Last week, the U.S. began offering "deferred action" for undocumented immigrants who came to this country before the age of 16 and are currently under the age of 31. This group, often referred to as DREAMers (as they were the proponents of the DREAM Act legislation that failed to pass Congress in 2010) will now be allowed to apply for "deferred action", which would mean that they can live and work in America without fear of deportation for a period of two years. Out4Immigration has always counted the DREAMers as our allies in our fight for equal immigration rights and the right for the American citizens among us to be able to sponsor our partners for green cards. Some people believe the DREAMers are getting treated better than us, but that is not the point. This is.
The immigration system in the United States is broken. Immigration has always been used politically to stop groups of people from coming in, whether it was the Chinese Exclusion Act in the late 1800s/early 1900s or the Homosexual and/or HIV Travel Ban (yes, there was once a law in this country that banned homosexuals from entering). These past - and present - exclusionary policies result in ugly rhetoric. And corporate media, which is frequently lazy, will repeat what is told to them without fact checking.
I'm not an immigration attorney - just someone who has been in this fight for a long time with some sense of knowledge/history; however, I welcome any attorneys to help clarify my points below.
THIS IS THE REALITY
1) The deferred action that started last week is just that. DEFERRED ACTION. It is an offshoot of the Morton Memo that came out last June and is targeted specifically at the DREAMers. It gives those who grew up here and completed their education here a chance to stay without fear of deportation for TWO YEARS. The primary reason for the administration to do this is that Congress has not acted on this bill. The DREAM Act was a bill introduced by Sen. Orrin Hatch (yes, that Orrin Hatch) and supported by Sen. John McCain and was once popular among both Democrats and Republicans; it is now out of favor with the Republicans after the last Congress was elected.
It DOES NOT give them a legal route to citizenship, it just gives them some peace for two years while hopefully Congress can pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill or the DREAM Act. It will not "clog up" the waiting period for green card applications or contribute to the current backlog.
The authorization to work that will be provided to this group is not a H1-B visa. According to the FAQ by the Immigration Policy Center (I encourage people to read it, it is very informative):
"Can a person who is granted deferred action work legally in the U.S.?A job authorization is not the same as an H1-B visa. An OPT visa is a job authorization document, which lasts one year for foreigners who graduated from a U.S. college and it gets processed within 45 days (when I did it 6 years ago), so please do not confuse EAD with H1-B. H1-B is an EAD but an EAD is not a H1-B.
>Yes. Under existing regulations, individuals with deferred action may receive an Employment Authorization Document (EAD). Individuals who wish to request an extension of deferred action after two years will also have to apply for a renewal of their EAD."
The deferred action is not an amnesty - it gives the DREAMers 2 more years to stay here and work here while Congress gets their act together.
What happens at the end of the two years? Who knows? The next administration might not want to renew the deferred action policy or Congress might finally get their act together and pass a bill. According to the FAQ again by IPC:
"How long does deferred action last?"In contrast: the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has confirmed numerous times that LGBT couples (and the Morton Memo applies) are considered families through various requests from the media but as of this date, they have not actually put it in writing, so we are still beholden on the individual prosecutorial discretions of individual cases. The House Democrats (about 85 of them including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi) also sent a letter to the DHS urging for a clearer language. Rather than putting this in writing, DHS instead confirmed it to journalist Chris Geidner of Buzzfeed that LGBT couples are indeed considered families and will be entitled to deferred action when it comes to deportations.
>Under the childhood arrivals initiative, deferred action will be granted for a two-year period, after which recipients may request a renewal. According to DHS, individuals will be eligible for future renewals of deferred action so long as they were under age 31 on June 15, 2012.
In our last petition on Change.org, we asked President Obama to do the same for same-sex binational couples: http://www.change.org/
I actually delivered about 1,200 signatures on this petition to the White House's point person on Immigration, Felicia Escobar last month in Washington DC. The petition as of today has about 1,400 signatures.
Had the deferred action been applied to us and not the DREAMers, would we feel differently?
The argument from conservatives and anti-immigration groups is to frame/depict this and everything immigration-related as "amnesty" or "stealing jobs" or "freeloaders" and we must be careful not to repeat that divisive rhetoric. Because when it comes to us, they like to frame our issue as "fraud", "marriage of convenience", "stealing jobs", "government sanctioning of a immoral lifestyle" etc. etc. etc....
One thing of note: The last time something akin to an amnesty was done was in the 1980s by a Republican president and that was probably the last time we have had any amnesty action.
There are many reasons why there are backlogs. Yes, it is about resources but at the same time it is also about quotas.
Every country has a quota. Congress sets/determines every year how many people from each country can immigrate here (that quota system has not been changed for a long time). Congress also sets the quota based on the visa that you are applying for, whether it is under Family Visa, Work Visa, Green Card based on work etc. So, even if you are approved for a green card based on work or familial relationship, you will still have to wait for your "number" to be called. There have been cases where a green card application is approved but the waiting time for the green card can be at least a decade. There have been numerous bills and numerous organizations that have urged Congress to review the country quota over the years (as it is dated and the rationale for the quota needs to be reviewed) but to no avail. There is also the problem that some countries like Singapore (where I am from) do not usually meet the quota, i.e., less people want
to move here than what was allocated for but instead of using those unused quota "openings" for other countries that need them, they simply expire.
