to our national life.
Solution: Include a pathway to citizenship in immigration reform. A pathway to citizenship would ensure that all undocumented individuals currently living in the U.S. are able to come out of the shadows and contribute fully to our communities and our economy.
Last Updated: October 15, 2015