And don't get me going about the quotas for H1-B visas...we all know that the quotas are not enough!
Rep. Mike Honda has introduced a bill for the last three sessions of Congress called the "Reuniting Families Act" (RFA). The bill, if passed, will do a couple of things. 1) Pass UAFA (the language of UAFA is included in the bill; (2) reduce the backlogs - the bill will transfer the "unused" visas and transfer them to other categories/countries that have met their quotas; and (3) allow for Filipino veterans who fought in WWII (yes WWII !!!) to finally get their green card and citizenship. This is just a small sampling of what the bill will do; there are many more actions.
As a point of note, during the first and only hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Immigration about UAFA held by Sen. Patrick Leahy in June 2010, there was a conservative immigration group that testified against the passage of UAFA. One of the primary reasons that they gave was that "to allow LGBT couples to immigrate will further clog the badly backlogged immigration process...we need to prevent more people coming in as opposed to letting more people come in." (I am paraphrasing of course and if you want to find footage of that hearing, I am sure you can Google it or find it on the Congressional website.)
3) WHY IS OUT4IMMIGRATION SUPPORTING THIS ISSUE?
The answer is pretty simple - Why not?
There are more than 40,000 same-sex binational couples affected by this issue in this country. 40,000 couples. I am not even counting those that are in exile or living apart.
Are our situations all the same? Hell no! Some of us have partners who are undocumented, some of us have partners who are here on a student visa, some of us have partners who are here on a work visa, some of us have partners who visit us once every year for 3 weeks and some of us have partners who are unable to even get a passport to leave the country they reside in to come here. Our situations are all different and there are many solutions to our problems. Until the discriminatory DOMA is repealed or UAFA is finally passed, any solution that will let my brothers and sisters in these situations find some path to remaining in the U.S. legally will be supported by O4I.
Further, as a matter of political strategy we must be mindful that we CANNOT endeavor to fight this alone. By definition, we are a relatively small group of people. We NEED the help and support of anyone and everyone. When we support inclusiveness and fairness in reforms and relief measures, we are more likely to be included. If we do NOT support inclusiveness and fairness for others, we CANNOT expect any support - in fact it would likely be denied.
Please do understand that at the end of the day, we are an all-volunteer grassroots organization. We are not the behemoth that is HRC or any other big LGBT organization that people seem to think we are. The work that you see done by O4I is the work of a few dedicated volunteers who want to see the laws changed. We will take any solution we can get to bring us closer to that change. We support UAFA, RFA, RMA (Respect for Marriage Act), DREAM Act, Inclusive CIR (Comprehensive Immigration Reform) - anything that would create momentum and move us forward and give us a solution to allow us to be with the one we love.
4) WHY IS DEFERRED ACTION AN LGBT ISSUE?
Because it is a civil rights, human rights issue. Are LGBT rights a civil rights and human rights issue? You bet they are! If you have been following the news, you would know that NOM, the National Organization for Marriage, has a strategy that they put forth a couple of years ago to divide and conquer - to pit ethnic groups against LGBT groups and to have them come out and say that marriage equality is not a civil rights issue because well, they cannot change their skin color but we can change our sexuality. And like it or not, the same strategy is still being used to separate us as opposed to uniting us. If we don't support issues that are in our favor because it is not specifically an LGBT issue, why should our allies and straight people support LGBT issues because it is not about them?
Personally for me, being documented or undocumented is a very thin line. If you are on a H1-B visa and got pink slipped tomorrow, you have 10 days to pack up and leave the country or 60 days to find a job and get another H1-B visa. (Something like this happened to me just after 9/11.) If you have a spouse here and perhaps a kid... maybe you are fortunate to buy a house when the economy is good...what's your choice? Do you just pack up and leave or do you try to find ways to stay? Becoming undocumented means you cannot leave the U.S. at all if your parents fall ill or, God forbid, pass away. Becoming undocumented means you have to live your life in the shadows just so you can stay here to be with your husband, wife or partner or kids. Becoming undocumented means you have to stay silent and not make noise or someone might report you. It is not a life anyone would choose but the broken system (and in our case, our discriminatory laws) often force this choice.
The DREAMers however did not have a choice. Most of them were brought here by their parents or families when they were young. Most of them do not have family ties back home.I have met families where two siblings are Americans and one is undocumented. I met the Pulitzer Prize winner, Jose Antonio Vargas, who is gay and undocumented and many other DREAMers who are gay and undocumented, too. Their stories mirror our own tragic tales.
Deferred action might not be a solution for some of you, but it is a solution for some of us in this community in this struggle. This might mean that for the next two years, someone can work legally without fear and work tirelessly to change the laws for all of us. For that I celebrate the relief it provides for the short time that it does.
That said, this election is also pretty important because we need to carefully examine who are the people who are supporting our issue and who are the people who want us gone. At Out4Immigration, we are not allowed to endorse any candidates so it is important for all of you to go find information about the candidates in your district and where they stand on the issues of the repealing DOMA (Respect for Marriage Act, or RMA), the passage of UAFA, RFA, Inclusive CIR, ENDA and marriage equality.
I hope I have addressed some issues that have been percolating among some of you over the past couple of days. I just want to leave you with a quote that I saw recently that I love from Mr. Nelson Mandela:
"For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains,but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others." - Nelson Mandela.